Wachau Cultural Landscape (2000)

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The Wachau is a stretch of the Danube Valley between Melk and Krems, a landscape of high visual quality. It preserves in an intact and visible form many traces - in terms of architecture, (monasteries, castles, ruins), urban design, (towns and villages), and agricultural use, principally for the cultivation of vines - of its evolution since prehistoric times. 

As far back as 1000 BC, the Illyrians and Celts settled the high, steep ridges at the edge of the Dunkelsteiner Forest, which led down to the Danube River valley. This is the area where the monastery of Melk is to be found. Evidence of a Roman garrison was found, which was later destroyed during the migration of nations. The name Melk has changed over the centuries. During the reign of Louis the German (Louis II), it is referred to as Magalicha, later as Medelicha. 

Austria 1963. World Cultural Heritage. The Benedictine Abbey in Melk (Wachau), Austria. Austria 1989. 900th anniversary of the Benedictine Abbey in Melk (Wachau), Austria.

In the 13th century Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs), which was based on earlier tales of the heroes, it was referred to as Medelike. Leopold I, from the House of Babenberg, founded his residence here in 976 AD. The Melk Castle served as the headquarters for the step by step annexation of land up to the Leitha and March rivers, as well as of the forest area north of the Danube. 

In Melk, Leopold I established a church devoted to the apostles, whose founding has been connected with a canonicate. This was dissolved by Leopold in 1089 when Benedictine monks from Lambach took over the religious responsibility. When the residence of Leopold III was transferred to Mt. Kahlenberg (near Vienna) the Melk Castle, with the entire tracts of land, was donated to the Benedictines so that Leopold III canbe seen as the founder of the monastery of Melk. This stamp shows a view of the opulent Baroque Abbey built by Jakob Prandtauer. 

The old neighbouring towns of Krems and Stein, located on the Danube, have been closely linked from time immemorial. Being the door to the Wachau and the city of Stein, Steiner Gate (built around 1300), which is shown by this stamp, was of major importance. Previously, it was also called "Hülben Gate". It unites Gothic and Baroque elements in an impressive combination. Its basis and central part are Gothic, while a bell-shaped, Baroque roof with two returns crowns the gate. The strong square basis and its upper, octagonal part are a common feature of Gothic buildings. At the outer side, the gate's tower is decorated by two round towers with slender, coniform roofs. 

In former times, Steiner Gate also had a drawbridge. The passageway features a barrel vault, and its outer opening ends in a segmental arch. Krems and Stein have always profited from their geographic importance as ancient transhipment places for river to land traffic. In the early 11th century, the first mint of Austria was established in Krems. 

In 1416, Krems and Stein were granted the privilege to elect a mayor who, in co-operation with the judge and the city council, was responsible for the city's administration. In 1753, Krems became the district town and the administrative centre of the surrounding area, and started to develop into a popular school centre.

  • Austria 1960.  Steiner Gate in Krems.  

Austria 1960. World Cultural Heritage. Steiner Gate in Krems (Wachau), Austria.

From the Exhibition "Gothic Art in Austria" in Krems 1967, Austria has issued a very nice stamp. It was in the Gothic style that the era between 1250 and 1500, designated as "Late Middle Ages", found its most characteristic expression in the visual arts. In that era, Austria gradually moved from the periphery of the political map - from the eastern fringes of Christendom it had occupied in the High Middle Ages - to a central position of immense importance. 

Austria 1967. World Cultural Heritage. Gothic Art from Exhibition in Krems (Wachau), Austria.

For the arts, this meant significant new impulses. For example, Emperor Rudolph IV not only had St Stephen's Cathedral expanded and founded Vienna University but also acted as a role model and patron for provincial sovereigns, who were motivated to have erected such important buildings as the cathedral of Wiener Neustadt and the Cistercian abbey of Neuberg an der Mürz. 

The stamp motif shows the famous wood-carved "Madonna of Mercy" of Frauenstein in Upper Austria, a unique sculptural piece probably commissioned by Emperor Maximilian I. In its turn, the local aristocracy tried to emulate their provincial sovereigns and thus sponsored the carved altar of Kefermarkt, a jewel of Late Gothic art. However, the clergy was, understandably, the prime patron of Gothic art. The exhibition "Gothic Art in Austria", which took place in Krems (Lower Austria) in 1967, provided a good overview of the artistic expressions of that era. 

In 2002 the United Nations Vienna issued two stamps from area on the basis of the criteria the area was inscribed as World Heritage:

Criterion (ii): The Wachau is an outstanding example of a riverine landscape bordered by mountains in which material evidence of its long historical evolution has survived to a remarkable degree.

Criterion (iv): The architecture, the human settlements, and the agricultural use of the land in the Wachau vividly illustrate a basically medieval landscape which has evolved organically and harmoniously over time. 

United Nations (Vienna) 2002. World Cultural Heritage. Stift Melk (Wachau), Austria. United Nations (Vienna) 2002. World Cultural Heritage. Aggstein Ruins (Wachau), Austria.

Other World Heritage Sites in Austria (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Austria section, for more information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 18 aug 2007  
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