Sep 06

Melk Abbey (Abatia Melk)

A country can pride itself with impressive tourist attractions, even if tourism in that specific place is not explored to the fullest. Unfortunately, many of the wonders of the world are hidden to us due to the fact that the officials do not promote such great places so as to entice people to travel miles and miles in order to admire them first-handedly.

But there are instances when words are not necessary when needing to describe certain locations around the globe. Thus is the case with Melk Abbey, the Austrian Benedictine abbey, because this specific convent is already known throughout the world as being one of the most important monastic sites.

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The foundation of the abbey is attributed to Leopold II of Austria who had donated one of his multiple castles to the Benedictine monks. The location of this tourist attraction is the town Melk, or more precisely the rocky region surrounding this specific town. It was in the 12th century that the base for this abbey was set as a monastic school was formed. The library of the school grew in size and in value with the passage of time in as much as it became renowned for the manuscript collection it preserved in its archives.  Besides the fact that it contained an important collection of manuscripts, some of them even written there, the abbey also carried a historical significance, having been the epicenter of the reform movement which occurred in Melk, a reform which led to strengthening the Austrian monastic life.

The abbey which presents itself at present to the beholder has been erected in the 18th century, between 1702 and 1736. The architectural style conveyed by Jakob Prandtauer, the architect to design the abbey, was representative for the Baroque art. Tourists will definitely be enticed by the grandiose edifice that stands erect before them, but the fresco works performed by Johann Michael Rottmayr are bound to impress even the less impressionable.

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The noteworthy architectural style together with the immense collection of medieval manuscripts contributed to the fame of the abbey and this precise aspect was what kept the monastic site alive. There was a period when the majority of the abbeys spread throughout the Austrian territory were closed (by the order of Emperor Joseph II). The fate of the convent was also under threat in the 20th century, during the time when Austria was annexed to Germany. During this timeframe, the school, together with a considerable part of the abbey was impounded by the state.

The school became once more the property of the abbey after the Second World Conflagration and has continued to function ever since, at present providing educational grounds for hundreds of students.

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The abbey’s name is so resonant, that it had managed to insert itself into the literary work of renowned authors. For instance, Umberto Eco was so impressed by this place that it incorporated it into his famous novel “The Name of the Rose,” by naming one of the characters “Adson von Melk.”

Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the abbey has become a cultural center of the country, but even more so, it has become a European cultural attraction. There are numerous visitors that pass the threshold of the convent and while the majority recognizes the value it carries, it is also important to acknowledge what the monastery is trying to pinpoint: that throughout its existence, the monastery has tried to portray the importance of God in our lives. The masterfully painted scenes which adorn the walls of the abbey depict God in different hypostases so as to enforce the fact that spirituality is relevant in our life.

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In the later part of the 20th century, the restoration work on the abbey began and has continued up to the present moment, the scope being that of refurbishing the entire monastic ensemble, together with its school and museum.

The imperial rooms of the former castle have been transformed so as to fit the needs of a museum. The exhibitions presented within the museum are designed so as to track the evolution of the abbey throughout time: from its beginning, when it took form, up until the present day.

Melk Abbey has many things to offer. Except the museum, tourists will be drawn to the impressive library which contains the valuable written accounts from medieval times, but also to the Marble Hall, both of these rooms being masterfully designed in the Baroque style. The chambers are adorned by means of wonderfully created frescoes by the artist Paul Troger. Another focal point of attraction is the balcony which offers a beautiful imagery that comprises the Danube River on the one hand and the church of the abbey, on the other. It is quite the view as you are to perceive the church within the naturalness of the surrounding area.

Jul 02

Horezu Monastery

Horezu Monastery, situated in Horezu Town (Valcea County), is a nunnery whose dedication day is the 21st of May – St. Constantine and Helen.

Founded in 1690 by the voivode Constantin Brancoveanu, the monastery copied the architectural style of the Episcopal Church located in Curtea de Arges in the sense that it consisted of three apses. The only differentiation between the two edifices mentioned is the porch of the Horezu Monastery which is representative of the style which left its mark during that period – the Brancovenesc Style.

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The decorative style found on the exterior of the church consists of rectangular panels and niches which are adorned with geometrical forms masterfully executed. There is one specific shape which is repetitive – the circle. The entrance door of the monastery has carved marble edges. Above the entrance one can notice two coats of arms – one belonging to the Wallachia domain and the other to the Brancoveanu family.

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The interior of the monastery is in itself a work of art. The paintings are valuable pieces, artistically done by true masters of that time (Ioan, Stan, Neagoe, and Ioachim, just to name a few). Besides the religious scenes which are represented in the majority of the paintings found on the walls of the Horezu Monastery, one can also admire the portraits of the families of voivodes that ruled over those lands (the Brancoveanu, Basarab and Cantacuzino families).

The monastery has a beautifully carved iconostasis made out of lime tree and adorned with gilded elements. The edifice has maintained its original structure even though it had underwent several restoration works such as the ones occurring in 1827, 1872, 1907-1912 and 1954-1964.

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The monastery holds within its walls the tombstone of Constantin Brancoveanu, even if the founder of the church was not laid to rest in this specific place. Probably the explanation lies in the fact that the church wanted to bring thus tribute to the one who initiated the construction work of the edifice. There are other tombs found here and the most relevant one contains the earthly remains of Archimandrite John, the first abbot of the monastery. The monastic ensemble also consisted of a hospital which was founded by Brancoveanu’s wife, Lady Mary and a chapel, which was erected by the order of Brancoveanu himself during 1696-1697.

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Tourists will be pleased to learn that inside the monastery is found one of the most impressive collections of liturgical items – objects which can be traced as far into the past as the moment when the monastery was erected.

But the artistic sculptures and paintings are bound to stir interest and admiration in the eyes of the beholders as well. These bear the mark of the Brancovenesc Style – known for the architectural balance that exists in the pieces of art, as well as the abundant detailing that create these one-of-a-kind works.

True connoisseurs of art will undoubtedly agree that the monastery is one of the most exquisite examples of Brancovenesc Art that exist on the entire Romanian territory.