The timeline of Melk begins around the turn of the first millennium, when Benedictine monks first arrived in the Wachau Valley region. In 1089, the monks laid the foundation stones of what would become Melk Abbey – one of Europe’s biggest and most beautiful religious monuments.
Since establishing the abbey in the 11th century, Benedictine monks have lived and worked in Melk continuously. The monks of the abbey follow the teaching of St Benedict, whose renowned Latin tutorage, ora et labora et lege (pray and work and learn), has contributed to Melk Abbey’s enduring success, growth and development over the centuries.
As with many historic settlements across Europe, the town of Melk grew in the shadow of the abbey, with people drawn to the region by the presence of the Benedictine brotherhood. The monks took an active role in developing Melk into a working town, building a school (which still stands as the Melk Abbey Secondary School) and organising cultural events to bring greater trade and business into the community.
Melk Abbey and its adjoining town grew considerably throughout the Middle Ages, and it became closely linked to Dürnstein, another historic town located in the Wachau Valley region. Melk’s medieval monastery was one of the most significant and influential in Europe by the 17th century, providing a place of worship for many monks of the Benedictine faith.
Everything changed for Melk in 1701, when the then-abbot of Melk Abbey, Berthold Dietmayr, tasked two architects, Jakob Prandtauer and Joseph Munggenast, with constructing a sacred palace on the site of the medieval monastery. The two architects took up the challenge with gusto, going above and beyond the brief to build a truly spectacular religious site.