Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Discover Duernstein, Austria, with Incantato Tours

Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube river in the Krems district, in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region. The town gained its name from the medieval castle which overlooked it. The castle was called "Duerrstein" or "Dürrstein", from the German duerr/dürr meaning "dry" and Stein, "stone". The castle was dry because it was situated on a rocky hill, high above the damp conditions of the Danube at the base of the hill, and it was built of stone. Dürnstein was first mentioned in 1192. The ruins of the castle fortress, 159 meters above the town, are inextricably linked to the Crusades. Here Leopold V, the Babenberg duke ruling the country at that time, held Richard the Lionheart of England prisoner in 1193. It seems that Richard had insulted the powerful Austrian duke in Palestine during the Crusades to capture the Holy Land. The story is that when Richard was attempting to get back home, his boat foundered on the rocks of the Adriatic and he tried to sneak through Austria disguised as a peasant. The English monarch was arrested and imprisoned by Leopold.
For quite some time, nobody knew exactly where in Austria Richard was incarcerated, but his loyal minstrel companion, Blondel, had a clever idea. He went from castle to castle, playing his lute and singing Richard's favorite songs. The tactic paid off, the legend says, for at Dürnstein Richard heard Blondel's singing and sang the lyrics in reply. The discovery forced Leopold to transfer Richard to a castle in the Rhineland Palatinate, but by then everybody knew where he was. So Leopold set a high ransom on the king's head, which was eventually met, and Richard was set free.
The castle was virtually demolished by the Swedes in 1645, but you can visit the ruins if you don't mind a vigorous climb.  

The fifteenth century Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein) was initially an Augustinian monastery and was reconstructed when the baroque style came to Austria. It was established in 1410 by Canons Regular from Třeboň and from 1710 rebuilt in a Baroque style according to plans by Joseph Munggenast, Jakob Prandtauer and Matthias Steinl.The blue tower of this church is one of the best baroque examples in the entire country and a notable landmark in the Danube Valley. There is also a splendid church portal. Kremser Schmidt, the noted baroque painter, did some of the altar paintings.  The monastery was dissolved by order of Emperor Joseph II in 1788 and had been given to the Herzogenburg Priory. 

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