Klosterneuburg has had two main milestones in its history: the first is establishing the monastery in the early 12th century, the second is early 18th century plans of building an imperial residence that would combine the functions of a monastery and a palace by Emperor Charles VI, inspired by Escorial in Spain.
Klosterneuburg is a town in Tulln District in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It has a population of about 27,500. The Klosterneuburg Monastery, which was established in 1114 and soon after given to the Augustinians, is of particular historical importance.
It is located on the Danube, immediately north of the Austrian capital Vienna, from which it is separated by the Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg hills of the Vienna Woods range. It has been separated from its twin city of Korneuburg on the left bank of the Danube since the river changed its course during the Late Middle Ages. Both towns are connected by a reaction ferry link.
At the site of a former pioneer school of the Austrian Bundesheer, Klosterneuburg has various military buildings and former stores which will be developed into a 12 hectare large new quarter of the town by 2030. It is also the centre of a wine growing area, with several esteemed vintners, numerous Heuriger taverns, and the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology, where Fritz Zweigelt bred the Zweigelt and Blauburger red wine grapes.
Due to its hilly location, Klosterneuburg has several geographical areas within the cadastral communities of Klosterneuburg-Stadt, Maria Gugging, Höflein an der Donau, Kierling, Kritzendorf, Weidling, and Weidlingbach. Its town centre has two main shopping areas, the Niedermarkt and the Rathausplatz, separated by a steep hill.
The town is tightly linked to the Austrian capital and houses some of the most affluent citizens of Lower Austria. It has direct access to the Vienna city centre via the Klosterneuburger Straße highway (B14), by the Vienna S-Bahn network on the Emperor Franz Joseph Railway line (S40) from Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Tulln, and along the EV6 The Rivers cycling route. The town is the site of light industry and, whilst not belonging to Vienna, has almost the feel of a suburb. The Essl Museum of contemporary art and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria established in 2006 are located in the town.
According to the legend, Babenberg Margrave Leopold III founded Klosterneuburg Monastery in the early 12th century at the place where he found the veil of his wife Agnes, which had been brought there by the wind on the day of their wedding. The Order of the Augustinian Canons settled at Klosterneuburg upon Leopold’s initiative. Since that time, with the exception of the years between 1941 and 1945, the canons have lived and worked there, following the Rule of Saint Augustine. Today almost 50 canons live there.
The Babenbergs founded the town in the eastern foothills of the Vienna Woods, making it an ideal spot to enjoy the countryside within easy reach of Vienna, 11km (7 miles) southeast.
In the early 18th century emperor Charles VI came up with an idea to build an imperial residence combining the functions of a monastery and a palace in Klosterneuburg following the model of the Escorial near Madrid. However, during his lifetime only approximately one eighth of the planned construction was completed. After the death of Charles VI in 1740, construction works were soon abandoned. It was not until the early 19th century that one fourth of the planned complex was completed. Today, instead of the four planned courts there is only one, and just two cupolas rather than nine were built. Still, what you can see looks very impressive.
Klosterneuburg vineyards and winery
There is one more important ingredient of Klosterneuburg: its vineyards and winery. Stift is Austria’s largest and oldest privately owned wine estate and has played a formative role in the story of Austrian wine. Legendary vineyards are the pride and heart of the winery. Vineyards are found in the best sites of Klosterneuburg, Vienna, Gumpoldskirchen, and Tattendorf. The variation in soils and microclimates of the four wine origins make it possible for the winery to cultivate each grape variety in its ideal environment. By the way, Vienna is the only capital city in the world with its own viticulture.
As you can imagine, you can spend a full day exploring it all. I was not so lucky and had just a few hours for that.
So what did I manage to see in Klosterneuburg abbey?
One of the strongest impressions for me was the visitors’ entrance hall. It was opened in 2006 at the Sala Terrena (Latin for ‘hall on the ground floor’). The reconstruction of the Sala Terrena received the European Union’s Europa Nostra Award for Cultural Heritage in 2008. The unfinished part of the palace was not only restored to the original condition of 1740, but was also given a new purpose. In this room, Lorenzo Mattielli, sculptor at the Imperial Court in the 18th century, created the eight load-bearing Atlases, but otherwise, there was only bare brickwork. It looks like this today as well. The overall impression of the hall is just fascinating.
Klosterneuburg Monastery church
Then we visited a monastery church, built in the early 12th century. Despite a great number of changes, the basic Romanesque structure of the monastery church has remained the same until today. Its current outside appearance was created during restoration work in the 19th century. Inside, the church is of Baroque style because of refurbishment measures of the 17th and 18th centuries. Above the northern stalls, you can see the imperial oratory where the Emperor and his family sat during annual ceremonies in honour of Saint Leopold on 15 November.
One thing you should know that most of the places of Klosterneuburg Abbey are accessible only by guided tours, so if you wish to see monastery, church, palace and old wine cellars, you should take two or three different tours. With your entrance ticket without tours, you can access only the exhibition and the treasury. All guided tours are in German with an audio guide available in 14 languages. I used the English audio guide and it was good. The tour guide was very helpful and added some sentences in English now and then during the tour. I was there in the morning and therefore I had a one hour monastery tour at 10 am. I guess the best way to see most of it is to arrive around noon and take a 1,5 hour imperial tour that includes the monastery and the palace, and then take a one hour wine cellar tour with wine tasting.