Friday 1st May 2015, Klosterneuburg, Austria, continued
This morning we decided to spend locally, discovering what makes Klosterneuburg one of the star attractions of Vienna. Well actually we can see what it is from Modestine’s back door here on the campsite. It is a massive monastery set up on the hill just above the little town. There has been a Kloster here for over 900 years.
Before visiting the Kloster however, we thought we’d investigate the local activity of setting up the maypole. Today is a public holiday and none of the shops were open as we walked up into the town to seek out the square in front of the town hall where at 10am an Austrian band was due to play as young men in Lederhosen carried a 24 metres of tree trunk through the streets and, to the sound of the town cannon going off, arrived in the square to erect it using nothing but ropes, muscles and wooden wedges.
The canon was called Agnes and, as canons go, she was quite cute being rather small and made of wood. We eventually got used to her firing unexpectedly throughout the morning. She belonged to a group of Austrian canon enthusiasts wearing hunting caps with feathers in and green felt jackets with braided edging.
It took an hour to raise the maypole. Meanwhile little girls in Dirndls skipped about amongst the team getting in the way but generally looking very sweet. Nobody got cross and everyone was well behaved. At each stage the ropes securing the tree had to be slid down the trunk as the tree gradually rose higher into the upright position. Once safely in position and secured the mayor gave a speech of thanks and pride declaring that he could look out from his office in the town hall and admire it. He confessed to being particularly pleased that Klosterneuburg’s tree is 24 metres tall whereas the in the town on the other side of the Danube is only 22 metres.
There then followed lots of Austrian folk dancing with the locals in their national costumes twirling and stamping. Boys and girls take part with their parents and grandparents. The young boys are totally uninhibited at being togged up in leather knee-breeches and feather caps while they twirl the girl who probably sits next to them in school!
Eventually we walked into the grounds of Klosterneuburg and prepared ourselves for visiting one of the splendours of Vienna, indeed of Austria!
The monastery Stift Klosterneuburg dominates the little town on the Danube. Although it was founded in 1114 by the Babenberg margrave Leopold III, who was canonised in 1485 and became the patron saint of Austria, what can be seen today results from a reconstruction during the 1720s and 1730s. Having lost his Spanish and New World realms in the War of the Spanish Succession, the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI sought to make Klosterneuburg a secular and spiritual centre of national significance after the model of the Escorial in Spain. The designs were inspired by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, the master architect of Vienna at the time. With the death of Emperor Charles VI in 1740, building activity was discontinued, as his successor, Maria Theresa, was more interested in constructing the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Only the east and north wings of the monastery complex were finished, perhaps one eighth of the planned construction. There is an engraving of the complete design in one of the state apartments. What was completed is impressive enough, and on entering the booking office we were confronted with what was in effect a baroque building site, with some of the statuary in place but much of the walls still unfinished brickwork.
This part of the complex had been used as a wine store for some of its history. It seems that, like the building itself, the strategy for welcoming visitors was also unfinished. We handed over 15 Euros each and were given a joint admission ticket, which meant that we could not go round separately, a headset each, and a booklet seeking to explain the complex series of guided tours available. It was a very frustrating experience, so much so that Ian prepared the following report to TripAdvisor:
"Make sure you prepare your visit to Klosterneuburg VERY carefully.
This is one of the most important historical sites in Austria and is described fully in other guides. Only the treasury has a free visit with an excellent headset commentary in several languages. The church, the museum, the state apartments and the wine cellar can only be visited with German speaking guided tours and the headset does not yet cover all parts of the site. There is only one tour a day to the museum (13.30) and state apartments and one to the wine cellar (15.00). In theory it is possible to combine them but our museum tour over-ran. Much of the tour was given outside the collections, before being admitted to the rooms and some sections of the museum were not visited at all. The library cannot be visited and no manuscripts from the important scriptorium are on display (although there is a special exhibition starting in September 2015). It is most frustrating to have doors to large sections of this important site locked when one arrives for a limited time but with a range of items to see. If you arrive after 12.00 do not expect to be able to see the whole site. They must get their act together - it is taking money (17 Euros) under false pretences."
But what we saw, tagging along behind the tours we got attached to (one of them only because the guide forgot to lock the door behind the group) was undoubtedly magnificent. The treasury, which we could visit at our own speed, contained wonderful metalwork, enamels, ivories and vestments but not the famous gold enamelled altarpice made by Nicolas of Verdun for the monastery in 1181 which we never managed to see. The state apartments, after the massive Marble Hall, were relatively modest in scale, but with plaster ceilings and ceramic stoves in the rococo style. One room, the Napoleon Room was furnished in the Empire style, supposedly for a visit by Boney, but in fact his arrival was unexpected and he only stayed half an hour - he must have left as soon as he realised he had missed one of the guided tours. The dining room was decorated with a series of tapestries depicting scenes from Fenelon's novel Les aventures de Télémaque which gave us no great urge to plough our way through all 24 books of the novel! Only the first of the private imperial apartments could be visited. The museum had an interesting collection of late medieval and renaissance works by local masters, a collection of renaissance bronzes and some rather weird modern sacred paintings and sculptures. Although the monastery had an important medieval scriptorium and was noted for its work on cartography, none of this was on display and the library was too cramped to be visited. The only manuscript was a series of framed pages from the family history of Leopold III, by the historian Ladislaus Sunthaym, written during the 1480s in preparation for his canonization. In the same room was a massive triptych based on the Babenberg family tree, made by the workshop of Hans Part between about 1489 and 1492, for the benefit of the pilgrims visiting Klosterneuburg.
Even the church could only be visited on a guided tour, although we could peer up the nave towards the altar. The Romanesque interior had been given a baroque makeover and, after some attempt was made to complete the complex in the 19th century, it was rather incongruously provided with two neo-gothic towers which jut up high above the baroquery of the main complex, after the architect Friedrich von Schmidt was let loose on the site in 1879.