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The Aggstein castle ruins in the Wachau

The Aggstein castle ruins in the Wachau

location Lower Austria
Waters Danube
Mountains Granite and gneiss highlands : Hochwaldviertel / Dunkelsteiner Wald
Geographical location 48 ° 23 '36 "  N , 15 ° 27' 20"  E Coordinates: 48 ° 23 '36 "  N , 15 ° 27' 20"  E
Wachau (Lower Austria)
length approx. 35 kmdep1
particularities UNESCO World Heritage Site
core zone: 18,387 ha
buffer zone: 2,942 ha
Template: Infobox Glacier / Maintenance / Image description missing

The Wachau ([ vaˈxaʊ̯ ], with an emphasis on the “au” [aʊ̯] in the last syllable) is the landscape in and around the valley of the Danube between Melk and Krems an der Donau in Lower Austria , about 80 kilometers west of the federal capital Vienna . In 2000, she was as Wachau Cultural Landscape ( english Wachau Cultural Landscape ) with the pins Melk and Göttweig as well as the old town of Krems in the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Natural added.


The name Wachau (in the spelling Vuachoua ) can already be found in a document from Emperor Otto I from the year 972.


The Wachau comprises the river landscape in the approximately 35 km long eastern (lower) section of a breakthrough valley of the Danube including the Spitzer Graben side valley , located between Melk and Krems on the Danube and running southwest-northeast, as well as the adjacent high areas. Here, as in the neighboring Strudengau and Nibelungengau to the west (upstream), the Danube cuts through the southern tip of the Bohemian Massif . The Wachau therefore belongs to the southern edge zone of the Austrian granite and gneiss highlands . The highest peaks are the Jauerling ( 960  m above sea level ) and Sandl (723 m). The Wachau lies on the border of two Lower Austrian district landscapes, with the southwest part of the Mostviertel and the northeast part of the Waldviertel . To the east, from Krems downstream, the Wachau is followed by the Tullnerfeld .

The landscape is characterized on the one hand by the Danube and the low-lying climatically favorable areas close to the banks (terrain height around 200 m) and on the other hand by the adjacent hills of the Dunkelsteinerwald and the Waldviertel with their cold winters (terrain height up to 900 m and partly above). The south-east (right) bank of the Danube belongs to the north-west canopy of the Dunkelsteinerwald. The municipalities of Melk , Schönbühel-Aggsbach , Rossatz-Arnsdorf , Bergern im Dunkelsteinerwald , Mautern and Furth near Göttweig are located here in the direction of flow . The communities Emmersdorf , Aggsbach Markt , Maria Laach , Mühldorf and Krems are located on the northern bank of the Danube . The main places are Spitz , Weißenkirchen and Dürnstein .


Dürnstein Church
View from the defense tower in St. Michael upstream. On the right the oldest church in the Wachau
The Wachau in the Spitz an der Donau area looking west
The Wachau west of the Aggstein castle ruins

Early history

The most famous sites of the oldest traces of human presence in the Wachau are in Stratzing and Willendorf . This also includes the locations of the two oldest Austrian works of art, the figurative depictions of women of the so-called Venus vom Galgenberg and the Venus von Willendorf . They are assigned to the Upper Palaeolithic , the time of the immigration of anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) into Europe, which was previously inhabited only by Neanderthals .

Roman times

Since the incorporation of the Celtic Kingdom of Noricum into the Roman Empire in 15 BC. BC the Danube in the Wachau formed the northern border of the empire. Initially, the kingdom retained limited autonomy as a tributary principality, but under Emperor Claudius (41–54 AD) it finally became the Roman province of Noricum. Along the border also went through the Wachau the Danube limes . The Favianis fort (today Mautern) secured the exit of the Wachau and several burgi were built along the south bank , i. H. small watchtower-like forts, the remains of which (mostly as parts of newer buildings) are still preserved, especially the Burgus Bacharnsdorf . With the at least partial evacuation of the Roman population on the orders of King Odoacer in 488, Roman rule ended.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages , the Wachau was ruled by the Kuenringer who owned castles in Aggstein (south of the Danube) and Dürnstein (north of the Danube). The Zwettler " bear skin ", the most important source in the history of the Kuenringer, reports from the energetic government of Hadmar II about the "noble and fertile landscape of the Wachau" ( nobili et fertili districtu qui Wachawe dicitur ). His sons Heinrich I and Hadmar III. However, they were notorious as “dogs of Kuenring” and were considered robber barons, “whose servants cruelly robbed the Danube boatmen” ( omnes in navigio Danubii descendentes vel ascendentes famuli eorum atrociter spoliaverunt ). However, a comparatively highly developed community emerged among the Kuenringers. The Kuenringers were eventually defeated militarily and their castles destroyed.

The imprisonment of the English King Richard the Lionheart in Dürnstein is connected with the time of the Kuenringer . Richard the Lionheart was recognized as such in a restaurant in Erdberg near Vienna when he was on his way back to England, captured and transferred to Dürnstein.

The oldest church in the Wachau is the " Fortified Church of St. Michael ". The church building was fortified as a precautionary measure against the advancing Turkish army .

Due to the good yield and the high quality, many monasteries - even far away - had their own vineyards in the Wachau.

Modern times

On November 11, 1805, in the course of the Third Coalition War with the Battle of Dürnstein in the Wachau, a violent and costly battle between French and Russian-Austrian troops took place.

Turn of the century

At the end of the 19th century, as a result of the discovery of the landscape in painting classes at the Vienna art academies and the targeted promotion of excursion tourism, for example by Augustin Weigl , the Wachau began to flourish as a tourist destination for the Viennese . Tourism reached another peak in the period after the Second World War , which was also reflected in Austrian film productions. In particular, Hofrat Geiger and its new production Mariandl with the continuation of Mariandl's Homecoming and the popular hit Mariandl ("... from the Wachauer Landl, Landl") based on the melody by Hans Lang and the text by Kurt Nachmann made the area known. Many of the excursion restaurants used during this period have disappeared in the period that followed. But also in the last few years tourism advertising has been carried out with targeted television series such as the Danube Princess .

Recent history

During the restoration of the Dürnstein Abbey in the 1980s, a blue coloration on the church tower was found, which was restored. At the time of the restoration, this color was highly controversial. Only in the following years did the appearance in this color become a landmark in the Wachau.

At the beginning of the 1970s there were plans to build a hydroelectric power plant ( Danube power plant ) on the Danube with the aim of using energy and improving shipping conditions. The dam was to be located at Rührsdorf across from Dürnstein and built using a dry construction method. These projects were not implemented after fierce resistance from the population and in 1983 the government finally removed them from the program. The Danube in the Wachau is therefore still a remaining free stretch of river.

In 2006, the old arm that would have served as a canal for the power plant was connected to the Danube again, but this time for environmental protection purposes and with the support of 80 landowners from Rührsdorf and Rossatz.

Regional development

In 1955 the Wachau was declared a landscape protection area.

Since 1994 the region has held the European Diploma for Protected Areas of the Council of Europe , which was awarded again in 1999 and 2004 for a period of five years and in 2009 and 2019 for a further 10 years.

The year 2000 is the valley of the Danube, with the abbeys Melk and Göttweig and the old town of Krems, as Wachau Cultural Landscape (Engl. Wachau Cultural Landscape has been added) to the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

With the help of European and national programs such as LEADER and LIFE Natur, the Wachau has been running active regional development and regional policy with a focus on ecology and sustainability since 2002 . From its office in Spitz, World Heritage Management today coordinates the interests of the 15 watchdog communities as well as a number of other institutions and NGOs as well as many private friends of the region.

Since the end of 2007, the Wachau has again been recognized as a LEADER region, this time with the small region of Dunkelsteinerwald as a partner. It was preceded by the largest participation process in the history of the region. More than 1000 citizens of the Wachau, but also from outside, took part in the preparatory work. For the funding period 2014–2020, the region was again recognized together with the small region of Dunkelsteinerwald.

Since 2018 there has also been an ornithological working group Wachau (OAGW), which takes care of the protection and research of the bird world.


The comparatively mild climate of the valley floor also led to intensive viticulture and fruit growing, which is carried out on the slopes in stone terraces. The frequent sunny days and cool nights are important for the quality of the wine. Riesling , Grüner Veltliner and Neuburger are considered wine specialties . Wine is served in numerous Heurigen businesses by winemakers who offer wine and simple dishes for a few weeks a year. When it comes to fruit, the Wachau apricot deserves a special mention. The two main pillars of the economy in the Wachau are therefore viticulture, fruit growing and tourism. In order to protect the traditional cultivation methods and use them more intensively, the region was also registered as a Wachau apricot PDO .


Grapevines in St. Michael

" Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus " was the name Leuthold I. von Kuenring / Dürnstein "Oberster Schenk in Austria" (1260-1312) called the core of his possessions, congruent with today's legally demarcated Wachau wine-growing region of the "Vinea Wachau" association. The members make a binding declaration that they serve the Wachau wine culture and only sell wine from the Wachau. In order to emphasize the uniqueness of the wines from the Wachau, the associations classified them into three categories:

  • Steinfeder is the name of the light, fragrant wines from the Wachau wine-growing region. The stone spring ( Stipa pennata ) - the feather-light grass of the steep vineyards in the valley - gave these wines their name. The alcohol content of the wines is a maximum of 11.5% by volume, so it is low. The Wachau is the wine-growing region in which it is possible to press wines with such a low alcohol content due to the natural climate and soil conditions.
  • Federspiel is the name of Wachau wines in the cabinet area with a must weight from 17 ° KMW and an alcohol content between 11.5 and 12.5% ​​by volume.
  • Smaragd is the term used for the first time for wines of the 1986 vintage for the best and most valuable wines of the Wachau, which only mature in the sunniest vineyards. They are named after the emerald lizards that feel particularly at home in the Wachau vineyard terraces. These particularly valuable wines with an alcohol content of 12.5% ​​by volume or more are fermented until the fermentation stops naturally and are always dry.
Apricot blossom in the Wachau (Oberloiben, March 2014)

Fruit growing

Although the Wachau is primarily known for its wine , a special variety of apricot is grown on the valley floor by the Danube, and in the Spitzer Graben belonging to the Wachau , as well as on the right bank of the Danube (especially Arnsdorf) . The Wachau Apricot Designation of Origin is also protected within the EU . But other types of fruit, such as apples , are also cultivated.


Apricot jam from the Wachau (including Japanese signs)

Since the end of the 20th century, the Wachau has experienced a new boom due to the high quality wine culture and culinary art, but also increasingly in the mass segment as a result of bike tourism . In 2008, the Wachau recorded almost 680,000 overnight stays per year, with only 450 overnight stays and a restrained tourism infrastructure.

The respected travel magazine National Geographic Traveler of the National Geographic Society ranked the Wachau in first place in its last rating (November 2008) of 110 historical places worldwide. Criteria for the assessment of the destinations by ecologists, geographers and tourism researchers was "the preservation of the historical character and [...] their integrity despite mass tourism"

The preferred season for tourism is between Easter and All Saints' Day - this is the time when most of the relevant businesses are open. This one-seasonality in tourism has crystallized due to the preferences of most tourists in recent decades. Basically, the Wachau has a lot to offer in all seasons.

  • Spring: apricot blossom, wine spring
  • Summer: hot season, swimming in the Danube, beautiful beaches (e.g. opposite Dürnstein, in Rührsdorf and in Aggsbach-Markt)
  • Autumn: discoloration of the vine leaves, grape harvest, wine festivals
  • Winter: Low season, when there is (seldom) snow cover, the landscape with the wine terraces changes into black and white silhouettes, the first young wine

Top excursion destinations

The most important excursion destinations in the Wachau include:

World Heritage Trail and Danube Cycle Path

Two well-known paths lead through the Wachau.

Castles and ruins

Important tourist destinations, in addition to the two historical urban regions of Melk and Krems with their monasteries, include castle ruins:

  • The Aggstein ruin was made more attractive in 2005 during its largest renovation since 1620. In addition to modern communication methods (audio tours), it now also offers the possibility of weddings in the re-consecrated castle chapel.
  • You can visit the rear building ruins in Spitz and the Dürnstein ruins without paying a high entrance fee .
  • The Oberranna Castle in Mühldorf can also be visited .

The castle Dürnstein , the castle Nieder Ranna in Mühldorf and the castle Schönbühel in Schönbühel-Aggsbach cannot be visited .

Prospect waiting

As early as the first half of the 19th century, the first towers or waiting areas were built on prominent mountain peaks or lookout points. Most of the control rooms were opened in the late 19th century. But observation towers are still being built today (e.g. Gruberwarte, Seekopfwarte).

Social events

Participants in the Wachau Bicycle Days 2018 shortly after the Danube bridge in Melk
Autumn mood in the Wachau near Weißenkirchen
  • Wachau wine spring - widespread wine tasting of the Vinea Wachau member companies on the first weekend in May
  • Apricot day
  • Apricot blossom
  • Riesling Festival
  • Fireworks for the summer solstice
  • Grape harvest
  • Wine autumn
  • Baptism of tears
  • Wachau marathon

are strong crowd pullers.

Cultural event

  • Wachaufestival in Weissenkirchen : theater performances in the Teisenhoferhof
  • Summer Games Melk

Tourist shipping

In tourist shipping, the Wachau is one of the busiest sections of the Danube (see DDSG Blue Danube and Brandner Schiffahrt ). Smaller ships offer individual trips for events, meetings, family celebrations, especially the civil wedding on board or the "Weinriedenfahrt" of the Nostalgie-Tours Wachau.

Wachau volunteer

In 2011 the Alpine Club started a project with volunteers from different countries around the world, who helped with nature conservation work in Spitz an der Donau and Mühldorf . This year, young people in the Jauerling – Wachau nature park also came to the three-year project to preserve the valuable and most endangered biotopes and natural spaces. The project was named Volunteer Project of the Year by UNESCO in the second year of its existence .

A total of two work camps with volunteers will take place between 2018 and 2020.

  • Big Five Volunteers: Always two of the five large protected areas of Lower Austria ( Thaya Valley National Park , Danube-Auen National Park , wilderness Dürrenstein , Wienerwald Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Wachau) are organizing a two-week camp. The volunteers each spend a week in a protected area and help with maintenance measures to preserve the cultural landscape.
  • World Heritage Volunteers Wachau-Middle Rhine Valley: A two-week camp is also being organized in cooperation with the World Heritage Middle Rhine Valley (DE). The volunteers spend one week each in the Wachau and one in the Middle Rhine Valley. Local organizations are supported in the care and maintenance of dry grass surfaces, dry stone walls and the like.

As a result of these projects, 5–10 hectares of dry grass are mowed annually and thus protected from encroachment. In this way, part of the unique flora and fauna of the Wachau is preserved.


DDSG excursion ship “Wachau” in front of St. Michael
DDSG excursion ship “Wachau” in front of Aggsbach Markt

The traffic development takes place through:

See also: List of Danube bridges


Danube bank with an offshore island near Dürnstein

The Wachau has always been a popular film set. Some of the films:

Cultural history


Numerous legends have passed down from the Wachau, some of which deal with mythical events (e.g. the devil's wall) or with historical events (e.g. war events such as the Napoleonic Wars). The legends were recorded by Hans Plöckinger and Josef Wichner, among others .

"Wachovia" in North America

Namely related to the Danube Wachau is an area called "Wachovia" - Latin modification of "Wachau" - in the north-west of the state of North Carolina in the United States.

A financial institution founded in Winston (now Winston-Salem) in 1879 was named Wachovia .


  • Office of the Noe state government: General investigation of the landscape compatibility of settlement expansions in the Wachau , St. Pölten 2006
  • Franz Eppel: The Wachau, Nibelungengau and Strudengau. Salzburg 1975 ISBN 3-900173-02-8
  • Fritz Friedl: Wachau - Wein - Welt - Fotos A cultural-historical kaleidoscope , 2016, Volume 1 (text), Volume 2 (photos) ISBN 978-3-99028-529-9
  • Werner Gamerith: "Wachau and its surroundings - habitats of a cultural landscape", Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck-Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-7022-2514-5
  • Hannes Gans: The Wachau with Strudengau and Nibelungengau, Falter Verlag, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-85439-364-4
  • Thomas Hofmann, Clemens Hofmann: "Wachau - wonderful, legendary, unknown" Pichler Verlag, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-85431-369-1
  • Elfriede Maria Klepoch: Archive Pictures . The Wachau. Sutton Verlag, Erfurt 2007, ISBN 978-3-86680-126-4
  • Hans Plöckinger: Legends of the Wachau. Verlag Österreicher, Krems 1926
  • Mella Waldstein (text), Gregor Semrad (photographs): Wachau: Landscape on the river. St. Polten; Vienna; Linz: NP-Buchverl., 2004, ISBN 3-85326-336-4
  • Walter M. Weiss (text), Gregor Semrad (photographs): Wachau: Krems and Stein. City jewel between yesterday and tomorrow. St. Polten; Vienna; Linz: NP-Buchverl., 2004, ISBN 3-85326-358-5

Web links

Commons : Wachau  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Wachau  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. UNESCO: Wachau Cultural Landscape ; accessed on February 8, 2019
  2. Document No. 423 in: Theodor Sickel (Ed.): Diplomata 12: The documents Konrad I., Heinrich I. and Otto I. (Conradi I., Heinrici I. et Ottonis I. Diplomata). Hanover 1879, pp. 577-578 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  3. Wachau - Nibelungengau - Kremstal. Arrival and public transport. Danube Lower Austria (donau.com), accessed on November 3, 2017
  4. Johann von Frast (ed.): The "foundation book" of the Cistercian monastery Zwetl . In: Fontes rerum Austriacarum - Austrian historical sources. Published by the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Second division. Diplomata et acta. III. Volume, Vienna 1851, digitized version in the Internet Archive , p. 67
  5. Frast, p. 125
  6. ^ Statements by the Herzogenburg provost Maximilian Fürnsinn on the 25th anniversary of the restoration on November 27, 2011 on ORF-NÖ TV
  7. Wachau working group: 40 years for the Wachau ( Memento from March 12, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Wachau apricot . Entry no. 7 in the register of traditional foods of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Regions and Tourism .
  9. 2008 Destinations Rated . In: National Geographic Society (ed.): National Geographic Traveler . Nov./Dec. 2008 (English, Historic Places Rated: Introduction , Historic Places Rated: Europe . Traveler.nationalgeographic.com).
  10. The National Geographic Traveler Magazine names the Wachau as “Best Historic Destination”. (No longer available online.) In: Tourismuswirtschaft. Tiscover Lower Austria, formerly in the original ; Retrieved May 16, 2009 .  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.niederoesterreich.at  
  11. Johannes Pernsteiner (Red.): National Geographic: Wachau is "the best historical place". Choice due to sustainable development of the tourist region. In: Tourism / Travel, Culture / Lifestyle. Pressetext Austria (pte), October 23, 2008, accessed on May 16, 2009 (pte081023022).
  12. ^ Quote from Ronald Escher: Goldstück Melk, Perle Wachau . In: Salzburger Nachrichten . May 6, 2009, Austria, p. 8 , col. 2 ( SN article archive ).
  13. Wachau apricot blossom: probably the most beautiful signs of spring in Europe. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  14. Danube Cycle Path - Wachau Nibelungengau Kremstal. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  15. World Heritage Trail Wachau - Wachau Nibelungengau Kremstal. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  16. Event highlights - Wachau Nibelungengau Kremstal. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  17. Wachau Festival in Weissenkirchen Wachau World Heritage Site. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  18. Melk Summer Games. Retrieved December 6, 2019 .
  19. Wachau Volunteer on the PES website, accessed on July 15, 2011
  20. WachauVolunteer: Youth for Nature accessed on April 3, 2019
  21. "Wachau-Volunteer": UNESCO honors volunteers on ORF from July 15, 2011, accessed on July 15, 2011.
  22. Hans Plöckinger: Legends from the Wachau . Sagen.at