Burgruine Aggstein Castle & Surroundings
There are four images that one immediately associates with the Wachau: The monastery of Melk, the view on Dürnstein, the loop of the Danube near Dürnstein, and the ruined castle of Burgruine Aggstein. Built on a steep cliff since the 12th century, it is by far the most attractive of the numerous castles in the Wachau.
The castle is situated about 300 metres above the shores of the Danube and built on or in a massive, 150 metre long rock. In 1181, Burg Aggstein went to the Kuenringer family, a dynasty of notorious rebels. In 1230, they led a revolt against Duke Friedrich II, who besieged and conquered Burg Aggstein.
Following a period of confusion regarding the status of the Kuenringers, they managed to gain control of the castle again. One generation later, they took a leading role in another revolt against Duke Albrecht I. In 1295/96, the castle was besieged and conquered again, and again the Kuenringers got it back. The last one of the dynasty owned it until 1355. After that, the castle fell into disrepair.
Aggstein: Wachau at its Best
In the 15th century, Duke Albrecht V gave the castle to Georg Jörg Scheck von Wald. His job was to fix the damages, maintain the paths by the Danube that were crucial for transportation, and get tax from passing boats. Over time, Scheck von Wald grew increasingly corrupt and turned into a cruel robber.
His legendary cruelty still make the key ingredient to local fairy tales. He was only the first in a series of robber landlords, until the Duke conquered the castle in order to end the regular looting of ships on the Danube in 1477. Only a few years later, the castle itself was looted by Turkish troops in the course of the first siege of Vienna in 1529.
In the following centuries, the castle changed hands quite regularly. It lost its militaristic significance. In 1685, Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg (one of the most important generals at the defeat of the Turks during the second siege of Vienna in 1683) bought it, but did not do much to maintain the building. Other owners were less famous, and in 1930, Count Oswald von Seilern-Aspang bought the entire area. His family still owns the premises.
Surroundings of Aggstein
Burg Aggstein attracts some 55,000 visitors a year, which makes it one of Lower Austria′s most popular attractions. Its legend is nourished by the many revolts and corrupt robber-knights, and by the impressive scenery that surrounds the ruined walls. The first Kuenring landlord of Aggstein, Hadmar III (who legendarily used a chain across the Danube to attack ships), considered it to be a non-penetrable castle. In fact, despite of its violent history, the castle was never conquered through the use of arms or violence, only after long and engaging sieges.
Burgruine Aggstein is the main attraction in the area, but not the only one. The Basilica of Maria Langegg is a church of pilgrimage and famous for its trompe l′oeil paintings and frescoes. The village of Aggsbach-Dorf has some charming spots to offer, including a former Cartusian monastery in a complete set altogether with a Gothic church (with a Jugendstil altar); and some town fortifications that are worth a look. Other nearby attractions include Spitz, Weissenkirchen, Dürnstein and Krems downstream the Danube; and Melk upstream of it.