Dürnstein: Picture-perfect Wachau Impressions
If you have ever had a look at a postcard, a tourism brochure or any other promotional material of or on the Wachau, it is likely that you have already seen photographs of Dürnstein. The town and its surroundings are considered to be the ultimate Wachau-action: Gentle hills with vineyards and forests embrace the walled town, which sits on cliffs just above the Danube.
The former monastery added a Baroque tower and the ruined castle in the background makes the picture complete. Like most of the many nice places in the Wachau, you should expect tons of tourists especially during the main season in summer and early autumn.
In terms of sightseeing, the over-all impression of Dürnstein is actually pretty much about it - there are few places in the tiny town that are worth a closer look. I recommend just walking around. The former Augustinian monastery in Dürnstein was dissolved a long time ago and the monastery′s church now serves as a parish church and a landmark to the town. For more on this building, read the relevant parts of my article on the monasteries of Lower Austria and Vienna.
Dürnstein & Richard the Lionheart
The ruined castle of Burgruine Dürnstein attracts a lot of attention from British tourists. This is due to Richard I, also called "the Lionheart", who has been kept prisoner here. The story is as such: During the Third Crusade, French, English and other troops re-conquered the city of Acre. The conquest of a city was always followed by excessive looting and plundering, which is likely to be the reason why so many crusaders attended the crusades in the first place.
A royal leader would announce his claim to loot by raising a flag, which the duke of Austria, Leopold V, did alongside with the English and the French. Since the English and French were the biggest bunch of crusaders around, they thought that they could grab all of the loot.
Richard I ordered to fetch the flag and throw it into a ditch full of shit. Unfortunately, Richard′s ship sunk in the Mediterranean on his way home and the king had to take the route over the continent. He travelled incognito, but was stupid enough to spend a lot of money, wear his expensive leather gloves and a valuable ring on his finger. He attracted enough attention to alert the Austrians when he stayed in a tavern in Erdberg near Vienna (now in the quite central third district) and he was arrested.
A Homoerotic Tale from the Wachau
Richard was sent to the Wachau and imprisoned in Dürnstein. According to a somewhat homoerotic legend, his faithful minstrel Blondel travelled up and down the country to find his master. In front of every castle, he would raise his voice (probably among other things) and sing a song that only he and his "master" Richard knew. When he arrived in Dürnstein, he sung the first line…and Richard responded with the second. Blondel returned to England and negotiations regarding the payment of ransom money started. This is where legend ends and facts come back on the stage.
A vast amount of gold was paid to the Duke of Austria for the life of Richard, which caused quite a bit of an economic crisis in England. For Austria, however, it turned out to be quite beneficial: The Babenbergs were keen developers of their Alpine chunk of forest called Austria and used the money wisely for all sorts of useful things. They also founded the city of Wiener Neustadt with the ransom money, still one of Lower Austria′s economic powerhouses.
The castle in which Richard has been kept prisoner was later destroyed by Swedish troops in the 30-year-war. Similar to the rest of Dürnstein, the castle per se is not that exciting at all, but offers great views on the surroundings.