Zwettl in Lower Austria:
Monastery, Beer & Rural Appeals
The town of Zwettl is a county town in the Waldviertel area in the northern part of Lower Austria. It has approximately 12,000 residents if you include the immediate surroundings, with approximately 4,500 of them living directly in the city. Zwettl has the rank of a county town, which makes it an economic, administrative and intellectual centre for the region. Geographically, Zwettl is situated at a "crossing" of several significant valleys: The Gradnitztal, the Kamptal, the Sierningtal and the Zwettltal. Whithin Austria, Zwettl is best-known for its brewery, producing the Zwettler Bier, and the monastery of the town. In terms of land, Zwettl is among the biggest communities of Austria – which is usually an indicator of rather empty regions.
It is generally assumed that the name Zwettl is derived from the Slavonic word "Svetla", meaning "clearance". This is a purely linguistic theory, though, as there is no evidence for a Slavonic settlement in the area of modern Zwettl. In written records, you can track back the history of Zwettl to the year 1139, when it was mentioned as s foundation of the Counts of Kuenring.
The document is kept in the library of the monastery of Zwettl, a Cistercian Abbey that was hugely influential on the development of the city and shaped it throughout its Medieval and Modern history. Note that the monastery can be found about 10 kilometres outside of the city, though – as usually with Cistercian monks, they preferred a remote location just off major settlements. After 1200, Zwettl is generally considered to be a city with all the relevant privileges.
Zwettl after 1400: Battered by Bohemia
As a border town close to Moravia and Bohemia, Zwettl was heavily involved in the Hussite Wars repeatedly throughout the 15th century. It was besieged three times in 1426 and 1427. Zwettl was successfully defended, but the monastery was flattened by the Hussites on that occasion. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation brought further trouble to the area, which lost its status as a border town when the Habsburgs acquired Bohemia and Moravia in the early 16th century.
During the 30-Years-War, the conflicts with Bohemia re-emerged and Swedish troops occupied Zwettl and looted it rather badly in 1645. The city never fully recovered to previous glory and spent a few not overly exciting centuries. Today, Zwettl tries to emphasise its importance for gentle ecotourism. Sightseeing attractions are obviously the Cistercian Abbey, a well designed by hippie-artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, as well as a town centre with city walls, Renaissance and Baroque town houses concentrated around the main square.
The city walls and Zwettl′s past as a border town left the city with various towers and fortifications worth a closer look. Note also the town museum (Stadtmuseum Zwettl) for local history and the churches of Propsteikirche, the Lutheran church and the "Spitalskirche zum Hl. Martin". If you fancy exploring the surroundings of Zwettl beyond the monastery, note The chateaux of Schloss Rosenau. It comes with a museum dedicated to Austrian traditions of freemasonry.