Wachau Cultural Landscape
Wachau Cultural Landscape
Cultural Austria Europe And North America Towns Of Krems And Melk, Lower Austria

The Wachau, a stretch of the Danube valley between Melk and Krems, is an outstanding example of a riverine landscape bordered by mountains in which material evidence of its long historical evolution has survived to a remarkable degree. The architecture, the human settlements, and the agricultural use of the land in the Wachau vividly illustrate a basically medieval landscape which has evolved organically and harmoniously over time. The Wachau is a landscape of high visual quality which preserves in an intact and visible form many traces - in the form of architecture (monasteries, castles, ruins) urban design (towns and villages) and agricultural use, principally for the cultivation of vines - of its evolution since prehistory.

Clearance of the natural forest cover by man began in the Neolithic period, although radical changes in the landscape did not take place until around 800, when the Bavarian and Salzburg monasteries began to cultivate the slopes of the Wachau, creating the present-day landscape pattern of vine terraces. In the centuries that followed, the acreage under cultivation fluctuated, under the influence of changes of climate and the wine market and acute labour shortages and the resultant wage increases in the 17th century.

In the 18th century, hillside viticulture was actively promoted in ecologically optimal regions. The areas released in this way were given over to pasture, with the ensuing economic consequences: some enterprises had to close down whereas others were enlarged. It was at this time that viticulture was finally abandoned in the upper stretches of the Wachau. Development of the countryside in the 19th century had particularly far-reaching consequences for the Wachau. The ratio of acreages devoted to viticulture and fruit growing respectively continues to be closely linked with recurrent fluctuations in markets for the products, giving the Wachau its characteristic appearance.

The basic layouts of the Wachau towns date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. The development of the settlements with their homogeneous character becomes evident in the town structures, both in the fabric and arrangement of the houses on mostly irregular lots and in the street patterns, which have remained practically unchanged since the late Middle Ages. Some town centres have been extended to some extent on their outer fringes by the construction of small residential buildings, mostly from 1950 onwards. The buildings in the Wachau towns date from more recent periods than the street plans. In the 15th and 16th centuries, stone construction began to replace the wooden peasant and burgher houses.

The winegrowers' farmsteads, which are oblong, U-shaped, or L-shaped or consist of two parallel buildings, date back to the late Middle Ages and the 16th-17th centuries. Most of these, with lateral gate walls or integrated vaulted passages and service buildings, feature smooth facades, for the most part altered from the 18th and 19th centuries onwards. Street fronts are often accentuated by late-medieval/post-medieval oriels on sturdy brackets, statues in niches, wall paintings and sgraffito work, or remnants of paintwork or rich Baroque facades. The steeply pitched, towering hipped roof occurs so frequently that it can be regarded as an architectural characteristic of the Wachau house.

The 18th-century buildings, which still serve trade and craft purposes and are partly integrated in the town structure, such as taverns or inns, stations for changing draught horses, boat operators' and toll houses, mills, smithies, or salt storehouses, frequently go back to the 15th and 16th centuries. There is a number of castles dominating the towns and the Danube valley and many architecturally and artistically significant ecclesiastical buildings dominate both townscape and landscape.