Rising like a vision above St Florian, this abbey dates at least to 819 and has been occupied by the Canons Regular, living under Augustinian rule, since 1071. Today its imposing yellow-and-white facade is overwhelmingly baroque.
You can only visit the abbey’s interior by guided tour, which takes in the resplendent apartments adorned with rich stuccowork and frescoes. They include 16 emperors’ rooms (once occupied by visiting popes and royalty) and a galleried library housing 150,000 volumes.
The opulent Marble Hall pays homage to Prince Eugene of Savoy, a Frenchman who frequently led the Habsburg army to victory over the Turks. Prince Eugene’s Room contains an amusing bed featuring carved Turks, which gives a whole new meaning to the idea of sleeping with the enemy!
A high point of the tour is the Altdorfer Gallery, displaying 14 paintings by Albrecht Altdorfer (1480–1538) of the Danube School. The sombre and dramatic scenes of Christ and St Sebastian reveal a skilful use of chiaroscuro. Altdorfer cleverly tapped into contemporary issues to depict his biblical scenes (for example, one of Christ’s tormentors is clearly a Turk).
The Stiftsbasilika (open 6.30am to dusk) is an exuberant affair: its altar is carved from 700 tonnes of pink Salzburg marble and the huge, gilded 18th-century organ, with 7343 pipes, was Europe’s largest at the time it was built. To hear the organ in full swing, time your visit to see one of the 25-minute concerts.
Alongside Anton Bruckner’s simple tomb in the crypt are the remains of some 6000 people believed to be Roman, which were unearthed in the 13th century. Stacked in neat rows behind a wrought-iron gate, their bones and skulls create a spine-tingling work of art.