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Millstatt Abbey (Stift Millstatt) is a former monastery in Millstatt in Carinthia, Austria, now used by the Austrian civil service.
For centuries the monastery was the spiritual and cultural centre of Upper Carinthia and with its possessions round the Millstätter See, in the valley of the Görtschitz, in Friuli and in Salzburg, was one of the largest in the province.
It is presumed to have been founded in about 1070, but had definitely been established before 1122 and was run as a Benedictine abbey. In 1469 the buildings and assets were taken over by the Order of St. George, an Austrian order founded to combat the invading Turks. After its collapse in 1598 the premises passed to the Jesuits.
The church is now the property of the parish, while all other buildings belong to the Austrian government and are used by the Austrian State Forestry Commission (Österreichische Bundesforste).
Millstatt is a village in Carithia that is situated near the northern shore of Lake Millstätter See near the Nockberge. If you have read my article on the National Parks of Austria, the Nockberge might sound familiar to you – it is them of the not-quite-a-national-park reserve, which offers good hiking opportunities. Millstatt itself benefits quite a bit from the vicinity to these mountains, however, it is best known as a formerly imperial spa town that managed to preserve much of its 19th century splendour.
Millstatt’s oldest record dates back to Neolithic times, to approximately 2000 BC. Archaeological findings from that period were discovered on the Millstätter Berg hill near the hamlet of Lammersdorf. Around 500 BC, various Celtic tribes arrived in the area and populated much of today’s Carinthia until the Romans arrived in 15 BC.
The Romans were the first people in Carinthia to convert to Christian faith and built a church near another hamlet of Millstatt, Laubendorf. When Slavonic tribes started to migrate into Carinthia in the 5th and 6th century, they destroyed this church. The principality of Karantania formed as the seed for today’s Carinthia. It went under Bavarian and later Franconian rule in the 8th century.
Millstatt as a Scholastic Centre
Around this time, the bishops of Salzburg accepted the task of re-Christianising the people south of the Alps. They sent missionaries to Karantania, Bavarian settlers followed. In 800, the first Slavonic-Bavarian church was built in today’s Millstatt.
According to legend, a Slavonic duke called Domitian became a Christian and threw a thousand statues of pagan gods (Latin: “mille statue”) into the lake, which thereafter was called “lake of the mille statue” from which Millstätter See developed. The sad rationale of modern linguistics, however, teaches us to doubt such legends – in fact, the name refers to a place and developed only in the 11th century, a long time after all pagan statues had gone.
In 1070, a Benedictine monastery was founded in Millstatt. This was done with the support of the Duke Aribo of Bavaria and the Archbishop of Salzburg. Soon the monastery became the scholastic centre of Carinthia. For more information on the Stift Millstatt and its colourful history, please see my article on the monasteries of Carinthia. The former monastic church still serves as a parish church to Millstatt.
Millstatt turning into a Fancy Spa Town
The following centuries saw the arrival of the Knights of St George, Jesuits, some attempted Turkish invasions and the Napoleonic Wars. Carinthia was under changing administrations and it is hard to keep an overview on the turbulent past of this province. A very important innovation was the towns opening towards tourism in the second half of the 19th century.
The construction of a railroad accelerated this development, and soon the first lakeside promenade and public bath alongside with B&Bs and hotels were opened. The former monastery was transformed into a hotel in 1901. In 1921, Millstatt earned itself the status of an official “spa town” and emphasised that by hiring a spa orchestra of 25 musicians that performed nightly by the lakeside promenade during the main season.
Some of Millstatt’s most significant buildings date back to the period between approximately 1880 and 1920. This is when many Viennese aristocrats had their countryside retreats built here for stays in summer. To accommodate modern sightseeing-needs, the tourism board of Millstatt publishes a guide to 20 particularly nice villas as a “Villenwanderweg” (“Villa Hiking Route”).
Millstatt Museums & Nearby Attractions
Furthermore, visitors can learn more about the history of Millstatt in the town museum, situated in the former monastery. The local dungeon prides itself for still having some 16th century graffiti. A separate collection shows an array of rosaries, which might delight individuals with very specific interests.
The more recent past of Millstatt is shown in the “Heimat- und Fremdenverkehrsmuseum” in the former primary school of the town. This moderately interesting collection presents daily life in the past 150 years. If all that is not enough for you, reach out to other attractions of Carinthia. In the vicinity of Millstatt, these include Gmünd, Seeboden and Spittal; Villach, Velden, Ossiach and Maria Wörth.