Quick facts

  • European Diploma of Protected Areas (code AT940002)
  • Since 1994
  • Country: Austria
  • Administrative region: Not available
  • Surface area: 463 km2 (46300.00 ha)
  • Marine area: Not available

Source and more information: Council of Europe


Site contact authorities

Manager Mr. Hirtzberger Hannes Arbeitskreis zum Schutz der Wachau A-3601 DÜRNSTEIN 107 Tel.: ++43 2732 82653 Fax: ++43 2732 8139385
Information Arbeitskreis zum Schutz der Wachau A-3601 DÜRNSTEIN 107
Official contact international  
Official contact national  
Official contact regional  
Official contact local  


General character of the site The "Wachau" lies in the middle of Lower Austria some 65 km west of Vienna. The Wachau is that stretch of the Danube where the river cuts a roughly 33 km long valley through the basement complex of Bohemian massif between Melk in the west and Krems in the east, embracing also the hillsides visible from the Danube, including the eastern slopes of the Jauerling facing the Danube at "Spitzer Graben". By virtue of its scenic, cultural, economic, biological, and geological individuality the Wachau can be said to be a self-contained yet richly variational region with very special, impressive characteristics, high aesthetic and cultural value. As a synthesis of natural landscapes and urbanization, an ensemble of highly unusual, unmistakable character. The region is also closed upon itself in an historical sense. Archeological findings made there suggest that the Wachau was one of the first regions in Europe to become civilized. Its villages, buildings, and civilization point to a continuous development going back for more than one thousand years. 
Documentation Council of Europe (1993) - Wachau Cultural Landscape - Application for the European Diploma presented by the Austrian Government , Strasbourg, 39 p. 
Habitat types  
Potential vegetation  
Geomorphology On its way through Austria the Danube flows for long stretches along the southern edge of the Bohemian massif but also traverses several of its southern spurs on route. In the Wachau the river separates Dunkelsteiner Wald, which stretches almost as far as St. Poelten, from the main body of the massif of the Waldviertel. This massif is entirely made up of crystalline rocks (plutonic rocks, metamorphic or transformation rocks) which were formed during the Paleozoic era and are now described as Moldanubicum. The Danube forced its way through these rocks, sometimes following a course already provided for it by geological developments.The valley which was cut out in the process is characterized by the variety of the underlying rocks and the cultural forms, which sprang up as a result. The special charm of the scenery is to be seen in the contrasts - on one side the gentle terrain and the mild climate in those stretches where the valley widens, whilst on the other side of the barren unapproachability of the raw, steep, wooded highland of the Waldviertel and Dunkelsteiner Wald.These steep slopes, frequently interspersed with rock faces, are made up of very weather-resistant metamorphic rocks such as gneiss, granulite, amphibolite, and marble, etc.. The sparse and sterile soils support only forest for the main part. By contrast, in the troughs of the valleys and at the foot of the slopes, deposits of gravel, sand, loess, and clay were formed in the Tertiary period and during the Ice Age. The loess in particular provides fertile soil and thus the basis for viticulture and fruit growing. Traces of prehistoric settlement could be found in this soil as well (Venus of Willendorf).Approaching from the West as a wide valley, the Danube valley narrows from Melk downwards. Interrupted occasionally by wider valley sections extending to the left bank in particular, the Danube finds itself virtually along the entire Wachau stretch in a narrow V-valley. On either side of the valley the steep cliffs extend almost to the river itself. The wider valley sections provide just sufficient space for human settlement on the valley floors, while ascending terraces bear extensive wine and fruit cultures.The changing course of the Danube valley, from West/East to North and then to South/East is caused by the "Diendorfer" fault, extending via Melk through the Dunkelsteiner wood to Krems and on to Bohemia.Just before the end of the Wachau, the Danube leaves the Bohemian massif to enter the broad plain of Tullner Feld. 
Educational interest  
Cultural heritage Even as far back as in prehistoric times the morphology of the loess slopes and a relatively mild climate attracted gatherers and hunters into the valley of the Wachau. This accounts for the numerous prehistoric finds which have been made in this region. The "Venus of Willendorf" takes pride of place amongst these findings. The "Venus" is an approximately 11 cm high statuette of a woman in limestone and generally taken to be a fertility idol. It dates back some 25.000 - 26.000 years and ranks amongst the most famous monuments of Stone Age skilled craft.In the first century AD the Wachau stretch of the Danube valley formed parts of the Roman "Limes", along which the Roman garrison "Favianis" near Mautern was of some significance and is particularly remembered because St. Severinus (died 482 AD) resided there for many years. The "Vita Sancti Severini" do not only give an impressive report on early Christianity in Austria, but also the first reference to viticulture in the Wachau.The name "Wachau" was first mentioned in history as "Uuahouua" in a written deed drawn up by Ludwig der Deutsche in the year 830. This mention was made in connection with a deed of gift to the Bavarian monastery at Niederaltaich near Spitz (first mentioned in 864). In later times, the name "Wachau" was frequently mentioned in documents. Weissenkirchen, first mentioned as "Liechtenkirchen" in a document dating back to the year 1258, developed into the main centre of the region known from the Middle Ages through to the revolution of 1848 as "Tal Wachau". Duernstein is yet another old settlement which must have been established long before first mentioned in history in the year 1168, when it belonged to the Bavarian monastery at Tergernsee. From their castle at Duernstein the Kuenringers ruled "Tal Wachau" in their capacity as stewards for Tegernsee from the 12th century onwards. In this castle the English King Richard the Lion Heart was held prisoner from 1192-1193. The oldest parish in the Wachau is that of St. Michael, whose church is of significance to art historians (the present building dates from 1500-1523) and was first mentioned in the year 1159. The parish church of Sr. Maurice at Spitz is also very old and its patrocinium was transferred from the Bavarian monastery at Niederaltaich to Spitz. We are reminded of the economic importance of the Wachau, particularly the wine growing activities, not only by the numerous wineries which once belonged to various Bavarian and Austrian monasteries, but also by a series of toll-houses and customs stations where the transport of wine, salt, wood, and iron via the River Danube was regulated and taxed. After the decline of the area's viniculture as a result of the appearance of the vine fretter at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Wachau has regained its importance as a wine-growing region.Together with the many local historical aristic and cultural monuments, the terraced vineyards form the present day image of Wachau, a stretch that in this century has become to be one of the most visited tourist regions in Lower Austria. 
Management plan  
URL official  
URL interesting http://www.sitesatlas.com/Places/ausWachau.htm 

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100