Zwettl Abbey was founded in 1137 by Hadmar I of Kuenring. The foundation was confirmed by Pope Innocent II (1140) and over the course of time by several other popes and emperors. Several members of the family of the founder were buried here.
The monastery was constructed, as Cistercian houses often were, in a river valley, in this case in a bend of the River Kamp. Extensive buildings were erected, and the church, chapter-room, and dormitory were blessed in 1159, though the entire monastery was not completed until 1218. Zwettl Abbey soon became one of the most important monasteries in the order.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the abbey was repeatedly plundered, especially in 1426, when 4,000 Hussites sacked and burned it down. It was rebuilt under Abbot John (1437–51). Near the end of the fifteenth century, over forty monks lived in Zwettl Abbey. Under the Protestant Reformation the community was reduced to six monks and one secular priest. By an imperial rescript the monastery was forced to sell one quarter of its large possessions. It flourished again under Abbot Erasmus (1512-1545) and his successors during the Baroque period, notwithstanding the Thirty Years' War and the Turkish invasion, during which it was saved from destruction by the friendship of the Count of Thurn for Abbot Siegfried.
During the administrations of Abbot Linck (1646–71), author of the Annales Austrio Claravallenses, and Abbot Melchior (1706-1747), who rebuilt a great part of the abbey and enriched it with many precious vessels and vestments, it reached its zenith. Abbot Melchior encouraged study and opened schools of philosophy, theology and so on in the monastery.
The monastery contains buildings of all architectural styles from Romanesque to Baroque. The modern form of the premises is the result of the Baroque refurbishment in the 18th century, which involved the reconstruction of the principal buildings. Among other parts the western tower was constructed by Josef Munggenast to plans by Matthias Steinl. Only one other tower in Lower Austria is higher than this building's 82 meters. Another part of this construction period is the library, which contains frescoes by Paul Troger.
From 1728 to 1731 Johann Ignaz Egedacher from Passau constructed the famous Egedacher Organ, one of the biggest and most expensive organs of the region of Vienna and Lower Austria.
The abbey's library contains over 60,000 volumes, 500 incunabula, and 420 manuscripts, the most famous of which is the Zwettl Stiftungsbuch ('cartulary').
The community now consists of 23 monks, who have care of fourteen incorporated parishes and four others. The monastery makes its living from a forest of about 2,500 hectares, a fish farm of 90 hectares, a farm of 110 hectares and the vineyards of Schloss Gobelsburg with about 35 hectares.
The monastery buildings now contain a school.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.