Where Richard the Lion-Hearted Was Held Prisoner
The ruins of a castle fortress, 159m (522 ft.) above the town, are inextricably linked to the Crusades. Here Leopold V, the Babenberg duke ruling the country at that time, held Richard the Lion-Hearted of England prisoner in 1193. For quite some time, nobody knew exactly where in Austria Richard was incarcerated, but his loyal minstrel companion, Blondel, had a clever idea. He went from castle to castle, playing his lute and singing Richard's favorite songs. The tactic paid off, the legend says, for at Dürnstein, Richard heard Blondel's singing and sang the lyrics in reply. The discovery forced Leopold to transfer Richard to a castle in the Rhineland Palatinate, but by then everybody knew where he was. So Leopold set a high ransom on the king's head, which was eventually met, and Richard was set free. The castle was virtually demolished by the Swedes in 1645, but you can visit the ruins if you don't mind a vigorous climb (allow 1 hr.). The castle isn't much, but the view of Dürnstein and the Wachau is more than worth the effort.
Back in town, take in the principal artery, Hauptstrasse, which is flanked by richly adorned old residences. Many of these date from the 1500s and have been well maintained through the centuries.
The 15th-century Pfarrkirche (parish church) also merits a visit. The building was originally an Augustinian monastery and was reconstructed when the baroque style swept Austria. The church tower is the finest baroque example in the whole country and a prominent landmark in the Danube Valley. Kremser Schmidt, the noted baroque painter, did some of the altar paintings.
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