Sunday, May 18, 2003

Took the train from the Franz-Josefs Train Station on the northern side of Vienna to Krems am der Donau about 45 miles upstream on the Danube River. This town in at the western end of the in the part of the Danube River valley known as the Wachau. For about 25 miles upstream from here the river winds among steep hills and mountains on either side. At Krems am der Donau I took another train to Durnstein, just four or five miles further on.

The Danube upstream from Durnstein

This tiny walled village is famous for its castle where Richard the Lion Hearted was held captive after he was seized by the Austrians on his way back to England from the Third Crusade. (I am referring here of course to the Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and not the current Crusade led by George “Hulagu” Bush.) As you will probably recall from reading about these crusades, Richard was one of the European leaders who recaptured Acre in 1191. He and the French King Philip II decided to split the booty between them and froze out the other European participants in the battle. When the Austrian Duke Leopold V tried to raise his flag in captured Acre, Richard tore it down and threw it in a ditch. Unfortunately, on his way back to England his ship wrecked in the Adriatic Sea and Richard had to travel overland through Austria. He tried to disguise himself, but he was not the kind of person who could travel inconspicuously. He threw around a lot of money, wore fancy cloths (especially gloves), and was legendarily handsome, which of course caught the eye of the ladies and outraged a lot of jealous swains. He was eventually found out in Vienna, taken captive, and placed in a cell at the Durnstein castle.

The Castle where Richard the Lion Hearted was held, from the village of Durnstein.

Here the famous minstrel known as Blondel, who had formerly been a companion of Richard’s, sashays onto the stage. According to one account he was searching up and down the Danube for his master from whom he had earlier become separated. Then when he was passing through Durnstein he starting singing one of his old songs which he and Richard had once sung together. Amazingly a voice from the cell of the Durnstein Castle took up the refrain. Thus alerted to Richard’s presence, Blondel hurried back to England and raised a ransom for Richard’s release. Richard finally did make it back to England.

Close-up of the ruins of the castle