Discover UNESCO: Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey
It was almost impossible to image that the former monastery of Corvey in its peaceful rural setting once used to be a hard fought over frontier. Located in a bend of the river Weser, Charles the Great initiated the establishment of a small basilica during the quest to expand his Carolingian Empire and Christianize the notorious Saxons of what is now northern Germany. Charles proved to be more successful than his Roman predecessors a few centuries earlier, and after he became the first emperor of a united Western Europe, Corvey Monastery played a key role in securing peace and catholic prosperity in the area for generations to come.
- Schloss Corvey consists of a baroque monastery that was turned into a castle, a princely library and a baroque church with Calolingian Westwork.
- The UNESCO site is located in northwestern Germany, close to Höxter in the state of North Rhine-Westfalia.
- The current monastery complex including the church was built between 1699 and 1718, while the Carolingian Westwork was erected between 873 and 885.
- Inscribed by UNESCO is the Calolingian Westwork, the only remaining part of Corvey Monastery dating from medieval times.
- Schloss Corvey is open from 10am to 6pm daily from May to October. During the winter months it is closed on Mondays.
- The entrance fee to the castle and church is 6 euros for adults. A guided tour costs 3 euros per person and a photography license 1 euro.
Carolingian Westwork of Schloss Corvey
Interior of the Westwork
Why this is a UNESCO Site
The Carolingian westwork, consisting of a three-dimensional west facade in the shape of a tall entrance building is a unique feature of its time. Erected between 873 and 885, it was added to an existing Carolingian basilica. After the destruction of the basilican church, the westwork remains as one of the most important medieval structures of Germany. Built on a square plan above a crypt, the ancient Corinthian columns support first the open main level of the altar and then the elevated area with the emperor’s throne. Although the west façade, including the towers, was raised during 12th century, the building remains as the only almost completely preserved Carolingian westwork in the world.
Thoughts and Observations
Visiting Schloss Corvey was an interesting experience, especially after realizing that I had been there before many years ago. Now that the westwork of the former monastery of Corvey had become a freshly baked UNESCO site and was awarded its World Heritage status only a few months ago, it was great to visit it again with a whole new appreciation for the architecture and history of the place. The enjoyment of the visit was enhanced by the fact that this brand new UNESCO site came with an extensive baroque castle plus gardens and just a hand full of visitors.
The whole visit stood in stark contrast to the experience at the overcrowded and overpriced Mount Saint-Michel, and here in Corvey on the other hand, architecture and history could be enjoyed in a very relaxed environment. Especially learning about the first church and its significant role in Christianizing the northern Saxons was really fascinating. This early church of Corvey eventually received the addition of the Carolingian westwork and then arcades plus a cloister, which finally turned the whole complex into a monastery.
After even developing to an influential and wealthy abbey, the entire complex, except for the UNESCO inscribed westwork, was destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and rebuilt as a baroque monastery. Some 100 years later, and after almost 1000 years of monastic use, Schloss Corvey was turned into a castle, which it partially remains today. With its baroque church, castle museum, medieval westwork, princely library and sunken town that used to exist immediately around the monastery, the UNESCO site of Corvey was quite an interesting place to visit.
What else to see at Schloss Corvey
Close by Schloss Corvey
Tips and Recommendations
- Tips: Don’t miss visiting:
- The monastery church, built as the first one in local “red baroque” style and housing the famous relics of St. Vitus.
- The princely library with its unique collection of over 75,000 volumes of leather-bound books in three different languages.
- The stucco covered rooms of the once extremely wealthy monastery, including the hand blown glass chandelier from Murano by Venice that was transported here in a barrel full of butter to keep it from fracturing.
- The ruined monastery complex of Tom Roden that stands testimony to the sunken town that once used to exist in the area.
- Budget Tip: Visiting the exterior of Schloss Crovey and walking through the gardens and courtyards is entirely free of charge. Also the close by site of the ruined Tom Roden monastery can be explored for free.
- Go right now
- Definitely go soon!
- Go if you are around
- Stop by if you are bored
- Consider missing it
Overall Schloss Corvey was a surprisingly nice place to visit that had a lot of different things to offer. The guided tour that I happened to join, led by a very passionate elderly man from the area, made the whole visit not only more informative but actually captivating.
Schloss Corvey is reached most conveniently by car and parking is free of charge, but it is also possible to get there on a 20 to 30 minute walk along the tree-lined Corveyer Allee from Höxter.
Would you enjoy visiting a Westwork and learning about the Calolingian Empire?