The hidden treasure of the Alps
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
In the valleys of Ammer and Loisach, surrounded by the lofty chain of the Alps lays an almost 700 years old abbey. Its green metal dome rises above the fortress-like monastery making it visible far from the Bavarian highway as if inviting the unaware traveler to visit. Even the GPS shows a massive construction in 3D. Passing the front gate, the visitor enters a large, carefully looked after courtyard at the end of which stands the object of curiosity: an imposing Baroque church decorated outside and inside with sculptures.
The abbey was founded by Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria in 1330. According to historians, after several disputes and wars, Ludwig agreed with his cousin Frederick the Fair that Frederick will rule as Roman King in Germany and Ludwig will become Holy Roman Emperor. Ludwig went to Italy where he was crowned King of Italy in Milan in 1327 and Emperor in Rome in 1328. He came into conflict with the papacy and had to flee from Rome within a year.
One legend says that on his way back to Germany his horse faltered 3 times in the Graswang valley. He considered this a sign and ordered an abbey to be built where he set up the statue of Madonna and Child he brought with him from Pisa. Another legend, similar to the first one but enlightening the reason why Ludwig had the abbey built says that he had no more money to return from Italy and made a promise to a monk that if he helps him flee from Italy, he will establish a monastery. The monk helped him indeed and Ludwig managed to return to Germany. Ludwig chose Ettal as the location for the abbey as he saw the valley as a strategic position from where he could control the main trade route between Augsburg and Italy. Beside the Benedictine order, he hired the Teutonic Knights to watch the road.
The Teutonic Knights were founded as a military order in Palestine to treat the ill and wounded Christians during the Crusades. When the Christians were defeated in the Middle East, the Teutonic Knights retreated to Transylvania where they protected the Southern border of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Cumans.
When the order gained more wealth and wanted independence and more power with the support of the Pope, Andrew II of Hungary expelled them, and they fled towards the German regions and the current Baltic states where they had several wars with Prussia, Latvia and Poland, until they finally were defeated by the Polish army. The Teutonic Knights are also known as the German Knights and the King of Bavaria used their service to keep his lands under control. Their service was however shortly used, as they were expelled from Ettal after the death of Ludwig IV, leaving the monastery in the hands of the Benedictine order.
The abbey was initially a modest Gothic construction. The life of the monastery seemed to go on undisturbed for decades until the Reformation when it suffered great damage.
In the 18th century the abbey rose up again and started to develop due to the establishment of the Knight´s Academy which became a success. Their prosperity lasted only a few decades as in 1744 a large fire caused significant damage. The Gothic church was reconstructed as a monumental Baroque structure with an impressive stucco decoration and beautiful ceiling fresco. In the 19th century it changed several owners until it was given to the Benedictine order in 1900. Ever since the abbey kept developing, becoming self-sustaining by running a hotel, a cheese factory, a bookstore, a brewery and a distillery. The buildings surrounding the church host the boarding school, the library and the monks´ lodgings. There is even a cozy coffee shop where visitors can taste delicious cakes and coffee. The brewery and the liquor factory can also be visited, but their schedule is limited. The church is active, and masses are kept every day from early in the morning. Ettal is a pleasant place where you can taste delicious beer and liquor, explore baroque and rococo art, learn about the region´s history or have a spiritual retreat.
Address: Opening hours
Benediktinerabtei Ettal Summer: 8:00 - 19:45
Kaiser-Ludwig-Platz 1 Winter: 8:00 - 18:00
Basilica: free of charge
Liquor factory: 9 EUR (includes liquor tasting; visiting hours on Monday and Thursday at 16:00)
Brewery: 12 EUR (includes beer tasting; visiting hours on Tuesday and Friday at 10:00)