At the heart of the large complex of Maulbronn Monastery is a small square that connects two of the most significant areas – the main church and the living quarters of the monks.
Standing inside the square, you can admire its neat garden and impressive covered fountain. Rotating in each direction, you’ll be able to see beyond the intricate cloisters and into rooms that form the spiritual centre of this old house of worship.
Although this square – and the buildings it connects – may be the highlight of a visit to Kloster Maulbronn (as it’s known in German), it would be a mistake to think that this is all there is.
One of the most significant things about the Maulbronn World Heritage Site is what is beyond the monastery buildings themselves.
This is, in fact, a whole complex – a small town built centuries ago within strong protective walls, that has survived more than you or I will ever see.
And, the collection of structures at Maulbronn Monastery has, over the years, provided for agriculture, trade, production and relaxation.
History of Maulbronn Monastery
The first church was founded on this site in 1147 by a small group of just 12 monks. At first they had just temporary wooden buildings that were gradually replaced by stone. Then came the walls and other fortifications; followed by a forge, cooperage, and mill in the 13th century.
The Middle Ages were not always friendly ones, and the monastery needed to protect itself and be self-sufficient… if necessary.
As the population grew, and its requirements also grew, Kloster Maulbronn expanded. From the 12th century to the 18th century, new buildings were constructed and these different parts from different periods of time show the transformation in styles of the religious order.
It wasn’t all peaceful and the story of Maulbronn Monastery has ups and downs. It was seized in 1504 and secularised, only to be returned in 1547 and then reformed again a decade later.
With the shifting tides of power in Central Europe, Kloster Maulbronn became a plaything for Emperors to project their own politics and religion. But eventually it became a Protestant theological seminary in 1807 and has remained so ever since.
Most of the core central buildings that you’ll see today are from between the 12th to the 14th centuries, relatively unchanged despite the upheavals of the history of the site.
And that’s reflected in its status as a World Heritage Site, designated in 1993 because the Maulbronn Monastery Complex is considered the most complete and best-preserved medieval monastic complex in northern Europe.
Things to see at Kloster Maulbronn
Although you can enter the Maulbronn Monastery Complex for free and look around the infrastructure of this little town, there’s an entry fee to go into the monks’ part of the church and the monastery – but, of course, it is well worth it.
The rooms of the main monastery buildings are both grand and understated. They are not elaborately decorated in a way that makes them feel ostentatious – yet the symmetry, height, vaulting, columns, and windows all combine to produce a sense of art.
They also offer an insight into the way of life of the residents of the monastery over the centuries, with the layout barely changed in meeting areas, dining rooms and chapels.
The church itself was originally completed in 1178 with a stone screen separating the monks from the lay brethren. The divide is still clear today.
Gothic vaulting was installed in 1424 and replaced the original wooden beams but the style is still very much faithful to the Cistercian design principles.
Around the whole site is the main 850-metre-long medieval fortification, with another inner wall within that. These are from the period between the 13th and 15th centuries.
The other buildings include an apothecary and a cellar, plus there’s a garden and a waterway for fishing.
And the former cooper and the chimney house is now a hall with an interesting museum about the history of Kloster Maulbronn and life at the monastic complex.
Life at the Maulbronn Monastery Complex
What is particularly interesting about the whole Maulbronn Monastery Complex is the engineering skills that were developed here hundreds of years ago to make the life sustainable when the residents were trapped within the walls during times of conflict.
It’s hard to see much evidence of it today but there was an elaborate system of reservoirs, irrigation canals and drains within the fortified walls and in agricultural areas outside. The monks and the workers used these to provide water to the buildings, to grow crops and for fish farms.
Many of the workers here were lay people, who were distinguished from the monks by the simple fact that they weren’t ordained. But they were still members of the monastic community, not simply people brought in to do the work. However, there was still a strict separation between the lay people and the monks.
For the monks themselves, much of their life in Maulbronn was spent in private prayer and meditation. It was not an easy life – only one room in the whole monastery was heated, for instance. And the monks also worked in the garden and the trades.
From 1556, Kloster Maulbronn also became a monastic school, educating future evangelical ministers. It is still a place of teaching today.
Visiting Maulbronn Monastery
The complex is not particularly large in terms of area but it is big enough that some of the buildings within the complex are now part of the town and are used as shops, restaurants or offices (and even a police station and the town hall).
It is worth having a look inside some of them – or having a meal or a drink.
The main monastery complex is the highlight, though. You can go into the public part of the church for free and it is still used for regular services and special events.
However, to access the monks’ side of the church you’ll need to buy a ticket for the monastery. This will also give you access to the main buildings at the core of the complex, including the small museum.
Guided tours are also available and taking one of them would be a good idea if you’re interested in finding out more about some of the detail of the rooms and the complex.
To help you plan, here is a bit more practical information for visiting Kloster Maulbronn.
Where is Maulbronn Monastery?
The Maulbronn Monastery Complex is located at Cloister 5, Maulbronn, 75433, Germany.
You can see it on a map here.
When is Maulbronn Monastery open?
The monastery is open at the following times:
March – October: 0900 – 1730
November – February: 0930 – 1700.
How much does it cost to visit Maulbronn Monastery?
Entry to the outside areas of the complex and the church is free.
Tickets to go inside the monastery are €7 for an adult and €3.50 for a concession.
How do you get to the Maulbronn Monastery?
To get to the Maulbronn Monastery Complex, catch the train to Mühlacker and then take the bus number 700 to the site, which takes about 20 minutes.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN STUTTGART
It’s not hard to get to Maulbronn from Stuttgart, so here are my suggestions for where to stay in the city centre.
If you’re looking for a budget option, the Youth Hostel Stuttgart International is one of Germany’s best.
For a basic but comfortable and cheap hotel, I would suggest Hotel Astoria.
A good modern hotel in Stuttgart that’s a great option is Jaz Stuttgart.
And I think the best luxury hotel in Stuttgart is the Le Meridien, which also has a perfect location.