With a memorable – and flood-prone – location on the Austrian border at the confluence of the rivers Inn, Ilz and Danube, PASSAU has a lively, cosmopolitan feel that quite belies its relatively modest size. A city of just 50,000 inhabitants, it has nevertheless long been an important place. There was a Roman fort on the site from around 80 AD, a bishopric was founded here in 739 AD and this was raised to the status of an independent prince-bishopric in 1217, a status it retained for centuries until, secularized and annexed, it shared the fate of the other Bavarian prince-bishoprics at the start of the nineteenth century. Passau also rates a mention in the Nibelungenlied, the epic poem that formed the basis for Wagner's Ring, as the heroine Kriemhild is welcomed to the city by her uncle Bishop Pilgrim.
Passau's long history as an independent capital has left it with an impressive array of monuments gracing its Altstadt, which occupies a narrow wedge of land between the Inn and Danube and displays a similar blend of Central European and Italian Baroque architectural influences to that other great ecclesiastical border-town, Salzburg, far to the southwest, though here the ice-cream colours of the houses add a sunny, southern glow that not even Salzburg can match. Add to that a mighty, photogenic fortress, the Veste Oberhau and the buzz created by its university and the cruise ships that depart its quays for Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, and Passau is well worth an overnight stop.