The date September 12, 1683 has been etched into the Viennese calendar for over 300 years as the day of the city’s greatest victory over imminent destruction. After a prolonged two month siege by the armies of the Ottoman Empire, the united efforts of several Catholic armies defeated their Eastern foes. This triumph not only inaugurated the definitive defeat of the Ottoman threat in Christian Europe, but was viewed at the time also as proof of the religious superiority of the Catholic Church over the emerging Protestant reformation in Europe.
At the start of our walk, we learn more about the preceding 300 years of regular warfare between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian kingdoms of Central Europe. While visiting the remains of former Viennese bastions, we consider what the city’s topography looked like 350 years ago and learn how the citizens moved into and out of their besieged Vienna by blowing up underground bombs to create temporary tunnels.
Next, we explore Vienna’s iconic baroque style, an aesthetic that started to flourish almost immediately after the intruders had been beaten back. The dramatic and vivid baroque aesthetic that developed in Central Europe around this time is often considered an expression of counterreformation ideology. And, certainly, the gargantuan gorgeousness and dynamism of baroque was intended to flaunt the opulence and power of the Catholic Church as a institution so that Protestants would be reconverted to the “old” faith. Visiting both typical baroque churches as well as secular constructions will help us to get a solid feel for how this architectural ideology translated into both profane and religious contexts.
However, we will also consider that, in Vienna, the Baroque’s explosion of curvilinear and monumental facades and interiors and militaristic sculptural ensembles was also a demonstration of the joy of having beaten the ottomans back. Moreover, with the threat of siege removed, all of sudden the Viennese could, without risk, build outside the city walls. The nobility started to leave the narrow old town and build large summer palaces in the suburbs. The most impressive example is the “Belvedere” built by the famous general Prince Eugene. Therefore, the last stop on our tour will be the garden between his two castles.
As a conclusion, we consider the ironies of history in relation to the struggles between Ottomans and Christian Europe. Paradoxically, just as soon as the actual threat of Turkish invasion was over, “a la turca” became the height of Vienna fashion and remained so well into the 19th century. Coffee houses opened to serve Turkish coffee, “Turkish” bread in shape of a crescent moon became popular, and Mozart produced his “Turkish” opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782).
(This walk can also be ordered as children’s/family tour, where your guide will focus more on the battle between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire and the legends and ghosts from this period that are still vividly evident in Vienna’s ruins and architecture.