All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Vienna seen by an Italian XVIIIth century traveller - The 1683 Siege of Vienna
In 1669 after a siege which had lasted more than twenty years, the city of Candia had fallen into Ottoman hands: as a matter of fact the very long siege had showed the weaknesses, rather than the strengths of the Ottomans, but nevertheless the end result had raised in Italy a lot of fears of a renewed attempt by the sultans to conquer the Christian nations of Europe. For this reason Pope Innocent XI appealed for a joint effort to repel the new threat: he managed to secure men and money for the Habsburgs from Spain and Portugal as well as from Poland and various Catholic German princes.
Kara MustafÓ was able to advance on Vienna only in late June 1683 and to eventually put the city under siege in July.
In 1683 Vienna was not for the Habsburg, what Constantinople had been for the last Byzantine emperor in 1453. The fall of Vienna would not have meant the end of the empire and as a matter of fact Emperor Leopold I chose to retreat with the court to Passau. Even though Kara MustafÓ had managed to assemble an army of 200,000 his communication lines were so long that had he taken Vienna, he would have been in great difficulties in moving further into Austria.
The defence of Vienna was entrusted to some 16,000 troops including citizens with no military training. The Ottomans tried to open a breach on the southern part of the walls near the imperial palace. But on September 10, a Christian army led by the Polish King John III Sobieski appeared on the hill of Kahlenberg, which at the west of Vienna, offers a terrific view of the city. At dawn the papal envoy Marco d'Aviano officiated a mass for the troops. Then the army moved down from the hill towards the enemy's camp. The Ottomans were routed and their failed attempt to siege Vienna was soon heralded as a new Lepanto, the 1571 naval victory on the Ottomans which is said to have stopped their expansion in Europe (the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the fortress of Lepanto).
In the prevailing iconography of the Ottomans which one can see in many parts of Vienna they do not appear particularly threatening from a military viewpoint, as if their army was just relying on scimitars and arrows: in the 1738 monument to Giovanni da Capistrano, a Franciscan monk who led a wing of a Christian army to victory in Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman warrior is portrayed half naked, with a very barbarian appearance. As a matter of fact for most of the XVth and XVIth centuries the Ottoman warfare was at the same "technological" level as that of the other European countries. In the XVIIth century they started to lag behind in musketry. The relatively small, but well trained armies of western Europe had developed techniques which granted a continuous fire by rotating the musketeers.
The Ottomans, after having retreated from Vienna, with the loss of all their heavy equipment, tried to hold their Hungarian conquests, but on November 1, they were defeated at Gran and had to seek refuge in Belgrade, which was the cornerstone of the Ottoman defensive line in Europe. Here the dissatisfaction of the sultan for the unsuccessful campaign sealed the fate of Kara MustafÓ; the Gran Vizir was strangled and then beheaded: the job of Ministry of Defence was a very dangerous one (unfortunately it is no longer): if you failed, you had to pay.
The unhappy end of Kara MustafÓ was portrayed in many XVIIIth century prints and his name was always accompanied by the adjective "infelix" (unhappy) in a sort of post-mortem mockery.
Pope Innocent XI regarded the defence of Vienna as his major achievement and the relief on his monument in St. Peter's was dedicated to this event, with the Catholic soldiers portrayed as ancient Romans.
Pages in this section of the website in recommended order:
Introduction: the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations
The 1683 Siege of Vienna
XVIIth century churches
XVIIth century palaces
Monuments celebrating the end of plagues
The walls of Vienna
XVIIIth century churches
XVIIIth century palaces
Italian sculpture and sculptors
A political manifesto: Karlskirche
Churches without the walls
Palaces and Villas without the walls
A day in the countryside: Perchtoldsdorf