In 1682 some Hungarian noblemen who nourished some strong anti-Habsburg, anti-Catholic sentiments
sought Ottoman assistance in establishing an independent Hungarian kingdom under the
sultan's suzerainty. France, at that time at war with the Habsburgs, acted behind the scenes to support
the revolt and the Ottoman intervention.
Emperor Leopold I preferred to avoid an open war with the Ottomans and during 1682 several parts of Hungary fell into the hands of the Hungarian rebels and their Ottoman allies.
Kara MustafÓ Bassa (pasha), the Grand Vizir leading the Ottoman army thought the time had come to take Vienna and thus achieve what Suleiman the Magnificent could not in 1529. The military structure of the Ottoman Empire however did not foresee waging war in winter; because of the partly feudal nature of the army and because of the extremely poor road conditions during the winter, campaigns were carried out mainly between April and September, with the army being demobilized during the winter months, so Kara MustafÓ plans had to be postponed until 1683.
A stone thrown by the Turks; a Turkish horseman; detail of the decoration of the Belvedere
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.
Monument to Giovanni da Capistrano in Stephansdom
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.
Vatican Museums: painting by Jean Matejko (1838-893) depicting the surrender of the Ottomans to John III Sobieski, King of Poland
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).
Imperial musketeers (in the background a print celebrating the victory of the Catholic Army)
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.
Portrait of Kara Mustafa and relief in the monument to Pope Innocent XI in St. Peter's in Rome
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