On the Trail of the Ottoman-Turks in Vienna

There are many Turkish traces in Vienna, and happily, many from times of peace. Some are even invisible. In his poem about Lugeck Square in the 1500s, musician and pastor Wolfgang Schmeltzl commemorates the Turkish language while enumerating the many others spoken by garish merchants on the market square.

by Oksan Svastics

translated by Enis Arslan

It is well known that the cathedral bell of Stephansdom, was made by melting down the Turkish cannons that were confiscated as booty (plunder) in 1683. But a little farther on, the store on the Graben designed by architect Adolf Loos has a bronze brick on the façade from his customer, Sultan Abdülaziz of the Ottoman Empire. And the city’s museums, libraries and streets bear various traces of the Turks.

1 – Äußeres Burgtor

In 1915, during World War I, Flora Berl, the wife of a bureaucrat working in the Palace, launched a fundraising campaign for his war orphans and widows. Atop the five-arched gate of the Habsburg palace, on the gold-leaf bay branches appearing right in the middle, the four major donors to this campaign are named: Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, King Wilhelm II of Germany, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V (Reshad) and Bulgarian King Ferdinand.

2 – Ephesos Museum

The ancient city of Ephesus, once home to some 200,000 people, emerged after the excavations of the Austrian Institute of Archaeology in 1895. Sultan Abdulhamid II allowed many artifacts from the period of 1906 to be brought to Vienna. Founded in 1978, the Neue Burg district of the Hofburg exhibits many artefacts to this day, including an Amazon on the altar of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.

3 – Minoritenplatz

Not far from the house where Flemish Diplomat Busbecq used to live – where the first lilac saplings was planted in May – Turkish traces can be seen and smelled simultaneously. Busbecq was also a botanist, and he was the one who brought the first lilac and tulip bulbs from Istanbul to the West.

Minoritenkirche

The Minoriten Church, which was given the name “Meydanı” (the Square), was targeted because its tower was used as a lookout during both sieges of the Ottoman Empire. As a matter of fact, two cannonballs are still visible on the walls just opposite the mansion of Count Starhemberg, who defended the city during the Second Siege.

4 – Am Hof & Mölker Bastei

At Am Hof, Vienna’s once glittering marketplace, there is a relief on the facade of building 7. It depicts Johann Andreas von Liebenberg, mayor of the city during the siege of 1683 (the Battle of Vienna during the second Ottoman siege). Respected and well-liked, Liebenberg died two days before the siege ended from dysentery that had spread rapidly in the city. 207 years after his death, a memorial was built across from the university on the Ringstraße.

The building at Am Hof, in recent times a municipal Fire Station, was originally built as a People’s Arsenal after the first Ottoman siege in 1529. There are rumors that, in addition to the Turkish loot, the building also housed the head of Kara Mustafa Pasha, executed by the Sultan for his failure in the second siege.

Am Hof

The gold-leaf Ottoman ball rose that shakes its petals on the façade of Building 11 was placed there in honor of the restaurant that once stood on this site. Because in Vienna, often the scars of the past live on as cherished memories.

5 – National Bibliothek/Prunksaal

In Austria’s national library, you can find a copy of the Kutadgu Bilig, one of the most important works in the Turkish language, written in 1069. This book is a copy from the year 1439, of which only three remain all around the world. In addition to that, the Habsburg collection has a large number of ancient Turkish manuscripts.

6 – Griechengasse / Georgskirche

The Greeks who gave their name to this street were Ottoman subjects at the time. After Greek independence in 1829, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire and Greece gave gave religious freedom to their nationals living in either country. Thus, Vienna’s first Orthodox church was established as the representative of the Istanbul Fener Patriarchate in Vienna.

Georgskirche

The building was renovated in the late 1800s on the initiative of an Ottoman subject, Viennese businessman Nikolaus Dumba, where its present form derives from. Dumba, one of the founders of the Friends of Music Association (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), was a prominent supporter of the Vienna music and art scene during his lifetime. The study room of his house on Parkring was illustrated by Hans Makart, and the music room was illustrated by Gustav Klimt. The Schubert collection, which has been on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list since 2001, is also in the library of the City of Vienna.

What do the terms Ottoman & Turkish refer to?

The Ottoman Empire was founded by a Turkish sultan in 1299. The Ottoman dynasty –or the imperial House of Osma, named after its founder – controlled the lands that today are part of dozens of countries. Today’s Turkey and the city of Istanbul has been the core of this empire for centuries. At the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire fell apart like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a the independent Kemalist Republic of Turkey was established within its current borders in 1923.

Okşan Svastics is a tour guide and author on the streets and museums, telling stories about the city, as a Vienna city tour guide. 

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