Vienna, Austria (1529 AD & 1683 AD)
The Battles of Vienna in 1529 and 1683 were two immense showdowns between the nascent Hapsburg Empire in Central Europe and the mighty Ottoman Empire of Southeastern Europe. Both of these battles, the first technically a siege, were victories for the Hapsburgs. As a result, the city of Vienna has traditionally been considered the high-water mark for the Ottoman advance into Europe. More importantly, the success of the Christian defenders essentially ended the last truly major threat from Islam in Europe. It also marked the beginning of the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire which ultimately collapsed a little over two centuries later.
In 1453, the city of Constantinople, the very last surviving vestage of the ancient Roman Empire, was conquered by the Ottomans. With this last great stronghold of Christianity in the Black Sea region swept away, the Ottoman Empire was finally free to expand unfettered into Europe. Although the Ottomans had already conquered Greece and some of the Balkan region, inroads further north had been difficult. However, with Constantinople, renamed Istanbul, to be used as a base, the entire Black Sea region and Danube River valley lay exposed to conquest.
For decades the Ottomans slowly worked their way up the Balkans and the Danube, swallowing up whole kingdoms. In 1526, the the Ottomans defeated the powerful Hungarian kingdom at the Battle of Mohacs. They then turned their sights on Vienna, the largest and strongest city in Central Europe and one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1529 they arrived with an army more than one hundred thousand strong and laid siege to the Hapsburg capital.
The siege took place in the Autumn and barely lasted a few weeks. Thanks to the ferocity of the defense, their daring raids to disrupt the Ottoman siege, and some fortuitous early winter weather, the Ottomans were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, while the defenders remained relatively unscathed. For the next century and a half, the Turks turned their attention elsewhere to other campaigns. However, in 1683, the Ottomans returned to try once more.
They arrived with an even larger force, and in the summer they again laid siege to Vienna. However, this time the Hapburgs were much stronger and better prepared, and with greater allies under the banners of the Holy League. The siege, which lasted for two months, was nearly successful. But just as it seemed the city would fall, an immense relief army of Germans and Poles arrived to break the siege. They routed the Ottomans, driving them away from Vienna with great loss. This Hapsburg victory effectively ended the Ottoman threat to Central Europe permanently, and marked a high point of Hapsburg power on the continent.
Because the Battles of Vienna were primarily sieges, fighting took place in and around the city. The most interesting sites related to the fighting are St. Stephen’s Cathedral which was used as the defense headquarters during the first siege; the memorial marker located near the old city gates commemorating the 300th anniversary of the second battle; and a memorial to the Polish forces whose timely attack on the Ottoman flank most likely saved the city.
The battlefield sites are scattered around Vienna. The cathedral is in the city center. The memorial to the Polish army is in Kahlenberg, approximately five miles north of the city center. All sites are open. There is no cost of admission. Web: http://www.wien.gv.at (official tourism website of Vienna).
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