The Turkish Face of Vienna

 The city of Vienna can be regarded as a world metropolis, even though there are only one and a half million inhabitants. Through the course of history, Vienna has always been a melting pot for a variety of nationalities. A real Viennese has Slav as well as Hungarian and Italian, German, Jewish and sometimes even Turkish blood, since Turkish captives of the wars against the Ottoman Empire were generally converted to the Catholic faith and then led life like and as an Austrian. 

A significant proportion of the population of this city on the river Danube consists of the Turks. They are not only “Gastarbeiters” (as foreign workers are called in Austria), but also students who come here to enroll at university, some of whom decide to stay and pursue careers as bankers, business-men and women, architects, doctors etc. Last but not least, there are Turkish diplomats, some working at the UN. When shopping today at the Viennese vegetable and fruit markets -especially at the Nasch-market, there is a vivid atmosphere influenced by a very Mediterranean spirit which sometimes makes people feel they are in the Orient rather than in cold Vienna. 

The Austrians have got used to eating the world famous döner kebab which is regarded as one of Austria’s most popular fast foods. As a matter of fact Vienna has not only been influenced by the Turks and the Turkish way of life in modern times, but has been exposed to them through the Ottoman Empire over the centuries. Following the second siege of Vienna in 1683, the Turks were no longer considered to be dangerous enemies to the Empire, but to be exotic and somewhat appealing. Composers were influenced by Turkish music, and painters started to draw men and women in Turkish dress, perhaps the most prominent example of this being 12 etchings of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresia (reigned 1740-1780) in Turkish clothes which are kept in the archives of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Writers started to include ‘the Turk’ in their works, whether it were novels, dramas or poems.

In the beginning, the role of dupe was given to the Turk, but in the course of time, the Turk became the wiser and wittier character in comparison to the Austrian/European one. One of the best known examples in opera is certainly Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail which he composed in 1781 when living at Milchgasse 11/Petersplatz 1 in the first district of Vienna. On the famous Gmundener ceramics, one can also find Turkish motifs. In 1867 for the first time in the mutual relations of these two empires, an Ottoman sovereign, Abdülaziz, came to Austria on a friendly visit. He was welcomed by Emperor Franz Joseph and the Viennese were very interested in the visiting sultan. In World War I, Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire fought on the same side with Germany and Bulgaria. In these years, Atatürk came twice to Vienna, once with Vahideddin - the crown prince who was enthroned as Sultan Mehmet VI (1918), the last Ottoman sultan. In 1918 the founder of modern Turkey took a cure at Cottage Sanatorium in Vienna, before going on to a cure in Karlsbad. This sanatorium is today a school. 

The mutual history of these two countries has left many reminders in almost every Viennese district, and to tour ‘Turkish Vienna’ would take at least one week. In the first district, there are more than 30 reminders alone. The majority of the sights, of course, are reminders of the two sieges, one delightful example being the little statuette of a 

Turk sitting on a horse holding a dagger at Heidenschuß 3. The Turkish version of the story of this Turkish hero is told by Evliya Çelebi, an Ottoman globetrotter who in 1665 visited Vienna and put his - sometimes exaggerated and stereotyped -impressions to paper in the 8th volume of his seyahât-nâme (Description of Travels). 

The story tells us that during the first siege a certain Dayý Çerkez was fighting against the Austrians in the city after the Turks had breached the city wall. When all the other Turks had already withdrawn he still went on fighting furiously until he was stabbed by an Austrian from behind. King Ferdinand who had heard about the brave Turkish soldier, had him and his horse embalmed and placed on the corner of the aforementioned house. This place was thereafter called ‘Çerkez meydaný’ after the brave soldier Dayý Çerkes on Turkish city maps of Vienna. The Austrians on the other hand say that the figure celebrates the successful Austrian repulsion of a Turkish offensive against Heidenschuß. Vienna’s best known landmark, St. Stephan’s Cathedral, has a couple of reminders of the Turkish presence. Especially the devices atop the spire of this cathedral tell many different stories. Till the late years of the 17th century these consisted of a star and crescent, which were put there in 1516. So people - not only the Austrians but also the Turks - looked for an explanation. Evliya Çelebi tells us that when Sultan Süleyman came in 1529 in order to lay siege to the city, he noticed the beautiful, 137 m high tower of St. Stephan’s from outside the city walls, and he decided not to bomb the tower since it could easily be used as minaret. Islamic tradition tells us that the sultan sent a golden ball to Ferdinand and ordered him to put it on the top of the tower and Ferdinand immediately obeyed. According to the Austrians on the other hand, this finial was put on the spire as a sign of sarcasm indicating that Sultan Süleyman could not defeat them. In the late 1680s, the star and crescent were replaced with a double cross. The former finial can be seen in the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien at Karlsplatz. Probably the nicest but least well known reminders of the Turkish presence are the Hadersdorfer Türkensteine in the 14th district. It is not very easy to find them since they are not marked. When world-famous General Gideon Loudon re-conquered Ottoman Belgrade in 1789, he had some Ottoman inscriptions and tombstones removed from the city as an expression of his victory.

 These souvenirs can be visited in the 14th district, at Hadersdorf, on Loudon’s ground which now belongs to the city of Vienna. The most recent reminder of ‘Turkish Vienna’, a fountain, was given to the Austrians as a gift in 1991 by the 
Republic of Turkey.
 It was errected in the Türkenschanzpark in the 18th district, which is quite a historical site itself due to the fact that during the first and second sieges,

 the Turks built fortifications there against possible Austrian attacks. The fountain is named the Yunus Emre-Brunnen, as it was presented to the city of Vienna in order to honor Yunus Emre, a 14th century Turkish poet. The latest news on ‘Turkish Vienna’ was a commemoration week on the 700th anniversary of the founding of the Ottoman Empire. On the occasion of this event, “The Turkish Face of Vienna” by the Orientalist Kerstin Tomenendal was published and this book will be available in Viennese bookshops from January, 2000.