Part 4: Plague, war and brilliant advancement (1500 to 1700)
In Old Vienna to go shopping as we would today was restricted to a handful of items, such as cloth and woollen goods which could be bought in the “Lauben” (arcades) or in the traders’ stores. Foodstuffs and other comestibles were offered for sale on open-air stalls. The goods were laid out on benches which were cleared away in the evening.
On the ancient Kienmarkt (now called Ruprechtsplatz) pine-chips (“Kienspäne”) were sold to poor people for minimal lighting. On Kohlmarkt charcoal was sold, and on Wildpretmarkt game. Salt could be obtained from the “salters” on Salzgries, bakers sold their wares in the Bäckerstrasse and on Graben. On Graben one could also buy milled products. Victuals from the egg- and poultry-dealers, as well as the “pork cuts” praised by Eipeldauer, were generally offered for sale “over the Danube”.
The first Turkish siege of Vienna
"The struggle for corporate liberties and party claims by various pretenders to the ruling house constantly brought tension and unrest to the city. The result was that several mayors of Vienna were executed. And amid all this inner disruption, after the subjugation of Hungary by the Turks under Sultan Suleiman I, came the first Turkish siege of Vienna from 27 September to 15 October 1529. To defend itself against about 150,000 Turkish soldiers Vienna did not have much to show: a defence force of some 2,100 mercenaries and 9,000 serfs as well as a 13th century city wall which had never been maintained or repaired.
Vienna as a “frontier city against the Ottoman empire” nevertheless resisted and was dubbed the “mightiest fortress of Christendom”. This it became with the assistance of a fortified belt which was built after the first siege. With this sense of security behind it and the installation of central authorities such as the court council, the court chancellery, the court chamber and the court war council – which Ferdinand I started assembling in 1527 – the city, fifty years later, assumed administrative priority among all the Bohemian crown lands whose population is estimated to have been four million at that time.
In those days of the Reformation most of the Viennese became Protestants. In 1551 the Jesuits were summoned to Vienna. Under Rudolf II, who ruled from 1576 to 1612, the Counter-Reformation began, that is to say the forcible systematic re-Catholicisation of territories which had turned Protestant.
As far as the outward appearance of the city was concerned efforts were made as early as the 16th century to transfer public cemeteries into the suburbs. Partly because of shortage of space but also as a result of an increasing awareness of the need to get to grips with hygienic inconveniences. Apropos hygiene: up until the 16th century the population of Vienna drew all their water from courtyard wells. The first documented water piping was installed in 1553. This “Siebenbrunnen Hofwasserleitung” served the imperial palace and a few other buildings in the inner city. Much later it flowed into a district well on Margaretenplatz. The oldest municipal aqueduct, the “Hernalser Wasserleitung”, came in 1565. It brought water from what is now the 17th district to a pump-room on Hoher Markt.
Despite these hygienic measures Vienna was not spared a second outbreak of the Plague. Beginning in 1678 the “Black Death” ravaged the “Leopoldstadt” district, then outside the city itself, where it was made light of and covered up. In July 1679 the “pestilential sparks” finally sprung over the city wall. Contemporary reports spoke of 70,000 to 120,000 deaths. Extant coroners’ reports, on the other hand, only list 8,000 fatalities.
“Oh, my lovely Vienna, that is all gone!”
The preacher Abraham A Sancta Clara wrote in 1680 in “Mercks Wienn”: “There was not a single lane or street which the raging death overlooked. For the whole month around Vienna and in Vienna you saw nothing but the dead being carried, dragged, buried.” And as the ballad-singer, bagpipe-player and impromptu poet “Der liebe Augustin” put it: “Every other day was once a holiday / And now? Plague, the Plague! / Only a huge pile of bodies / That’s all that remains! / … / Oh my lovely Vienna / That is all over!”
Hardly had the Plague been surmounted than Vienna had to face another tribulation: the second Turkish siege of 1683 which lasted three months. The Turkish army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha comprised almost 300,000 men. Despite having been decimated by the Plague Vienna again successfully defended itself. This was thanks to well constructed fortifications, the resolute determination of the defender Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg and his 11,000 soldiers together with 5,000 citizens and volunteers as well as to the arrival just in time of a relief army under the Polish king, Jan III Sobieski.
The lifting of the siege led to a veritable boom in building development. In addition to a strengthening of the fortifications the Baroquisation of the city began. The outcome was a brilliant flourishing for Vienna. It was also the occasion for the opening of Vienna’s first coffee house. In this connection Georg Franz Kolschitzky is often referred to as its founder. This has long since been proved incorrect. Coffee had been known in Vienna from at least 1645, and in 1685 the Armenian Johannes Diodato was granted a privilege to open the first such establishment in Vienna. In 1700 there were already four commoner coffee-brewers, all of them Armenians or Turks. By 1714 seven further coffee-brewers had been accepted into the trade. The real boom, however, only happened around the middle of the 18th century.
Newspapers at the coffee house
Whereas in 1747 there were still only eleven such licences by 1819 150 coffee houses were in business and a hundred years later 1,202 of them. The emergence of the coffee house as the focal point of intellectual Vienna can be attributed to the Kramer’sches Kaffeehaus in Schlossergassel (a lane connecting Graben with Goldschmiedgasse in the 1st district). It was here that from 1720 most of Germany’s dailies and periodicals and all the current Viennese journals were available for reading by coffee-drinking customers.