Thursday, 31 December 2015

The end of the Siege of Vienna, 1683

Although 12th September 1683 was an important day in the history of Europe, it also had two unexpected consequences, both of which could easily be within arm’s reach as you as read this article!

The ending of the siege of Vienna

By 12th September 1683 the Ottoman Turks had been besieging Vienna for two months and the signs were not good for the inhabitants. An army of 250,000 men was camped around the walls, against which cannonballs thudded with monotonous regularity. The outer defences were already under Turkish control and tunnels were being dug to undermine the inner walls.

However, help was on the way. The Pope, Alexander VIII, was so concerned that the forces of Islam could make such inroads into Christian Europe that he paid a large sum of money to the King of Poland, John Sobieski, to come to the Austrians’ aid.

A combined Polish and Austrian army of some 80,000 men attacked the Turks at first light on 12th September and took them completely by surprise. Although the battle was to rage on for fifteen hours, by the end of the day the siege had been lifted and the Turks had fled, leaving most of their supplies, and thousands of dead bodies, behind. King John sent a message to the Pope that misquoted Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, God conquered”.

A celebration bake

The celebrations were, as might have been expected, long and joyous. The bakers of Vienna, for example, devised a new bread product which they called a “kipfel”, which is German for “crescent”. They took the shape from the crescent on the Turkish flag, which every Viennese citizen had become heartily sick of seeing whenever they peeped over the city walls. Eating the crescent was therefore a way of revenging oneself on the defeated enemy.

Nearly a century later the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette became the wife of the French King Louis XVI. She took the secret of the kipfel with her and it became highly popular in France under the name we still use today, the “croissant”.

Sweetened coffee

As mentioned above, the Turks left a large amount of supplies behind, and this included a huge store of coffee. The Austrians found Turkish coffee to be too bitter to their taste, so they added milk and honey to sweeten it. One legend has it that the new drink was invented by a friar named Marco d’Aviano, a Capuchin monk who had arrived in Vienna as the Pope’s emissary. The drinkable coffee was the same colour as his robes, which is why it was named Cappuccino in his honour.

So, if you want to celebrate the anniversary of the freeing of Vienna in true style, having a croissant and a cappuccino would be the most appropriate way of so doing!

© John Welford