Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Vienna is a glorious place that exudes wealth, opulence and power. In a way it is even grander than Rome, because its historic buildings are not in ruins and, quite frankly, are better laid out. The Kiwi and I took advantage of yesterday's UK bank holiday to spend 3 days wandering around the Innere Stadt, eating apple strudel and drinking wines made out of Rotgipfler and other bizarre-sounding local grapes. You can't escape the sense of fin de siecle culture - the buskers play Strauss waltzes, the locals all look like Sigmund Freud and even the trams look as if they date back to the 1880s. As can be seen from the statues above, the Viennese appreciate their country's military heroes: one cannot imagine the city's mayor suggesting that some statues be taken down on the basis that no one knows who the subjects are and, in any event, they were imperialist warmongers (as happened several years ago in London). Vienna is a city of which its inhabitants are clearly very proud and is one of those places, like Prague, which makes you feel that you are standing in the heart of Europe and maybe even the world.

Unfortunately I missed a visit the army museum - it was a little way out of the centre of town and we just ran out of time (moral: always do what you want to do most on the first day). I also passed on climbing the 383 stairs up to the bell tower of St Stephen's Cathedral, which would have provided a view out to the Wienerwald, through which the Imperial and Polish relief armies came to raise the Ottomans' siege of Vienna in 1683. So regrettably I have little to show in the way of militaria from this visit.

However, we did visit the main Roman ruins and the museums in the Hapsburgs' main palace complex, which hold artefacts and regalia dating back to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire. The Roman's built a large military camp, sufficient for 6,000 men, on the site of Vienna's centre and named it Vindobona. It was here that Marcus Aurelius died in 180 (before the start of the first fight at the Colosseum in the film "Gladiator", one of the gladiators tells Russell Crowe that he was "with [him] at Vindobona" - I've always wondered what that meant). There was a large Celtic settlement nearby, but the local civilian population moved into the camp during the 3rd and 4th centuries. Vienna's Roman remains are very scarce, but the largest section is of the foundations of what is believed to be an officer's house. Below is the main section, which shows the hypocaust, and some artefacts:

Other items that may be of interest are some imperial regalia from the early days of the Holy Roman Empire. I thought these outfits might be useful reference for painting 11th century Byzantine commanders:

Finally, of particular interest to me, given a fledgling new period that I've started working on...., is a cabinet containing an alleged fragment of the True Cross (on the right) and part of the Holy Lance (on the left). In the middle is the Imperial Cross, which dates from around 1025. This is hollow, and used to contain the other two relics. In the 14th century, Charles IV removed the fragment of the True Cross and set it in the gold frame that you see here. Charles IV, who clearly needed a religious money-spinner, also added the golden overlay on to the Holy Lance in order to safeguard the pin in the lance's centre, which is regarded as a nail from Christ's cross. The lance was supposedly given to Charlemagne by Pope Hadrian I. I'm sure this particular artefact was loaned to Keanu Reeves for use in the film "Constantine".... On the right is the cradle of Napoleon's only legitimate son, the King of Rome, who war born by Marie Louise, the daughter of Emperor Francis II. This unfortunate, doomed chap only lived to be 21, and probably didn't even remember the extravagent elegance of his cot.

I also took lots of photos of grey horses, but I'll save those for another day when they may appear in conjunction with some painted cavalry. Talking of painting, I fear that Prince Rupert's Foot have taken longer than anticipated to base, but some more Carlist War British Legion infantry and a regiment of British AWI foot are near to completion.


Sire Godefroy said...

You're right, Vienna is a great place. Sadly I didn't make it to get there even when I studied at Innsbruck and visited Salzburg (both as impressive as Vienna, nevertheless).

Thanks for the heads up!


Allan (AJ) Wright said...

Definitely go back and visit the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum! On my one visit to Austria I spent nearly an entire day (of my three days in Austria) in the museum. It is by far the best military museum I've ever visited. Notable high points: The Albatros B-II Bomber, Archduke Ferdinand's assination car and the Napoleonic flag collection. Although this list doesn't do the amazing collection justice!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Military museum is good but it is quite a long walk from the centre of the city. I was interested in the section on the Austrian navy! Didn't know about the Roman bits I was too busy looking at the Klimts!

Allan (AJ) Wright said...

It's a very short walk from the south train station (banhoff?) which is accessible by the trolleys/subway system which I found quite easy to use even considering I only speak about 50 words of German.

painterman said...

Sounds like a great trip Giles - a lovely city. My only trip there was in the '80s, when doing a student Inter-rail trip around europe for a month with my wife (then girlfriend). Managed to talk her into going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum for me to see the medieval arms & armour collections - only for that whole section to be closed on the only day we were in the city, as an exhibit had fallen over and they were restoring it on display! Your trip's reminded me I must go back...

guy said...

Painterman's story echos one of mine. A few years ago we were in the Loire valley for a few days and I noticed a poster for an exhibition on napoleonic cavalry at Samur at the cavalry school. I pursuaded the family it was a good place for a visit but found the exhibit was locked up. As only the french could do there was absolutely no explanation and all I received was the usual gallic shrug. Much gnashing of teeth.

Vienna is on my to visit list and I most definately would like to see the military museum. Apparently the SYW section is v interesting.