Shortly before Christmas, I went on another 1809 themed walk, this time through Vienna. I followed the route of the French troops arriving at Vienna on 10 May 1809 and then looked at some of the residences occupied by French dignitaries during the occupation of the town.
My tour started at the Europaplatz, where today trains arrive at the busy Westbahnhof.
In 1809, this was the site of the so-called Mariahilferlinie, a part of the Linienwall, the outer ring of Viennese fortifications. This huge rampart was built at the beginning of the 18th century but was already in a rather desolate state by 1809. There was no longer a gate, but there would have been a small toll office. Today, only a very small part of the Linienwall is preserved.
Because of its length (13km), it would have been difficult to defend anyway. Nevertheless, the French cavalry vedettes which arrived first were shot at by outposts. However, when General Oudinot arrived with the brigade Conroux around 9am, they found that the Austrians had left the wall. Marshal Lannes thought that this meant that the city would capitulate and decided to send his ADC Joseph Michault de Saint-Mars together with former secretary to the French ambassador in Vienna, August Lagrange, and an escort of six riders and a trumpeter into the city to negotiate the surrender.
The sources do not say which route they took, but it is probable that they rode down the Mariahilferstrasse, which was the main road leading from the Mariahilferlinie to the inner wall in this sector.
I decided to follow this route, which leads through the former suburb of Mariahilf. Now one of the busiest shopping streets of Vienna, it would already have had quite an urban look around 1800.
Trotting down the Mariahilfer Strasse, the small French party would have passed the Mariahilfer Kirche on their right side. The church was built in the late 17th century. The building that can be seen to its left is from the late 18th century.
Further on, there is another building that was already present in 1809, namely the birthplace of actor and author Ferdinand Raimund. It was built in the 18th century, but the third storey was added in the middle of the 19th. The facade was also modified then, but the portal leading into the courtyard stems from the time of creation.
Continuing the walk, I finally reached the former Hofstallungen (court stables), which now house museums and galleries. The vast complex was built in the 18th century and marked the end of the suburbs and the beginning of the glacis.
Standing here, I tried to imagine the space without the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) on the left and the building block on the right. All of this, up to the part of the Hofburg you can see in the distance, would have been made up by the glacis, the moat, and the inner rampart.
As the French approached the Burgtor to the left, they were informed by Austrian General Joseph Armand von Nordmann that Vienna would not capitulate.
The party didn’t immediately turn back, but rode to the South in direction of the Kärntnertor, probably to investigate the defences. I followed in their track on what is now the so-called Ring, a busy road leading around the inner city.
Passing the state opera (built in 1869), I arrived at the site where the Kärntnertor was located (there were actually two gates, an old and a new one).
Today, the only reminder of this important gateway to the city of Vienna proper is a small statue on one of the houses.
The so-called “Fenstergucker” is the portrait of the architect of the gate, Bonifaz Wolmuet, and was created in the 16th century. It used to adorn the Kärtnertor. (The version that can be seen here is a copy, the original is in the Wien Museum).
When Saint-Mars and his party arrived here, they became entangled in a small skirmish between French cavalry, which had worked their way through the suburbs independently, and the Austrian Liechtenstein-Hussars under Generalmajor Josef Mesko von Felsö-Kubiny, which made a sudden sortie, perhaps to cover the retreat of some ammunition wagons. The French party was captured, with Saint-Mars gravely wounded. It seems that during the fight, four French Chasseurs à Cheval rode into the city, where they were killed by enraged inhabitants.
I also decided to head into the city to examine some of the residences taken up by French dignitaries during their occupation of the city.
First, I passed the former palace of Archduke Albrecht von Sachsen-Teschingen, which now houses the Albertina art museum and the Film Museum.
Marshal Lannes took up his residence there. After his death following the battle of Aspern, it was taken over by Vice-Roy Eugène de Beauharnais. The wounded Saint-Mars was brought there after the Austrian troops had left the city.
Within a stone’s throw stands the former palace of Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz, now the Theatre Museum. In 1809, it first served as the quarters for the Viennese Bürgerregiment (militia), and then as the residence of Marshal Masséna.
Crossing the Josephsplatz commissioned by Emperor Joseph II, I passed the Spanish Riding School, a 17th century building which had already been converted into a hospital by the Austrians when the war started and was also used in this function by the French.
I then took a quick detour through the Michaelertor to the Heldenplatz to have a look at the so-called Leopoldinischer Trakt of the Hofburg. We know that General Antoine-François Andréossy, in his role of military governor of Vienna, took up his residence in the Hofburg and it is probable that he used this most representative part of the building. In front of it stands the statue of Archduke Carl erected in 1859. It is based on the apocryphal story of the archduke rallying Infanterie-Regiment 15 (Zach) by personally picking up its flag.
Heading back through the Michaelertor, I strolled to the final stop of this walk: The former palace of the Czernin von und zu Chudenitz family.
Count Eugen Czernin von und zu Chudenitz, who was 13 years old at the time, writes in his memoirs that originally it was planned to quarter Marshal Masséna in their palace. However, Eugen’s father intervened because of Masséna’s “bad reputation” and managed to have General Savary, an ADC of Napoléon, reside with them. I don’t know if this story is true – it seems unlikely that Masséna would prefer the rather unassuming Czernin palace to the grander Lobkowitz palace. Eugen didn’t like the French and was shocked that Savary brought the famous spy Charles Schulmeister with him, who took up office just across the rooms of his mother.
With this anecdote, my walk came to an end. Living in Vienna, I had passed all those places thousands of times without giving them further thought, so it was fascinating to look at them under the perspective of the 1809 campaign.
If you want to follow my walk, here is the route on google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/mZeUDQjpRgxrYUGn6
Czernin und Chudenic, Eugen: “Erlebnisse eines österreichischen Edelsmannes aus dem Kriegsjahr 1809,” in Feldzugserinnerungen aus dem Kriegsjahre 1809, ed. Friedrich M. Kircheisen. Hamburg: Gutenberg 1909, pp. 19-87.
Geusau, Anton von: Historisches Tagebuch aller merkwürdigen Begebenheiten, welche sich vor, während und nach der französischen Invasion der k. k. Haupt- und Residenzstadt Wien in dem Jahr 1809 zugetragen haben. Wien 1810.
Hoen, Maximilian von et.al.: Krieg 1809. III. Band. Neumarkt-Ebelsberg-Wien. Wien: Seidel & Sohn 1909.
Hummelberger, Walter and Peball, Kurt: Die Befestigungen Wiens. Wien, Hamburg: Zsolnay 1974.