Statues, monuments and memorials play an important role in collective memory and have done so for centuries. Over the decades, they have also developed a history of their own. They bear witness to how and why a certain event or person was remembered. Today they do not just keep historical events alive in our memory, but tell us about the social and political strategies behind their establishment. The noble appearance of many monuments and their prominent location indicates historical and political importance for society. However viewers today should be critical of this impression. They keep other views on history hidden, for example concerning gender theory or ethnical difficulties. In and around the main building of the university of Vienna are three examples that offer a glimpse at the complex historicity of monuments.
European ambassadors and the son of the Ottoman Sultan Murad I, © Library of the Golestan Palace
Little is known about the numerous Turkish memorials in Vienna, even though the two sieges by the Ottoman armies at 1529 and 1683 have had a strong influence on the city’s history. If you keep your eyes open you can find Turkish memorials all over the city which are either directly or indirectly dedicated to the sieges. It may even seem like the sieges are the two most remembered events in the city over time (check out thismap for a complete list). Even to this day, many canon balls once fired by the Ottoman armies are still visible throughout Vienna, for example the gold-plated canon ball hanging from the building facade of Generali Insurances at Hof 11, 1010. Altars in several churches and emblems above gates and doorways carry symbols of Turkish trophies and military symbols, glorifying Austria’s victory.
Ottoman canon ball at Hof 11, © Lisa Bolyos
The large amount of memorials are evidence of the long history of political propaganda. The sieges were exploited as fights of European Christianity against foreign Islamic influence. Vienna came to be known as a bastion of Christianity. In the 1900s, the national movement in Europe led to the creation of a Habsburg myth about Austria. In the search for a genuinely Austrian identity, historical achievements were glorified and used as signs of national virtue. The time of 1683 was subsequently remembered as a sacred age of heroes. One example is the memory of Johann Andreas von Liebenberg, the major of Vienna during the second siege. Before 1850, Liebenberg was barely known and his historical importance during the siege is questionable, as historians say. He was quickly forgotten after the end of the second siege, so there exists almost no historical evidence about his actions as major . Legend, however, tells of his great deeds in motivating the citizens of Vienna and leading a civic defence. At the end of the 1800s, Liebenberg became a central figure and idol for liberal groups within the bourgeoisie who were fighting for their social status and political power. He came to be known as an important leader and protector of the city. Today, he is remembered by several monuments particularly in one prominent location - . at the university in Mölkerbastei a ten meter high memorial was dedicated to him in 1890.
Liebenberg memorial at Mölkerbastei, © Institute for art history, University of Vienna
The main element is an obelisk crowned with a statue of victory. In the middle two putti hold a portrait of Liebenberg, which is plated in gold. Symbols of the Ottoman military cover the sides of the pedestal and portray the Austrian triumph. A lion sits at the base of the monument. In addition, the site of the monument is historical itself. If you look at it from the front, you can still see remains of the old walls of Vienna in the background. They surrounded the whole city until 1857 when construction for the Ringstrasse (Ring Road) began.
Portrait of Liebenberg, © Institute for art history, University of Vienna
Even though the military conflict is what is most remembered, the Austrian-Turkish relationship was mainly based on an economical trade and cultural exchange. Reducing this to military disputes distorts the historical relationship and questions collective memory. Memorials keep a problematic view on the historical events alive. With the increasing population of Turkish people living in Vienna and the growing importance of Islamic faith in Europe, monuments like the Liebenberg memorial are a complicated matter to say the least. With around half a million Muslims living in Austria and around fifty thousand Turkish people living in Vienna, this monument seems oddly outdated and out of place. What is remembered are not so much the events themselves, but the political propaganda that followed them. The word Türkengefahr (Turkish threat) is still an expression in spite of contemporary diplomatic relations and immigration. As said, Liebenberg’s actual importance is mostly unknown. The public memory of him as heroic figure was constructed around two hundred years later. The intention was to enforce political aims of bourgeois movements. All these facts are invisible, though, when looking at the monument. This memorial situated on such a prominent spot in the inner city portrays old stereotypes about Islam and the sieges.
Lion, © Wiener Ringstraßen-Archiv
Obviously, one cannot simply erase memorials because of their political context. They are of art historical importance and evidences of history. But times have changed and their historicity needs to be made visible. If you walk across the ring into the university, you will see two revised monuments in the arcade courtyard. With additional art installations and sculptures, their history became palpable.
Castalia, © Sylwia Bukowska
In the centre of the yard stands a statue of the nymph Castalia, a female personification of wisdom. Until today, she is the only female statue. The corridors in the inner yard are covered with memorial plaques of highly esteemed male scientists from the university of Vienna. The importance of female students, PhDs and employees is barely visible in public displays. Elise Richter, Lise Meitner, Anna Freud and Marie Jahoda are only a few famous examples of women, who have made a contribution in different academic disciplines. Except for one written memorial tablet for the poet Marie Ebner-Eschenbach, there is no sign of female scientists. Women were allowed to study at the university of Vienna in the year 1878, but until the 1970s and even today, women were directly and indirectly discriminated against at higher educational institutions. Although today more than half of the students are female, the number of women in high-ranking jobs at the university remains under ten per cent. Women had to break through the barriers of the homo-social environment at the university. Their ability in technical understandings, cognitive abstraction and in grasping scientific thoughts was questioned. Male professors openly discriminated female students and employees until the Eighties and beyond. Many female scientists from around 1900 onward have contradicted those theories, but as opposed to their male colleagues, their remembrance cannot be seen in public displays.
Iris Andraschek, Der Muse reichts, 2013 © University of Vienna
In 2003, Iris Andraschek installed an artwork around Castalia called Der Muse reichts (The Muse has had enough). An artificial shadow for the figure made out of granite tiles was laid into the floor. While the statue still sits quietly on her pedestal, the shadow reaches up her arm in a fierce motion. In the main hallway in front of the courtyard, you can watch a documentary about the history of women at the university of Vienna and about female students today.
Siegfriedskopf, © University of Vienna
Another installation at the back of the inner yard is Siegfriedskopf (Head of Siegfried). The monument was originally installed at the Aula of the university in 1923. The huge head of Siegfried, the well-known hero from the Nibelung myth, was installed with his eyes closed on a pedestal. Sponsor of the memorial was the German fraternity of Austria, which exists even today. The idea was to remember the fallen soldiers of World War I. But the monument was mainly used to promote their anti-Semitic and antidemocratic political ideas. In general, fraternities (Burschenschaften) in Germany and Austria were, and are, often criticized for spreading racist and patriotic beliefs. Burschenschaften originated in the European national movements of the early 1800s. They fought for their student rights as well as national-liberal politics. The union of Germany (which very often included Austria as well) was an important intent in almost every fraternity founded during the Nineteenth century. This nationalistic view still causes controversies and public discussions about their activities today. Even after World War II they continued to use the monument for ceremonies. Nowadays, there exist roughly 160 Burschenschaften. Their political ideas are still directly inspired by theories from the 1800s with some fraternities being openly nationalistic or even monarchist.
Siegfriedskopf, in the 1990s, © University of Vienna
The highly problematic usage and meaning of Siegfriedskopf was barely mentioned in public discussions until the 1990s. Despite permanent protests by left wing students and the Austrian Student Union, the statue remained in it’s prominent place. An exhibition and a brochure commissioned by the university in 1990 detailed the controversy and historical meaning, but Siegfriedskopf was not removed until 2006. The monument was then taken from the Aula to the Courtyard. Artists Bele Marx & Gilles Mussard cut the monument into three pieces and glass was used to cover the head completely. It is covered with writings about the history of the statue, making it impossible now to look at the monument without seeing its long and complex history.
Siegfriedskopf, new installation, © Bele Marx & Gilles Mussard
With these two installations, the University of Vienna has shown an interest in discussing it’s history as well as challenging old traditions and beliefs however numerous Turkish memorials are still waiting for a critical view. Historians have begun to write about their hidden meaning, but the monuments themselves are untouched in their solemn appearance. If you are interested in taking a walking tour to see other Turkish memorials in the first district, you can see our list of memorials below.
If you want to know more about the history of the university, you can either take a guided tour every Saturday (check out our event calendar) or rent an audio guide for € 3.00 at the information desk in the main building. The guide provides detailed descriptions for every bust in the arcaded courtyard.
List of other Turkish memorials:
- Capistran-pulpit at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
- Largest existing canon ball, Sterngasse 3, 1010.
- Horseman statue at Palais Montenuovo, Strauchgasse 1-3, 1010.
- Starhemberg-sarkophagus at Schottenkirche (inside of the crypt), Freyung 6, 1010.
650 years – History of the University of Vienna
Türkengedächnis - a research Project (in German)