Kahlenberg & St. Josefkirche Church
Church, Concrete Platform & best view on Vienna

A contemporary view on the Battle of the Kahlenberg

One thing fairly well-known by Austrians, but often neglected by international tourists (apart from Polish ones) is a visit to the Kahlenberg, a hill in the north of Vienna. It is easily accessible with public busses from Heiligenstadt or from Grinzing (which in turn is connected with the city centre by tram) and offers the best view on central Vienna and the Marchfeld area. On a clear day, you can see beyond Bratislava.

There is a rather unattractive platform from where you can look down - and being from Salzburg myself, I quite enjoy looking down on Vienna. The best viewpoints are the platform which you can′t miss - behind the church, where most people go - and the Stefaniewarte, a brick tower from 1897 which allows you to see much of the area north of Vienna. Follow the signs for the Stefaniewarte, it is a five minute walk from the bus stop.

The area around the platform is rather strange: There are two souvenir shops, the Baroque church of St. Josef, a big hotel and a private tourism university in the same building. The St. Josefskirche Church was originally built in the early 17th century by Kamaldulensian monks - as a monastic church. The Kamaldulensians came to Vienna upon invitation by Emperor Ferdinand II and in 1629, they started to built a church which was finished ten years later.

Polish Church on the Kahlenberg & Kahlenberg Battle

Now, the Kahlenberg is for Austrians what Hastings is for Britian: It was here that the forces of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation and the Kingdom of Poland joint to defeat the armies of the Ottoman Empire that besieged Vienna in 1683. At least, so it was thought - modern historicist think that it was rather a few hundred metres further on the Leopoldsberg. Anyway, the "Battle of the Kahlenberg" marks a turning point in European history.

For the Kamaldulensian monks, it was a disaster: The church and monastery were destroyed. However, with the defeat of the Turks the Habsburgs finally rose to one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe and the wealth of their lands rocketed away. Churches, palaces and castles were built everywhere - including on the Kahlenberg. The church of St. Josef was re-built in its current shape in 1734. With the reforms of Emperor Joseph II (he of the movie "Amadeus"), the monastery of the Kamaldulensians was dissolved and in 1785, St. Josef became a parish church of a newly founded village called Josefsdorf. The village did not develop properly and the church fell into disrepair.

In 1852, it was refurbished for the first time - yet it was not used properly until 1906. That year, Polish monks of the resurrectionist order moved in and started to take care of the property. It was refurbished again and became a little shrine to commemorate Jan Sobieski, King of Poland and general at the battle of the Kahlenberg. Today, St. Josefskirche is still popular with Polish visitors, who have included Pope John Paul II in 1983. The parish is still run by Polish priests, making St. Josef the second Polish church in Vienna aside with the Gardekirche near Schloss Belvedere.

Interiors of Kahlenberg Church & Surroundings

The antechapel is a little museum that commemorates the battle of the Kahlenberg with drawings, paintings and explanations. The interiors are as Baroque as the outside of the church, but date back to different periods. The main altar contains paintings by the Bohemian painter Peter Johann Brandl. There is also a crucification group that dates back to the time of the original monastery. Behind the crucifices, there is a painting from 1852 by Friedrich Schilcher, underneath which you find the "Madonna of Mount Kahlenberg", a copy of a Roman painting that was presented to the people of Vienna by Pope Innocence XI after the battle.

From the Kahlenberg, you can walk to nearby Leopoldsberg, the Eastern-most hilltop around Vienna. Alternatively, the area around the Cobenzl is good for walks through the vineyards of Döbling or you go back to Grinzing and stop by a Heurigen wine tavern.

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Further Reading

English Wikipedia on the Kahlenberg, Vienna

Britannica on the Battle of the Kahlenberg

AEIOU on the Kahlenberg, Vienna