Museum Aspern-Essling, Vienna
Victory & Defeat in the Napoleonic Wars

Flashback to the early 19th century: Napoleon Bonaparte rules France and much of Europe, the undefeated French and their allies push eastwards and get challenged by the resistance of the Austrian army. In Vienna, they gather on the eastern shore of the Danube, the area of Lobau, in the south-east of Vienna. This is near the Marchfeld, a well-tested Austrian battlefield - a plain just outside of the city, ideal for vast armies.

On the 21st and 22nd of May 1809, the Napoleonic and the Austrian armies fight each other around the two villages of Aspern and Essling. The Austrians, under the command of Archduke Karl of Austria, suffer serious losses - but remain victorious and force the Napoleonic troops to withdraw on the second day. All over Europe, this was noticed the "Battle of Aspern" as the first defeat of Napoleon in a battle.

Only a bit more than two weeks later, on the 5th and 6th of July, another battle between the two armies begins - between the area of the Lobau (the Danube shore south-east of Vienna) and the Marchfeld village of Deutsch-Wagram. In the "Battle of Wagram", the Napoleonic troops remain victorious and end the "Fifth Coalition War" against the French domination. Just like in many battles that Napoleon won before, artillery was a key to his success; in this case, it was at a particularly big magnitude: The most devastating battle of all Napoleonic Wars so far, involving 335,000 soldiers. The losses amounted to 80,000, slightly more Austrians than French.

Memorials & Museum Aspern-Essling, Vienna

50 years later - in 1858 - Archduke Albrecht of Austria, son of Archduke Karl, gave orders to build a memorial to commemorate the victorious "Battle of Aspern". The artist Anton Fernkorn designed a lion with a painful facial expression: It rests its body on heraldic symbols of France - French eagle, flags and a cavalry helmet. The lion symbolises the Austrian soldiers that sacrificed their life for another 110 years of Habsburg suppression (well, for freedom, of course). The lion is not a proud sign of victory - it is a dying lion suffering pain as a reference to the defeat that followed.

Beyond the lion memorial, there is a small museum in Aspern-Essling today that commemorates this battle, which ranks among the biggest in pre-20th century army history. The "Museum Aspern" and its sibling, the "Museum im Schüttkasten", provide lots of information on the historic background of the Napoleonic Wars and the battles. Items on display illustrate the daily life and routines of simple soldiers; they also portray the commanders of the two armies. The hot-spots of the battles were the church of Aspern and the Schüttkasten building - the latter one now exhibits uniforms, paintings and an enormous diorama with figurines of 8,546 soldiers to illustrate the battle. The "Museum im Schüttkasten" is a side-branch of the Museum Aspern.

I find the course of the battles and their historic background (and consequences) quite interesting; there is an excellent Wikipedia article on them available that I recommend for further reading (see below). Attractions nearby the museum are sparse - the area is mostly a residential and commercial one. Lobau is a good entrance point to the National Park Donauauen, and maybe you want to combine a visit at the museum with a cycling excursion along the Danube.

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Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Official Website of the Museum Aspern-Essling

Wikipedia on the Battle of Aspern-Essling (great article)