On the afternoon of 29 March, after visiting the walled city of Groß Enzersdorf, we stopped in the Aspern part of Donaustadt – the 22nd district of Vienna.
The area is known because of the Battle of Aspern-Essling, which was fought in the nearby Lobau on May 21 and May 22, 1809. In that bloody, two-day battle, the Austrian army, led by Archduke Charles, repelled an advance by Napoleon. While not a true defeat, Aspern-Essling marked the first serious reverse suffered by Napoleon. French and Austrians losses were huge (estimated at 21,000 and 23,000 respectively). However, in little over a month later, the French regrouped and decisively won the Battle of Wagram (at Deutsch Wagram), forcing the Austrians to sue for peace.
In 1858, a large stone lion sculpture was installed in front of St. Martin’s Church in Aspern to commemorate the battle and the Austrian soldiers who died fighting Napoleon’s troops.
This lion apparently has become controversial in recent years. Some describe it as a symbol of improper glorification, while others see it as a fitting memorial.
The original model for the “Lion of Aspern” is at the HGM Vienna Military Museum.
Regrettably the small but incredibly focused Aspern-Essling Museum was closed when we visited – it is open from April through October, and then only on Sunday mornings. We’ll aim to go back one Sunday morning during the summer months. Fortunately, there were some placards outside providing some history of the monument.
We explored the church grounds, including the remnants of the old cemetery on the north wall of the parish church on Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square).
Outside the church was the obligatory statue of the bridge saint, St. John Nepomuk, presumably dating from 1753.
Inside, we saw what looked mostly like a new/restored church, with some old remnants. The church website has a good description (in German) of the interior of the church.
For more on the battle, see the following links:
- Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Aspern-Essling
- Napoleonic Guide: Battle of Aspern-Essling
- Battle of Aspern/Essling
- Aspern-Essling Museum
- Aspern-Essling 1809 Today