Items of the former Vienna Civic Armoury belong to the most pre-eminent sub-collections of the Wien Museum. Their significance rests not only with the extraordinarily large number of weapons and suits of armour that have remained almost completely intact over the centuries, but also on account of the uniqueness of whole groups of weapons. Extending from Gothic “Kriegszeug” (“War Material”) up to military weaponry from the middle of the 19th century, the collection encompasses some 400 suits of armour as well as thousands of weapons: broadswords, pointed weapons and firearms.
The history of the Civic Armoury goes back to the Middle Ages, when every Viennese citizen was obliged to acquire, maintain and keep safely those items of equipment that enabled him to participate actively in the defence of Vienna. Moreover, the city kept a large depot of other weapons which was added to especially during the period of the Ottoman threat in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1562, the stocks which previously had been stored in various scattered depots were brought together in the Civic Armoury located at the square Am Hof. Initially an unadorned, functional building, this was redesigned in 1731/32 into a splendid building with a Baroque façade. Here particularly older weapons were no longer kept in a purely convenient way, but arranged decoratively: the military depot was transformed into a collection of weapons that was museum-like in character.
Besides the weapons and equipment items of the Viennese citizens, the collection also contains more magnificent pieces. These were presumably gifts from reigning princes and include the oldest preserved German plated suit of armour (around 1450) or the oldest completely preserved horse armour in the world, produced by one of the most important armourers in Northern Italy (likewise around 1450). Splendid suits of armour from Emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian I, Rudolph II and Matthew among others belong to the finest exemplars of plated armour in Europe. In addition, there are the so-called “Türkenbeute” (“Turkish spoils of war”), i.e. booty from battles fought by the Imperial Army against the Ottomans.
In the course of preparations for the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition, the Armoury was redesigned into the “Bürgerliches Waffenmuseum” (“Civic Weapons Museum”). In 1885 stocks were then moved to the City Hall, creating the basis of the newly founded Historical Museum of the City of Vienna. The building located at the square Am Hof was henceforth used as the headquarters of the Fire Brigade. Some outstanding Armoury items, like the splendid suits of armour or the “Turkish spoils of war”, are today exhibited in the Wien Museum at Karlsplatz. Lack of space prevents display of the entire collection.
MAG. DR. SARAH PICHLKASTNER, MA (CURRENTLY ON MATERNITY LEAVE)