The Black Death

Schwarze tod

The plague was a permanent feature in the lives of the Viennese, claiming its victims time and again since the city was founded. The “Black Death” it was called in Russia, France and Italy for a long time. In the German-speaking world, the name persisted and lasted for a long time: the “big stink”.

As the disease progressed, brownish and black spots appeared alongside ulcers and pustules that stank horribly when they broke open.

Vienna again suffered particularly from the great plague of 1679, which, like so many before it, was brought in from the East. It was the time of the baroque and the whole life was theater. The Spanish etiquette at court, the fashion with the huge hoop skirts and allonge wigs, the lace-trimmed vests and the stiletto heels, up to the emphasis on the differences in rank of the individual social ranks and classes.

However, not much had changed in the streets and squares since the Middle Ages. The alleys were still dark and narrow, partly unpaved and full of “gruben und sümpff”. Many decrees calling for cleanliness have been handed down, “Kärler” were employed to clean the streets, but after the outbreak of the epidemic, the serious order was issued again: “Firstly, that no blood, insects, cancers, snails, ayrschallen or other filth be poured out in the streets or squares: In the same way, no dead dogs, cats or poultry are to be thrown into the streets, but are to be carried out of the city in one way or another”.

While in the Middle Ages the cleaning of bodies in bathhouses was a fixed part of the Viennese , people now feared the infection with syphilis there. This led to the preference for powder, perfume and wig . Fleas and lice multiplied happily. The distinguished ladies wore tubes smeared with honey under their skirts, in which the pesky parasites were supposed to catch. Personal hygiene had reached a catastrophic low.

Doctors, bathers and healers were at a loss . They prescribed taking theriac (an opium-containing medicine with 60-80 components used in the Middle Ages especially for poisoning), they performed bloodletting or prescribed sweating cures, chewing juniper berries, laurel, garlic, rue or taking a mixture of sulfur.

In the case of bubonic plague , one of the few truly effective methods was the surgical opening of the bumps (bubones) to allow the pus to drain, which brought beneficial relief to the patients. The proverbial miracle cure was the application of a speared toad, which had previously been soaked in wine and vinegar. All this, however, could not prevent 70,000 to 120,000 Viennese from dying.

It was not until 1894 that the Swiss Alexandre Yersin discovered the plague pathogen and the soon introduction of antibiotics put an end to the constant threat in Vienna. However, the plague is not erradicated yet From Madagascar, Congo, Peru to the USA, plague deaths and contagions are still possible today.

In the children’s games“Who is afraid of the bogeyman” and in the“Black Peter” the horror of the pestilence is processed to this day.Another important figure in Vienna was “The dear Augustin! The “Dear Augustin” (Marx Augustin) a bagpiper who survived the plague with wine, humor and song.

Time Travel Tip: The Plague Pit at Time Travel promises a unique experience to retrace the horrors of the plague.


Share this post

More contributions


Planning a European city break?

Organising a journey might feel overwhelming, particularly when venturing to an unfamiliar city or country. But with Go City, it’s how the best city breaks

read more "

Information on data protection
We use technologies such as cookies, LocalStorage, etc. to customize your browsing experience, to personalize content and ads, to provide social media features, and to analyze traffic to our website. We also share information about how our site is used with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Our partners may combine this information with other data that you have provided to them or that you have collected as part of using the Services (incl. US providers). You can find more information about the use of your data in our data protection declaration.

data protection
This website uses cookies so that we can offer you the best possible user experience. You can find more information about the use of your data in our data protection declaration.

Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.

Marketing & Statistics
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site and the most popular pages. Leave this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.

Google Tag Manager
This is a tag management system. Using the Google Tag Manager, tags can be integrated centrally via a user interface. Tags are small pieces of code that represent activitiescan track. Script codes from other tools are integrated via the Google Tag Manager. The Tag Manager makes it possible to control when a specific tag is triggered.