Austrian Parliament Building
The Austrian Parliament Building (German: Parliament or Hohes Haus, formerly the Reichsratsgebäude) in Vienna is where the two Houses of the Parliament of Austria conduct their sittings. The building is on the Ringstraße boulevard in the first district Innere Stadt, close by the Hofburg Palace and the Palace of Justice.
The main construction lasted from 1874 to 1883. The architect responsible for the building in a Greek revival style was Theophil Edvard Hansen. He designed the building holistically, each element harmonizing with the others and was therefore also responsible for the interior decoration, such as statues, paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and numerous other elements. Hansen was ennobled by Emperor Franz Joseph with the title of a Freiherr (Baron) after completion. One of the building's most famous features is the later added Athena fountain in front of the main entrance, which is a notable Viennese tourist attraction. Following heavy damage and destruction during the Second World War, most of the interior has been restored to its original splendour.
The parliament building covers over 13,500 square meters, making it one of the largest structures on the Ringstraße. It was built to house the two chambers of the Imperial Council, or Reichsrat, the legislature of the Austrian part (Cisleithania) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, the parliament building is the seat of the two houses — National Council (Nationalrat) and Federal Council (Bundesrat) — of the Austrian parliament. It contains over one hundred rooms, the most important of which are the Chambers of the National Council, the Federal Council and the former Imperial House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus). The building also includes committee rooms, libraries, lobbies, dining-rooms, bars and gymnasiums. It is the site of important state ceremonies, most notably the swearing-in ceremony of the President of Austria and the state speech on National Day on each October 26. The building is very closely associated with the two Houses, as shown by the use of "Hohes Haus" as a metonym for "Parliament". Parliamentary offices overspill into nearby buildings such as the Palais Epstein.
The new imperial constitution (known as the Februar-Patent) promulgated in 1861 created the Imperial Council as an effective legislature. For that purpose, a new building had to be constructed to house this constitutional organ. The original plan was to construct two separate buildings for each chamber, one for the House of Lords and one for the House of Representatives. However after the Ausgleich which effectively created the Dual-Monarchy in 1867, Hungary received its own separate legislative body, and the original plan for two buildings was dropped.
The precursor to the present building was the temporary House of Deputies or Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus), located at Währinger Straße, which was erected within six weeks. In its layout the Abgeordnetenhaus would be a model for the later parliament building. This temporary structure was opened in 1861 by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The building was soon named afterwards named "Schmerlingtheater", after its Speaker Anton von Schmerling. The "Schmerlingtheater" was used by the deputies until the construction of the new building in 1884.
The site was the location of the city’s fortifications and walls. In his famous decree (Es ist Mein Wille at Wikisource) in 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria laid down the plans of the Ringstraße boulevard, which replaced the old walls. The parliament building was supposed to feature prominently on the Ringstraße, in close proximity to the Hofburg Palace and the city hall of Vienna.
An Imperial Commission was appointed to study the building of the Parliament. The Commission decided that the building’s style should be classical. Those who preferred the classical style argued that classical Greek architecture was appropriate for Parliament, since it is connected to the Ancient Greeks and the ideal of democracy.
After studying rival proposals, the Imperial Commission chose Theophil Hansen's plan for a classical style building. In 1869, the Imperial and Royal Ministry of the Interior gave von Hansen the order to design a new parliament building.
Ground was broken on June 1874, the cornerstone has the date “2. September 1874“ etched into it. At the same time, work also commenced on the nearby two imperial museums (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Naturhistorisches Museum), the city hall and the university. In November 1883 the offices of the House of Representatives were completed and started being used. On December 4, 1883 the House of Representatives held its first session under its president Franz Smolka. On December 16, 1884, the House of Lords under its president Count Trauttmansdorff held its first session. Both chambers would continue to sit in the building until the end of the empire in 1918.
The fountain with the statue of Athena in front of the building was designed by Baron Hansen as well, but only completed in 1898 to 1902. The official name of the building was Reichsratsgebäude (Imperial Council Building), and the street behind the building, the Reichsratsstraße, still recalls this former name. The word Parliament however was in use since the beginning as well.
The building saw tumultuous years during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as the House of Representatives was extremely fractious between liberals and conservatives, German-speaking nationalists and Czech deputies, as well as the government and parliament. It became a common feature of undisciplined deputies to throw inkwells at each other. The joke on the street was that Athena was so disgusted by the political infighting, that her statue purposely has her back turned to the building.
Nevertheless the building housed the first form of a parliamentary system for much of the people of Central Europe. Some of the former deputies continued their political carriers after the fall of the empire and became important politicians in their home countries.
The Reichsratsgebäude continued to function until 1918, when the building was occupied by demonstrators during the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From the ramp of the building, the First Republic was officially proclaimed. The building itself was renamed as “Parliament”, with the new republican National Council (Nationalrat) and Federal Council (Bundesrat) replacing the old imperial House of Deputies (Abgeordnetenhaus) and the House of Lords (Herrenhaus). The parliament ceased to function with the introduction of the Austro-fascist dictatorship and the Anschluß of Austria to Nazi Germany in 1938. Half of the building suffered heavy damage or was destroyed, such as the former Lords Chamber and the Hall of Columns, by Allied bombs in the course of the Second World War. It was in the old Abgeordnetenhaus Chamber that the new Chancellor Dr. Karl Renner declared the rebirth of an independent Austria, helped by Soviet troops. Max Fellerer and Eugen Wörle were commissioned as architect; they chose to redesign and readapt the former Lords Chamber for the National Council, in the process the meeting room of the National Council was rebuilt in a modern and functional style. Work on the National Council Chamber was completed in 1956. The original appearance of the other publicly accessible premises and the building's external appearance were largely restored to von Hansen's design, such as of the Hall of Columns.
Baron von Hansen's design for the Reichsratsgebäude uses the neo-Greek style, which was popular during the 19th century Classic revival. Hansen worked at that time in Athens and was headhunted by the Greek-Austrian magnate Nikolaus Dumba, who was in the committee for constructing a new parliament. Hansen chose the same theme as in the construction of the Zappeion in Athens before. The Greek architectural style is today interpreted as a reminder of antique Greece as the "cradle of democracy".
The original plans actually saw a separate building for the House of Representatives and the House of Lords. For practical and financial reasons it was decided to house both chambers in one building. Von Hansen's concept of the layout reflected the structure of the Imperial Council (Reichsrat), as was stipulated by the so-called February Patent of 1861, which laid down the constitutional structure for the empire. The two chambers were connected to each other by the great hypostyle hall, which was the central structure. The hall was supposed to be the meeting point between the commoners and the lords, reflecting the structure of the society back then.
The gable has not changed since the monarchy and is decorated with symbols and allegories of the 17 provinces (Kronländer) of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. The ramp is about four meters high. The pillars are in the Corinthian style. On both ends of the roof are quadrigas. It used to be surrounded by smaller patches of lawns, which have been transformed into parking spaces. The building is up to four storeys high.
Corresponding to the horse-tamers at the Ringstraße ramp, eight quadrigas made out of bronze decorate the roof on both ends. The quadriga is a symbol of victory, driven by the goddess of victory Nike. The attic of both chambers are richly decorated with symbolism. 76 marble statues and 66 reliefs form a decorative ensemble. 44 allegorical statues represent human qualities and branches of human activity, while 32 statues represent famous personalities from the antique era. The reliefs are allegorical as well and correspond to the area of public life that the famous personalities had an impact on. 50 smaller reliefs portray the lands, important cities and rivers of the empire. The roof is for the most part kept in the ancient Greek form, decorated with ancient Greek-style caps[disambiguation needed ] and palmettes made out of copper sheet metal.
It was the emperor’s personal wish to use Austrian marble for the construction of the building at the Ringstraße. For that purpose, marble from the village of Laas in the county of Tyrol was brought in and generously used on the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Reichsratsgebäude. For the architect Baron von Hansen, the white, sturdy stone was perfect, since building blocks for the façade and statues could be made just to look like in ancient Greece. Over the decades and with increased air pollution, the marble has proved remarkably resilient, stronger than its famous counterpart from Carrara.
Four bronze statues of the horse tamers are located at the two lower ends of the ramp Auffahrtsrampe. They are a powerful symbol of the suppression of passion, an important precondition for successful parliamentary cooperation. They were designed and executed by J. Lax in the Kaiserlich Königliche Kunst-Erzgießerei in 1897 and 1900. Further bronze works are the two quadrigas on top of the roof, each chariot pulled by four horses and steered by the goddess Nike. The bronze works had to undergo extensive conservation and restoration work in the 1990s, due to acid rain and air pollution. Further oxidation corroded the bronze over the decades and ate holes into the sculptures. For that purpose each sculpture was completely encased into a separate structure to protect them from the elements while they underwent restoration.
The Athena Fountain (Pallas-Athene-Brunnen) in front of the Parliament was erected between 1893 and 1902 by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn, and Hugo Haerdlt, based on the plans by Baron von Hansen. In the middle is a water-basin and a richly decorated base. The four lying figures at the foot of Athena are allegorical representations of the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They represent at the front the Danube and Inn, in the back part the Elbe and Vltava (German: Moldau) rivers. On the sides are little cupids riding dolphins. The statues of the Danube, Inn, and the cupids were executed by Haerdtl, those of the Elbe and Moldau by Kundmann. The female statues above represent the legislative and executive powers of the state, executed by Tautenhayn. They are again dominated by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena standing on a pillar. Athena is dressed in armor with a gilded helmet, her left hand carries a spear, her right carries Nike.
Parliament is surrounded by greenery. On the north side the Rathausplatz park is located, on the southern side a smaller lawn next to the Justizpalast. Monuments to the founders of the First Republic as well as to Dr. Karl Renner are located on either ends.
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