Like many of the sights bordering Vienna’s Ring boulevard, the Austrian parliament building (German: Parlament) appeared in the second half of the 19th century.
- Built in the Hellenic style by Theophil von Hansen
- Warning: Currently undergoing major refurbishment and rebuilding work (until 2020/2021)
- See also: Sightseeing tips | The Ring
History and architecture
The parliament building was part of the urban renewal and expansion project that followed the decision to open up the Viennese defences to property development. The city walls went down, palaces and museums went up.
Given its representative function, it might come as a surprise to learn that the architect was not local, but Danish (Theophil von Hansen). Of course Austria was still a monarchy at the time, so the value placed on democratic representation wasn’t quite what we understand it to be today.
Construction work began in 1874 and ended around ten years later. Hansen deliberately chose a Greek style for the building, to reflect the idea of law, freedom, and other relevant concepts popularized and/or developed by the Hellenic culture.
WWII took a severe toll on the building, in common with many other historic sights. It was half-demolished by Allied aerial bombing, but the rebuilding work at least gave the state the opportunity to modernise the insides.
Classic motifs appear throughout the architecture. For example, the two large ramps at the front are decorated with statues of Thucydides, Polybius, Xenophon, Herodotus (all Greek), Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Titus Livius and Sallust (all Roman).
Xenophon has another Vienna connection as the author of the first books on the art of riding; his instructions that eventually led to the art form practiced at the Spanish Riding School.
The large fountain between the ramps is topped by a white marble statue of Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, war and peace. In her hand, she carries Nike, the Goddess of victory (no, not an early form of sponsorship).
Nike turns up elsewhere in the building too; the horse-drawn chariots that dominate the roof are all driven by her, as symbols of victory.
Just under the topmost point of the building is a statue of Emperor Franz Joseph, in whose reign the building was constructed. He’s dressed somewhat unusually in a toga and surrounded by human representations of the countries subject to his rule.
The other statues and reliefs dotted about the roof and elsewhere are a mix of historical figures from Rome and Greece, representations of countries and other geographical features under the aegis of the monarchy, and representations of relevant human characteristics and activities.
How to get to parliament
You’ll probably stumble across the building on your travels anyway. Otherwise…
Subway: Take the U3 to Volkstheater or the U2 to Rathaus
Tram/bus: Take the D, 1, 2, 71, 46 or 49 tram lines (or the 48A bus) to Ring/Volkstheater
Address: Parlament, Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring 1-3, 1010 Vienna | Website