Like many of the sights bordering Vienna’s Ring, the Austrian parliament building appeared in the second half of the 19th century as part of the urban renewal and expansion project that followed the demolition of the former city wall.
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 was completed in full by 1884. Hansen deliberately chose a Greek style for the building, to reflect the idea of law and freedom and other relevant concepts popularized and/or developed by the Hellenic culture.
In common with many other historic sights, WWII took a severe toll on the building. It was half demolished by Allied aerial bombing, but the rebuilding work at least gave the state the opportunity to modernize the insides.
Classic motifs appear throughout the building. For example, the two large ramps at the front are decorated with statues of Thucydides, Polybius, Xenophon and Herodotus (Greek) and Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Titus Livius and Sallust (Roman).
Xenophon has another Vienna connection as the author of the first books on the art of riding, 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.
Subway: U3 (Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring / Volkstheater) or U2 (Rathaus)
Tram: D, 1, 2 or 71 (Parlament) or 46 and 49 (Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring)
Bus: 48A (Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring)
Address: Parlament, Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring 1-3, 1010 Vienna