Like many of the sights bordering Vienna’s Ring boulevard, the Austrian parliament building (German: Parlamentsgebäude) appeared in the second half of the 19th century.
- Built in the Hellenic style by architect Theophil von Hansen
- Reaching the end (in autumn 2022) of major refurbishment and rebuilding work
- See also:
History and architecture
(Parliament before the renovation)
The parliament building formed 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; palatial townhouses and public buildings went up.
The architect was Theophil Hansen, and you’ll come across many other magnificent works by him on your travels across Vienna.
Hansen designed, for example, the Musikverein building (one of the world’s greatest concert halls) and the recently-renovated Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (home to the Gemäldegalerie public exhibitions).
Construction work on the Parlamentsgebäude began in 1874 and the building opened around ten years later, though some elements would only be finished after the turn of the century.
The building initially housed the Imperial council (Reichsrat) which included some elected representatives. 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.
Today, it houses Austria’s democratically-elected parliament, though the members have moved elsewhere during renovation work (see below).
Style and features
Hansen deliberately chose a Greek style, to reflect the idea of law, freedom, and other relevant concepts popularized and/or developed by the Hellenic culture.
As such, classical motifs appear throughout the architecture.
For example, statues of Thucydides, Polybius, Xenophon, Herodotus (all Greek), Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Titus Livius and Sallust (all Roman) decorate the two large ramps at the front.
Xenophon has another Vienna connection: he wrote the first books on the art of riding, and his instructions eventually led to the art form practiced at the Spanish Riding School.
A white marble statue of Athena (the Greek Goddess of wisdom, war, and peace) tops the large fountain between the ramps. In her hand, she carries Nike (the Goddess of victory, not an early form of corporate sponsorship).
Nike turns up elsewhere on the building too; she drives all the horse-drawn chariots that dominate the roof 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 appropriately in a toga and surrounded by human representations of the countries subject to his rule.
Other statues and reliefs dotted about the roof and elsewhere feature 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.
WWII took a severe toll on the location, in common with many other historic sights. Repair work following allied aerial bombing at least gave the state the opportunity to modernise the building’s insides.
At the time of writing, another major reconstruction programme is underway, with parliament temporarily relocated to Heldenplatz square until the reopening.
They reckon on finishing around autumn 2022, with the parliamentarians reconvening there sometime after. That assumes Dave can complete Mrs. Winchester’s conservatory over the weekend, so he can come round and finish up the tiling on Monday.
How to get to parliament
You’ll probably stumble across the building on your travels anyway, especially if you walk around the Ring. 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