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
- Undergoing major refurbishment and rebuilding work at the time of writing
- See also: Sightseeing tips | The Ring
History and architecture
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; palaces and museums went up.
The architect was Theophil Hansen and you’ll come across many other magnificent works by him on your travels across Vienna. He designed, for example, the Musikverein (one of the world’s greatest concert halls) and various palais buildings that also line the Ring boulevard.
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.
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.
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 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, so 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 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 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.
The building housed the Imperial council (Reichsrat) which included some elected representatives. 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.
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 in place, with parliament temporarily relocated to Heldenplatz square until the reopening.)
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