Hungary’s most famous building – The House of Parliament

by | November 24, 2022 | Places

Attracting more than 700,000 visitors each year, the House of Parliament, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 as part of the Banks of the Danube, . It’s the third largest national assembly building in the world as well as the tallest building, along with the St. Stephen’s Basilic, in Budapest.

The House of Parliament - Hungary
The Hungarian Parliament – photo: Pixabay / Walkerssk

The Országház, which translates to the House of the Nation, is not only a museum, but it’s also a functioning lawmaking body providing a work place for over 800 people. The House of Parliament is the seat of the Hungarian National Assembly and holds regular debates, including those attended by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Inside, there are offices, chambers, a post office and a library. A hairdresser and a doctor also work there.

The masterpiece of Imre Steindl

The House of Parliament combines the attributes of Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival architecture, complemented by a touch of Baroque. The edifice was constructed on the detailed plan of Imre Steindl (1839-1902), who won the international competition that was held in the 1880s to design the permanent home for the National Assembly.

Construction began in 1885 and the building was inaugurated in 1896 when Hungary celebrated its 1000th anniversary. The building of the Parliament was completed in 1902 and unfortunately, Imre Steindl was unable to appreciate his finished masterwork. He lost his sight and just weeks before the building was fully completed, he passed away. Inner works and decoration took further two years to be finalized.

Chamber of Peers
The Chamber of Peers – photo: mtu.gov.hu

The size of the Parliament can be demonstrated by some astonishing figures:

  • The Parliament’s side parallel to the Danube is 268 metres long and the building is 123 metres at its widest point. The tower of the dome is 96 metres high.
  • It covers 18 000 square meters.
  • 40 million bricks were used for the construction.
  • More than 500 000 decorative carved stones were used to cover the Gothic walls of the Parliament.
  • 90 statues adorn the facade and there are further 152 sculptures inside.
  • The interior was decorated using 40 kilograms of 22-23 carat gold, including gold leaves.
  • The House of Parliament has 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 27 entrances, 29 staircases and 691 rooms (which include more than 200 offices).
  • The total lenght of the red carpet is almost 3 kilometres.
  • 365 towers are incorporated throughout the building, one for each day of the year.

Symbols in design

Imre Steindl designed the building in such a way that each part conveyed political and historical messages. The Hungarian National Assembly was originally a bicameral system, so the dome in the middle referred to the unity of the legislature, and it was also the site of the joint sittings of the Lower House and the Upper House.

The dome’s height (96 m) symbolizes the year of the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin (896) and the nation’s millenium (1896). The number 96 is also reflects in the number of the main stairs’ steps: 96 steps lead up to the dome hall. On both sides of the dome are the lower and upper house chambers, which are exactly the same design, symbolically suggesting that the two houses had equal rights.

Grand Stairway
The Grand Stairway – photo: mtu.gov.hu

During the construction, as part of the agreement, it was required to use only Hungarian raw materials, involve Hungarian manufacturers and craftsmen, and decorate the interior with floral motifs indigenous to the Carpathian Basin. The exceptions to this were the eight, four-ton granite columns of the Grand Stairway that were imported from abroad, and of which only 12 can be found in the world today: eight are in the House of Parliament, while the other four are in Britain.

Few people know that Zsolnay products can also be found in the House of Parliament. Imre Steindl and Vilmos Zsolnay were close friends, and Steindl asked his friend to deliver ceramic tiles for covering the walls of the courtyards. Moreover, pyrogranite statues of the porcelain factory adorn the Lounge of the Chamber of Peers.

Traces of the wars

The building of the Hungarian Parliament witnessed both World Wars and the revolution against the ruling communist regime in 1956. It was littered with bullet holes up until 2013, when its outside was renovated. However, some bullet holes can still be seen as a wartime memento because during the renovation the contractors chose not to repair a few square meters around a window on the Kossuth Lajos square side.

The stained glass windows and glass mosaics made by the Hungarian glass painter and mosaic artist Miksa Róth survived World War II, as they had been removed before bombing and were stored in sand beds in the basement. One of the bronze lion statues guarding the entrance was not so lucky, it was destroyed during the Second World War, but it was replaced by József Somogyi, and stands on the right-hand side as you face the entrance. The lion on the left is the original work of sculptor Béla Markup.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window – photo: Repműszaki / Országalbum

Unique heating and ventilation system

One of the Parliament’s curiosities is that there’s no chimney on the roof. The reason is that the Parliament houses a sophisticated heating and cooling system, which was the most modern in Europe at the time of its creation and caused a sensation. The building is heated with hot steam provided by a boiler situated in a nearby building, which pumps steam through pipes into the Parliament, and hot air is delivered via underground tunnels.

The cooling system also worked by using the underground tunnels and chambers. Air flowed from the Kossuth square through two pool fountains into the underground tunnels, and by the time it reached the inside, it cooled down just to the right temperature. Air flow intensity and direction was regulated by vents, which were installed in 1885 and are still fully functional. After the fountains had been demolished, from the 1930s to 1994 several tons of ice were stored in the tunnels to cool down the building.

Dome hall
The Dome Hall – photo: parlament.hu

Guided tours

Though the Hungarian Parliament is the workplace of the National Assembly, it can also be visited by tourists. Guided tours are held almost every day throughout the year. The roughly 45-minute tour departs from the Visitor Center and guides through the most decorative rooms of the Parliament. The rooms you will see:

  • The City Side Staircase XVII: a gold-plated corridor full of paintings and statues, which leads to the main floor.
  • The Chamber of Peers: today the Upper House is used as a conference and meeting room, and it’s also open to visitors. Its design corresponds to the interior of the Lower House where the sittings take place. The main wall displays painted coats of arms of Hungary’s royal families.
  • The Lounge of the Chamber of Peers: you can admire Europe’s largest hand-knotted carpet and the pyrogranite Zsolnay statues evoking Hungarian ethnic groups and trades.
  • The Dome Hall: you can have a look at the Holy Crown, the orb and the scepter, which have been kept safe here since 2000. They are guarded 24 hours per day and 365 days per year by specially trained soldiers.
  • The Grand Stairway: the tour ends in the Grand Stairway, which is adorned by the paintings of Károly Lotz and the stained glass windows by Miksa Róth. It’s also a home to the eight granite columns mentioned above.
The House of Parliament on the Kossuth square side
The House of Parliament from the Kossuth square – photo: Pixabay / Waldomiguez
  • Address: 1055 Budapest, Kossuth Lajos square 1-3.
  • Open every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Group visits start from the Visitor Centre.
  • Accessibility: tram line 2, metro line 2, bus no. 115 and 15
  • Official website: parlament.hu
  • Official website for ticket sales: jegymester.hu

Sources: here, here, here, here, here and here

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