The Austrian Parliament Building, (German: Parlament or Hohes Haus, formerly the Reichsratsgebaude), is where the two Houses of the Parliament of Austria conduct their sittings. The building lies at the Ringstrasse in the first district Innere Stadt in Vienna, close by the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Palace of Justice.
The main construction lasted from 1874 to 1883. The architect responsible for the building was Baron Theophil von Hansen, the building is an example of Greek revival. The architect von Hansen designed the building as an ensemble, where each piece harmonised with the rest. He was therefore also responsible for the interior decoration such as statues, paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and other elements. One of the building's most famous features is the statue of Athena and the fountain, a notable Viennese tourist attraction. Despite heavy damages and destruction during World War II, most of the interior has been restored to its original appearance.
The parliament building covers over 13,500 square meters, making it one of the largest structures on the Ringstrasse. It was constructed to house the two chambers of the Reichsrat, the legislature of the Austrian part (Cisleithania) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, the parliament building is seat of the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat). It contains over 100 rooms, the most important of which are the Chambers of the National Council, the Federal Council and the former imperial House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus). The building also includes committee rooms, libraries, lobbies, dining-rooms, bars and gymnasiums. It is the site of important state ceremonies, most notably the swearing-in ceremony of the President of Austria and the state speech on National Day on each October 26. The building is very closely associated with the two Houses, as shown by the use of "Hohes Haus" as a metonym for "Parliament". Parliamentary offices overspill into nearby buildings such as the Palais Epstein.
The Athena Fountain (Pallas-Athene-Brunnen) in front of the Parliament was erected between 1893 and 1902 by Carl Kundmann, Josef Tautenhayn, and Hugo Haerdlt, based on the plans by Baron von Hansen. In the middle is a water-basin and a richly decorated base. The four lying figures at the foot of Athena are allegorical representations of the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They represent at the front the Danube and Inn, in the back part the Elbe and Moldau rivers. On the sides are little cupids riding dolphins. The statues of the Danube, Inn, and the cupids were executed by Haerdtl, those of the Elbe and Moldau by Kundmann. The female statues above represent the legislative and executive powers of the state, executed by Tautenhayn. They are again dominated by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena standing on a pillar. Athena is dressed in armor with a gilded helmet, her left hand carries a spear, her right carries Nike.
Former House of Representatives Chamber
The chamber of the former House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus) is used today by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) whenever it convenes for special occasions such as National Day and the inauguration ceremony of a newly-elected Federal President of Austria.
The chamber is built in a semi-circle with 34 meters in diameter and 22.5 meters in depth. The chamber of the former House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus) is used today by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) whenever it convenes for special occasions such as National Day and the inauguration ceremony of a newly-elected Federal President of Austria. The chamber is built in a semi-circle with 34 meters in diameter and 22.5 meters in depth.
It originally contained 364 seats. With the introduction of various electoral reforms, the number was increased to 425 seats in 1896 and with the introduction of the male universal suffrage in 1907 to 516 seats.
The chamber has viewing galleries on two levels. The first gallery has in the middle the box for the head of state. The right side of the gallery is for the diplomatic corps and the left side for the cabinet and family members of the head of state. On both far ends are the seats for journalists. The gallery on the second level, which is slightly recessed from the one on the first level, is for the general public.
The chamber is architecturally based on an ancient Greek theatron. The wall behind the presidium is designed like an antique skene with marble colonnades that carry a gable. The group of figures in the gable are made ouf of Laas-marble and depict the allegorical times of the day. The columns and pilasters of the wall are made out of marble from Untersberg, the stylobates out of dark marble, the decorations of the doors out of red Salzburg-marble. The wall space between the pillars is made out of grey scagliola, with niches in between decorated with statues made out of Carrara-marble. The statues show historical persons such as Numa Pompilius, Cincinnatus, Quintus Fabius Maximus, Cato the Elder, Gaius Gracchus, Cicero, Manlius Torquatus, Augustus, Seneca the Younger and Constantine the Great. The friezes above were painted by August Eisenmenger and depict the history of the emergence of civic life.
Hall of Pillars
Located behind the entrance atrium is the grand Hall of Pillars (Saulenhalle) or peristyle. The hall is about 40 meters long and 23 meters broad. The 24 corinthian pillars are made out of Adnet marble, all of them monoliths weighing around 16 tons each. The pillars carry the skylight main ceiling in the middle and the coffered side ceilings. The floor is made out of polished marble, which rests on a concrete hull. The space below was designed to be used as a hypocaust for floor heating and air circulation system of the hall.
Located at the transverse axis on either ends from the Hall of Pillars is the chamber of the former House of Representatives (on the left side) and the chamber of the former House of Lords (on the right side). The architect von Hansen's idea was to have the Hall of Pillars as the main central part of the building. It was designed to act as a meeting point between the House of Lords and the House of Representatives. Hansen also wanted to have the hall used by the monarch for the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne, similar to the British tradition. However such ceremonies were never held in the building, since Emperor Franz Joseph I had a personal disdain for the parliamentary body. Speeches from the Throne in front of the parliamentarians were held in the Hofburg Palace instead.
The Hall of Pillars is an epitome of classical perfection. The architect von Hansen paid particular attention to the design and construction of this hall. Not only architecturally and design-wise is this his masterpiece, the building material itself is of the highest quality. The marble floor was polished in a complicated process. The capitals of the pillars were gilded with 23 carat (96%) gold. Running around at the wall was a frieze, which was 126 meters long and 2.3 meters tall. It was designed and painted by Eduard Lebiedzki. The monumental piece of work took decades to prepare and design, and it took four years, from 1907 until 1911, to paint. The frieze showed allegories on a golden background, depicting the duties of parliament.
The new imperial constitution (known as the Februar-Patent) promulgated in 1861 created the Reichsrat as an effective legislature. For that purpose, a new building had to be constructed to house this constitutional organ. The original plan was to construct two separate buildings for each chamber, one for the House of Lords and one for the House of Representatives. However after the Ausgleich which effectively created the Dual-Monarchy in 1867, Hungary received its own separate legislative body, and the original plan for two buildings was dropped.
The precursor to the present building was the temporary House of Deputies or Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus), located at Wahringer Strasse, which was erected within six weeks. In its layout the Abgeordnetenhaus would be a model for the later parliament building. This temporary structure was opened in 1861 by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The building was soon named afterwards named "Schmerlingtheater", after its Speaker Anton von Schmerling. The "Schmerlingtheater" was used by the deputies until the construction of the new building in 1884.
The site was the location of the city’s fortifications and walls. In his famous decree (Es ist Mein Wille at Wikisource) in 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria laid down the plans of the Ringstrasse boulevard, which replaced the old walls. The parliament building was supposed to feature prominently on the Ringstrasse, in close proximity to the Hofburg Palace and the city hall of Vienna.
An Imperial Commission was appointed to study the building of the Parliament. The Commission decided that the building’s style should be classical. Those who preferred the classical style argued that classical Greek architecture was appropriate for Parliament, since it is connected to the Ancient Greeks and the ideal of democracy.
After studying rival proposals, the Imperial Commission chose Theophil von Hansen's plan for a classical style building. In 1869, the Imperial and Royal Ministry of the Interior gave von Hansen the order to design a new parliament building.
Ground was broken on June 1874, the cornerstone has the date “2. September 1874“ etched into it. At the same time, work also commenced on the nearby two imperial museums (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Naturhistorisches Museum), the city hall and the university. In November 1883 the offices of the House of Representatives were completed and started being used. On December 4, 1883 the House of Representatives held its first session under its president Franz Smolka. On December 16, 1884, the House of Lords under its president Count Trauttmansdorff held its first session. Both chambers would continue to sit in the building until the end of the empire in 1918.
The fountain with the statue of Athena in front of the building was designed by Baron Hansen as well, but only completed in 1898 to 1902. The official name of the building was Reichsratsgebaude (Council of the Realm Building), the street behind the building Reichsratsstrasse still reminds of the former name. The word Parliament however was in use since the beginning as well.
The building saw tumultuous years during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as the House of Representatives was extremely fractious between liberals and conservatives, German-speaking nationalists and Czech deputies, as well as the government and parliament. It became a common feature of undisciplined deputies to throw inkwells at each other. The joke on the street was that Athena was so disgusted by the political infighting, that her statue purposely has her back turned to the building.
Nevertheless the building housed the first form of a parliamentary system for much of the people of Central Europe. Some of the former deputies continued their political carriers after the fall of the empire and became important politicians in their home countries.
The Reichsratsgebaude continued to function until 1918, when the building was occupied by demonstrators during the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From the ramp of the building, the First Republic was officially proclaimed. The building itself was renamed as “Parliament”, with the new republican National Council (Nationalrat) and Federal Council (Bundesrat) replacing the old imperial House of Deputies (Abgeordnetenhaus) and the House of Lords (Herrenhaus). The parliament ceased to function with the introduction of the Austro-fascist dictatorship and the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi-Germany in 1938. Half of the building suffered heavy damage or was destroyed, such as the former Lords Chamber and the Hall of Columns, by Allied bombs in the course of the Second World War. It was in the old Abgeordnetenhaus Chamber that the new Chancellor Dr. Karl Renner declared the rebirth of an independent Austria, helped by Soviet troops. Max Fellerer and Eugen Warle were commissioned as architect; they chose to redesign and readapt the former Lords Chamber for the National Council, in the process the meeting room of the National Council was rebuilt in a modern and functional style. Work on the National Council Chamber was completed in 1956. The original appearance of the other publicly accessible premises and the building's external appearance were largely restored to von Hansen's design, such as of the Hall of Columns.