After so many changes in the 20th century, it’s sometimes hard to remember that less than 100 years ago Austria was part of a large empire. A reminder of that period is embodied by the Vienna Parliament building. It will be of interest not just to students of politics, but anyone with a love for fine architecture and sculpture.
Completed in 1883, it was erected during a time when the Austro-Hungarian empire was still a major force in European politics, during a period of great changes. The building reflects that in its combination of neo-Greek Classical Revival along with many late-19th century touches.
The street view is an imposing and impressive sight with its Corinthian columns standing four stories tall atop a set of steps. Luckily, thanks to changes made only a few years ago, it’s possible once again to enter the building through this route. Formerly the tourist entrance was on the side, a dull view. That allows visitors to get the full effect intended by Baron von Hansen, the architect.
Heavily bombed during WWII, the structure has been restored to its former glory. The gable is a particularly interesting feature. Sporting symbols of the 17 Kronlander or provinces of the expired Austro-Hungarian Empire, they remind one of how vast it once was.
The copper roof is decorated with bronze quadrigas (a type of four-horse chariot) at each end. Near the top are over 70 Tyrolian marble statues, more than 40 of which represent various trades and human attributes. The remainder is of famous people of the day. The dozens of reliefs that accompany them span the range of public life and represent the diverse nature of the Empire and its inhabitants. Many smaller ones symbolize important cities and rivers.
Bronze statues of horse tamers reside at each side of the ramp leading up to the building. They’re among the few statuary that was not designed by the architect himself, who was responsible not only for the building but every aspect of the design. The most impressive of those is the Athena Fountain in the front.
Completed in 1902 and executed under Hansen’s careful eye by a trio of artists, it’s composed of a heavily decorated water basin and four prostrate figures at Athena’s feet along with the main sculpture of the Greek goddess of wisdom. The figures are symbolic of the four major rivers in Austria and near them are cupids riding dolphins. Athena stands proudly, looking outward away from the building, dressed in armor and carrying Nike, a goddess of Victory, in her right hand.
As a working government building, there are many areas inside that are off-limits to the public. But there are nonetheless several interior scenes well worth a visit.
The entrance itself is an adaptation of the gate of Erechtheion in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Just past it, high above, are niches containing small statues of several major Greek gods. Above them is a frieze over 100 meters (330 feet) wide depicting symbols of patriotism. Inside, close to the entrance leading to the Hall of Pillars is a frieze showing Austria seated on her throne.
The Hall of Pillars (Saulenhalle) itself is 40 meters by 23 meters (about 120 feet by 65 feet) with over 20 Corinthian columns whose caps are gilded with 23 karat gold. Between them, a skylight floods the room with brilliant light that reflects off the polished marble floor.