- 3 Jul 2023 10:50 AM
What is the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest?
The seat of the country’s National Assembly, Parliament is the largest building in Hungary. Its dramatic façade in Gothic Revival style reflected in the waters of the Danube, the Hungarian Parliament covers a floor area of 18,000 square metres, making it one of the largest seats of government in the world.
Within the 16-sided Dome Hall, soldiers armed with sabres guard the Hungarian Crown Jewels, centrepieced by the Crown of St Stephen, a composite of the one gifted to the founder of the Hungarian nation by the Pope in 1000.
Top tips for the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest
While the actual business of parliament only takes up around 12% of the space within the building, it’s well worth going on the guided tour to get a sense of the enormity of the place, built when Hungary was at the height of its powers in the 1890s.
The tour lasts 45 minutes, with audio or actual tour guides available in 15 languages.
As well as the Crown Jewels, popular stops include the row of numbered cigar holders in brass, which MPs would avail themselves of when called to the debating chamber, so they could resume their smoke afterwards.
Why was the Hungarian Parliament Building created?
Hungary had long needed a suitable meeting place for its national assembly, particularly after 1867, when the country gained semi-autonomy, and after 1873, when the separate communities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda merged to create the single national capital of Budapest.
Until then, the lower house had met at quite a modest and unsuitable building on Bródy Sándor utca, today the Italian Cultural Institute, while the upper house convened in the National Museum opposite.
Behind it, many ministers – mainly landed gentry with country estates – had a pied-à-terre in Pest, these ornate residences later becoming known as the Palace Quarter.
A prime site was chosen, on a gentle curve in the Danube, between the only two bridges that existed at the time, Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge. A completion date was set to align with the millennial celebrations of Hungarians setting in this part of the Carpathian Basin.
When was the Hungarian Parliament Building created?
After architect Imre Steindl won the international tender to build Parliament, work began in 1885. The aim was to have the building ready by 1896, the year of the millennial celebrations in Hungary, its last two figures echoed in the height of the building at its tallest point, 96 meters.
While Parliament was inaugurated during the year in question, it still required another six to be completed, by which time Steindl had gone blind. The keys weren’t handed over until 1904, by which time the architect had died.
Where in Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building?
The Parliament building creates an elegant tableau on the Danube waterfront, integral to one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world. It stands on Kossuth Lajos tér, the square named after the renowned Hungarian statesman of the later 1800s, and faces what was originally the Palace of Justice, later the Museum of Ethnography.
Kossuth Lajos tér has its own stop on the red M2 metro line, while tram 2 glides all the way around the Parliament building on its journey along the Pest embankment.
Around the Parliament building are several statues, including one of Hungarian poet Attila József, the setting a reference to his famous poem By the Danube, composed a year before his suicide in 1937.
Further along the waterfront, you find the Shoes on the Danube installation, a row of bronze shoes representing Jewish victims beaten and drowned by Fascist forces towards the end of World War II.
What else should I know about the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest?
The Hungarian Crown Jewels have not always been safely guarded beneath the Dome Hall in Parliament. Following the Hungarian Uprising of 1848-49 and subsequent Habsburg backlash, the Crown of St Stephen was hidden away for several years in damp greenery and painstakingly repaired.
When the Communist authorities took over after World War II, the crown was spirited away for safekeeping in America, where it was held in Fort Knox. It was returned to Budapest by President Carter in 1978, nearly 30 years after its secret flit.
Why visit the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest?
As a work of architecture, the Hungarian Parliament Building is a must-see on any visit to the Hungarian capital. A guided tour also allows you to appreciate the splendour of Budapest when it was twin capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and when Hungary itself was at its height.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for Xpatloop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com