Located adjacent to the Hofburg Palace, the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty and the Palace of Justice, the seat of the Supreme Court of Austria, the Austrian Parliament Building stands gracefully on the Vienna Ring Road and is fondly called the Lord of the Ring Roads for its splendid architectural beauty. The foundation stone of the majestic building, designed by the reputed architect Baron Theophil Edvard von Hansen, considered an outstanding representative of Neoclassicism and Historicism, was laid in 1874 and the edifice, built in Greek revival style, was completed in 1883.
Apart from the design of the building, Hansen also took care of the interior decoration, such as statues, paintings, furniture, chandeliers and numerous other details, intending to harmonise everything and after its successful completion, Emperor Franz Joseph honoured him with the title of Freiherr or Baron.
The Austrian Parliament Building has a long history behind it. After the creation of an Imperial Council as an Austrian legislature in 1861, it was planned to construct two separate buildings for the House of Lords and the House of Deputies. But after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which established the Dual-Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, the original plan for two buildings was dropped, as the Kingdom of Hungary re-established the Diet, its own separate legislative body. The 495 feet (151 m) long and 433 feet (132 m) wide Austrian Parliament Building, covering more than 13,500 square metres, making it one of the largest structures on the Vienna Ring Road, was originally built to house the two chambers of the Imperial Council, the bicameral legislature of the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and since its construction, it has been the seat of these two houses and their successors, the National Council and the Federal Council of the Austrian legislature.
Hansen, the Danish-Austrian architect, designed the Austrian Parliament Building like a Greco-Roman temple, as Greece was the cradle of democracy and he deliberately chose the Greek revival style for the construction of the building to reflect the idea of law, freedom and other relevant concepts popularized and developed by the Hellenic culture, which is evident from the classical motifs appear throughout the building.
Apart from that, the two large ramps at the front of the building are decorated with the statues of Greek historians like Thucydides, Polybius, Herodotus and Xenophon, as well as Roman general and scholar Julius Caesar and Roman historians like Tacitus, Titus Livius and Sallust. The two lower ends of the ramp are also decorated with four bronze statues of the horse tamers, signifying the suppression of passion, which is an important precondition for successful parliamentary cooperation. Corresponding to the horse tamers at the ramp, eight bronze quadrigas, chariots drawn by four horses, driven by Nike, the goddess of victory, decorate both ends of the roof, symbolizing victory. However, the most attractive sculpture in the complex is the beautiful Athena Fountain, installed in front of the Parliament building between 1893 and 1902, dominated by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, standing elegantly on a pillar and dressed in armour with a gilded helmet.
The main entrance of the building leads to the vestibule of the building, which contains Ionic pillars and the niches contain statues of Greek gods Apollo, Athena, Zeus, Hera and others. Above the niches, a more than 100 m long frieze painting by Alois Hans Schram, representing an allegorical depiction of the blessings of peace, runs all over the four walls and leads into the atrium.
The atrium, which is separated from the Vestibule by two Ionian columns, features above the entrance to the Colonnaded Hall a painted frieze with an allegorical depiction of Austria on her throne, representing the motto of the warriors, wealth and blood for our fatherland, swearing the oath of allegiance, while women proffer their offerings. The Grand Hall of Pillars, measuring about 131 feet (40 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) and located behind the entrance atrium, contains 24 monolith Corinthian marble pillars, each weighing around 16 tons, carrying the main ceiling with skylight in the middle, along with the coffered side ceilings.
The main entrance to the Reception Hall is from the front end of the Peristyle or the Grand Hall of Pillars. Reserved for the President of the National Council for various events and to receive official guests from abroad, it is sometimes referred to as the Blue Salon, because of its predominant colour shade of decoration. The Federal Council Chamber, which has been used for the sittings of the Federal Council since 1920 and now serves as the meeting hall of the National Council, originally served as the anteroom, where the Members of the House of Lords used to assemble before they entered their chamber. The longer side of the room, above the President’s podium, is decked with the coats of arms of the nine Federal Provinces, symbolising the share the provinces in making the laws for the country. Located in the right-hand wing of the building as seen from Ringstrasse, the semicircular Federal Assembly Chamber, with its rows of seats arranged like an ancient Greek amphitheatre, originally served as the House of Deputies. While the wall behind the President’s podium is fitted with a row of three-quarter columns, crowned at the centre by a pediment adorned by statues representing the times of the day, the walls between the columns are finished in stucco marble and the niches in between hold statues of Roman politicians. The National Council Chamber, originally served as the House of Lords and located in the left wing of the Parliament Building, is equipped with only 243 seats and is smaller than the Chamber of Deputies, but is more richly decorated and has a different colour scheme than the latter.
Apart from the above, the huge building of the Austrian Parliament, equipped with more than one hundred rooms, also contains the Reception Hall, the Budget Hall, Committee Rooms, lobbies, libraries, bars and gymnasiums. Following heavy damage and destruction in World War II, most of the interior of the building has been restored to its original splendour. Today, the Parliament Building is the site of important state ceremonies, most notably the swearing-in ceremony of the President of the country and the state speech on the National Day, on 26 October.