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Magyar Treasures: The Hungarian Parliament Building

Parliament, Main Staircase; The Dome, view from Kossuth Tér; Blue Lounge, the Old Upper House

Magyar Treasures: The Hungarian Parliament Building

Judit Vasmatics Paolini

Budapest – the capital city of Hungary is divided by the Danube River.  Buda, located on the west bank, has lovely hills and a higher elevation than Pest which is flat and is located on the east bank of the River.  As one enjoys a lovely stroll atop of the Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda, the view across the River is truly fascinating.  One of the many structures that captivate one’s interest is the magnificent Hungarian Parliament building nestled below in Pest.

Actually, it is not a coincidence that the Országház – the name used by Hungarians when referring to the Parliament building – rests in Pest and not Buda.  When the desire to build a Parliament building was conceptualized,   Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, Buda Castle located in Buda housed the royalty, and at the time the ruling royalty was Austrian.  However, the Parliament building was to represent governance by the people. So, when constructing this building, the Hungarian people wanted a house which would enable the people’s voice and will to be enacted.  The Parliament building is where the Hungarian people would have representation and make rules which in turn were to govern the Hungarian nation. Thus, it was constructed in Pest, holding the seat for Hungary’s National Assembly and housing the legislative branch of the country.

It was a Hungarian architect whose design was selected to build this magnificent structure; Steindl Imre’s design was awarded the construction of the Országház, beating out other competitors.  It’s worth noting that the building’s composition utilizes several distinct architectural styles, including neo-Gothic (Gothic Revival) which is prevalent in the exterior of the building.  Steindl drew his inspiration from the Parliament in London.  The interior designs of the building were inspired by other periods, including Renaissance and Baroque.  This led to an eclectic architectural composition, but one which worked harmoniously.  Construction on the building began in 1885.  Steindl did not see the completion of this masterpiece, for he died in 1902, and the building was finally completed in 1904.

The magnificent main façade of the Országház has captivated many who have glanced at it from the Fisherman’s Bastion or enjoyed a ride on the Danube while viewing the east bank.  However, many tourists are surprised to discover that the primary entryway is not located here but on the east side of the Parliament building, and one enters from Kossuth Square.

The façade of the building, as well as its interior, exhibit a total of 242 sculptures.  Included are statues of Hungarian rulers, military commanders, Transylvanian princes and other noteworthy figures.  The statues located in the Dome Hall are among some of the most noteworthy.

There are so many points of interest for visitors to view and discover while visiting the Parliament building.  Among them is the elaborate main staircase leading to the Dome Hall; here Steindl incorporated a baroque architectural design.  In addition, one is impressed by the stairway’s massive size, for it covers almost the complete width of the room leading from the main landing to the center hall.  As one ascends the stairs, there are numerous statues which one finds captivating; among them is a bust of Steindl Imre.

Glancing at the ceiling here we find three murals by Lotz Károly; among these allegorical frescos is the “Glorification of Hungary” in which a woman is holding the Hungarian coat-of-arms. Flanking her, at her feet are István Széchenyi and Petöfi Sándor with a group of people optimistically waving the Hungarian flag.  From the onset, observing the frescos one appreciates that the Parliament building celebrates the Hungarian people – their history, independence and governance by the people of Hungary as opposed to rule by foreign royalty.

Upon entering the spectacular Dome Hall, one observes that its shape is essentially a hexadecagon, having 16 sides.  This ingenious design provides an appearance of capaciousness. Located in this hall one finds statues of 16 rulers along with their coats-of-arms.  The statues rest on columns which encircle the interior of this hall while their coats-of-arms appear on the inner dome ceiling.  When viewing the statues progressively, one first observes the statue of the chieftain Árpád followed by King Saint Stephen.  The visitor continues by viewing the Hungarian rulers and makes one’s way around this circle to the Transylvanian princes and concludes with three Habsburg rulers. 

At the conclusion of World War II, the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen found its way into hands of the United States government for safe keeping and out of reach from those of the Soviet Union. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter returned the Holy Crown to the Hungarian people (not its government).  His negotiations stipulated that the crown jewels were to be displayed.  Thus, these precious jewels were on exhibition at the National Museum until January 1, 2000, when they were moved to the Parliament building.  Today, visitors can view the Crown, scepter and the orb at the Dome Hall.

The expansive chambers that are attached to the Dome Hall are those of the Upper House and the Lower House.  In 1944, Hungary’s legislative body became unicameral (having a “single legislative chamber”).  Thus, today, the legislature meets and utilizes only the Lower chamber for its judicial meetings.  The Upper chamber is not used as such; instead, it is used for conferences or meetings.

The Hungarian legislature meets in the Deputy Council Chamber.  In this room, visitors will find the historical coats-of-arms displayed above the speaker’s lectern.  Flanking them are two paintings, each done by Vajda Zsigmond.  One shows the dawning of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in which Emperor Franz Joseph is crowned King of Hungary.  The other painting is more significant when one considers Hungary’s legislative development, for it shows Palatine István – who like Franz Joseph was a Habsburg – opening the very first session of Hungary’s National Assembly.

The Országház survived World War I and World War II, though it endured countless bullet holes, watched over rebellions, and observed a changing landscape in this capital city.  It gladly witnessed the October 23rd events when over 100,000 protesters met in front of the Parliament building on Kossuth Square to remonstrate against the dreadful ruling Communist regime.  On the following days, it sadly saw peaceful demonstrators – for they had no weapons – fired upon from roof tops from unknown directions of nearby buildings. In addition, numerous Russian tanks appeared, also firing upon the protestors, intensifying the attack.  Thus, a great number of people were slaughtered here on October 25, 1956!  Accounts of the innocent lives lost in this onslaught range from 22 to 1,000.  Due to this bloody massacre, some refer to this date in Hungary as “Bloody Thursday”.  A 1956 Memorial Monument with an eternal flame has been erected in front of the Parliament building, honoring the casualties of the uprising against the cruel Communist regime.

Hungarians are justly proud of their beautiful Parliament building.  But even foreigners appreciate its esthetic value, as proven by the American company that uses a picture of the Országház in its ads for European river cruises.  It is another one of our National Treasures. 

Judit Vasmatics Paolini is a former member of the Southern Connecticut State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, former lecturer at Tunxis Community College, and a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board. 

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