The history of the Hungarian Parliament building can be best understood in the context of the 19th century Hungarian state, when Hungary was a (lesser) part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, ruled by the Austrians, served by the Hungarians along with a melting pot of nations living in the empire (Slovakians, Romanians, Croatians, Slovenians, etc.). So why would the Hungarians have their own parliament building? And why so big and luxurious for such a small country? (currently there are roughly 10 million people living in Hungary).
Although the Hungarian kingdom was once a ruling power in medieval Europe with a considerable size and many inhabitants of several nations, in the 16th century its power and freedom got crumbled by the Turkish empire, and then for many centuries by the Austrians – until the two neighbors managed to reach a compromise in 1867, and a sudden economical boom started in the dual monarchy, which was especially spectacular in Budapest and the many new buildings erected at the and of the 19th century. One of the most beautiful buildings founded around the fin de siecle was the Hungarian Parliament.
But turning back the time wheel before 1867, the year of the Compromise.
In 1686, the Austrians successfully took the Buda Castle – not from the Hungarians, but the Turks (who got it in 1541). Thus not only the border conflict was managed between the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, but the Hungarians got under a new rule of the Austrians for many centuries.
By the 1840s, the Hungarians have had more than enough of the Austrians, which led to a bloody revolution, lost by the Hungarians. Hungarians, as an oppressed nation, understandably, were pining for the right to use Hungarian language (as opposed to German), for the right to battle for Hungarian causes rather than being sent to the prestige and land gaining wars of the Austrians, for the right to have Hungarian institutes, schools, churches, theaters, and among others, Hungary’s own national parliament.
But if the Hungarians lost the freedom fight against the Austrians, how could such an expensive and beautiful building like the Parliament in Budapest have been built at all? The answer is the ‘Compromise’. Although the battle was lost, after a few decades and some losses in the international political scene, the Austrians were willing to give more weight to the Hungarians, but still did not let them (us) loose. Hence the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, which came after the solo empire of the Habsburg Monarchy. Now, the Austro-Hungarian was rich, and huge in both size and in the number of residents. So this is the key to understanding how such a small country may have one of the largest parliament buildings in the world. And not only the biggest, but probably one of the most beautiful. Luckily, you can take a tour in this magnificent building (see more info about the Budapest Parliament tours here, and for virtual tours, see our articles of Hungarian Parliament tours)
19th Century Hungary – the Context of Building the Parliament
„The motherland does not have a house.” complained the poet laureate of the Hungarians, Mihaly Vorosmarty (whose statue you will see on Vorosmarty Square by the end of Vaci utca shopping street). The Magyars of the 19th century cared about the motherland dearly, and it was a heroic age.
The two year freedom fight in 1848-49 against the Austrians was bloody and heroic. We lost the war, we lost many of the national leaders, but we did not lose our pride and longing for independence. Kossuth kept campaigning all over Europe and even in the United States. With little success, but much sympathy.
Then the painful compromise in 1867, which made the rebellious Hungarians swallow their pride and accept the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire instead of the fully independent Hungarian kingdom – a heroic swallow indeed. Ferenc Deak, the ‘Wisest Hungarian’ paved the way to the Compromise (his name will come back to you as the most central square in Budapest: Deák tér, yes he is the Deák).
Then the celebration of the 1000th birthday of Hungary in 1898, which witnessed the re-birth of Budapest with a series of amazing buildings – most of what you would have on your list as must see attractions today (from the Heroes’ Square to the Gresham Palace).
Open Air Parliamentary sessions
The nomadic Hungarian tribal leaders, and the sons and grandsons of the conquering chieftain Arpad were happy to get together in the open air to talk through the nation’s business, later generations felt no need for discussing matters in a parliament – it was the royal court of King Bela or King Matthias that gave the rules.
During the 18th century Rakoczi freedom fight – another futile effort to gain back the freedom of Magyars and the land of Magyars from the Austrians – the leaders reached back to the roots, and held discussions of importance under the stars, just like our ancestors when settling down in the Carpathian basin in the 9th century. Despite the short revival of the open air parliamentary sessions, which sounds very modern and health conscious today, the leaders wanted to have a permanent home for the Hungarian parliament for practical and symbolic reasons too.
After the Turkish and then the immediate Austrian rule, the Magyars still had no regular building dedicated to discussions of policies, suggestions, requests, etc. In the Age of Reform (and the Revolution of 1848-49), noble Hungarians wanted to have a permanent forum for the nation rather than letting things happen via the barons, the royalties, or the rich at random castles.
Since the 18th century, the Hungarian parliamentary sessions were primarily held in the town of Pozsony (today known as Bratislava) – in eloquent Latin language rather than in Hungarian, which at that time did not have important words for discussing the matters of the state. Between 1790 and 1820 there was a major linguistic movement to invent Hungarian words to replace the German, Latin and other host words the Hungarian nobility used. There were tenders written for certain words, and many host words got literal translation. Linguists like Kazinczy were feverishly arguing with other Hungarian linguists about how we should say things in Hungarian and how we should simplify and standardize Hungarian spelling. We still use thousands of words created and popularized in the 19th century, and all in all, it was a successful and crucial movement in helping Hungarians to have their own functional parliament – in Hungarian language.
The great politicians of the Reform Age had social responsibility and wanted to address the social unrest that accumulated in Hungary: Count Istvan Szechenyi, for instance, was such a noble man. And although he is considered to be the ‘Greatest Hungarian’, and the Chain Bridge, the Szechenyi Baths, schools etc, have been named after him, now we know that he hardly spoke any Hungarian, but thought of himself as Hungarian. Other major personalities of the Reform Age in Hungary including Baron Miklos Wesselenyi, Ferenc Deak, Lajos Kossuth, Ferenc Kolcsey, Sandor Petofi, etc. all urged the establishment of a home to the Hungarian Diet. As the Royal Palace in the Buda Castle District was atop the Castle Hill on the Buda side, the enlightened reformers picked a symbolical location for the new parliament building on the Pest side: one for the Hungarians to counterweight the unwanted royal presence on the opposite side.
The Hungarian Parliament: Országház (the House of the Country) is born
Every Hungarian was longing for a nice Hungarian parliament building in the 19th century, but it took many decades to realize the dream. In July 1843, the reform opposition proposed to move the parliament to the new capital, at that time often mentioned as Pest-Buda rather than what you know today as BudaPest (the cities only joined in the 1870s). 2 months later, the future Minister, Gábor Klauzal, declared that „because there is a place, the dream will become a reality”.
Can you guess how many years it took to get a winning design, funding and to actually build the parliament in Hungary? Well, let’s just say that the first sessions in the present days Hungarian Parliament were held in 1902. Almost 60 years after the official statement of getting things done…
Of course, the 1848-49 freedom fight and the bloody revenge of the Austrians following the lost battle postponed the realization of a Hungarian parliament. But it did not help either that there were lots of design tenders and competitions organized for the Orszaghaz, where many times there were not even prizes awarded. The parliament in Hungary had a makeshift building in Brody Street for the lower house chamber, while the National Museum housed the upper house chamber.
Imre Steindl – the architect of the Hungarian Parliament
In 1880 a law was passed for the building of the Hungarian Parliament, and the winner of the design tender from the 19 contestants was Imre Steindl, a Hungarian architect who excelled in his Viennese studies, studied the architecture of the river Rhine and France and all over Hungary for many decades. He was primarily a professor of the Technical University, but his plan, inspired by the English Parliament by the river Thames in London, was much supported by Count Gyula Andrassy, former prime minister, who spent much time in London. Both the neo-gothic (Gothic Revival) concept, and the medieval style appealed to the ruler and the judges.
Gothic Revival – reinterpreted
Imre Steindl believed that combining historical architecture with modern techniques will represent the values of the ‘house of the motherland’ best. Indeed, the Hungarian Parliament is one of the nicest examples of of historical eclecticism. The building features the style called ‘Gothic Revival‘ (developed in England in the 1830’s, and crowned by the masterpiece of Ch. Barry and A.W. Pugin, the Parliament in London) with many turrets, lean towers and, to mix it with other concepts, a huge dome in the middle. Domes were hardly ever used in Gothic, where the aim was to reach for the sky and build slim and narrow constructions rather than spacious and spherical domes. The internal spaces of the Hungarian Parliament also demonstrate the eclectic nature of the building: besides Gothic, you will see elements of Renaissance and Baroque, e.g. the spectacular main staircase, which leads to the dome.
Construction of the Hungarian Parliament
In October 1885, the founding stone of the Hungarian Parliament was ceremoniously laid on the Tomo Square (later renamed from ‘Tömő’ square to Kossuth square – say ‘kosh-shoot’). There was an average of 1000 workers laboring on the construction of the new parliament in Budapest, and it took almost two decades to finish this wonderful building. If you visit the Hungarian Parliament, you will not be surprised to learn that it was the greatest investment of the time, as it would be today. The original tender said, reflecting the expressed national dedication towards having a truly Hungarian parliamentary building, that only Hungarian materials and resources can be used in the construction of the Parliament in Budapest – whenever possible – in order to support local economy, local craftsmen, Hungarian suppliers and businesses. It was a sure sign of success and really profitable to participate in the creating the nation’s new home.
The Two Chambers of the Hungarian Parliament
The building of the Hungarian Parliament is symmetrical, and its structure conforms to the classic two-chamber (bicameral) parliaments with a room for the lower house, and another one for the upper house. Similarly to the American Capitol in Washington, D.C., the northern and southern wings of the building serve the houses (lower and upper) of the legislature. The two chambers are joined by the magnificent gigantic Dome Hall, which was once the site of unified parliamentary sessions. After the end of World War II the building has also been the housing the executive branch alongside the legislative branch. The northern wing in the Parliament houses the offices of the Hungarian Prime Minister, while the southern wing houses those of the President of the Hungarian Republic.
The Hungarian Parliament in Numbers
For those whose imagination is moved by numbers, here are some amazing numbers for the Parliament in Budapest. During the 17 years of its construction, between 1885 and 1902, the total planned cost of the Parliament was estimated around 18.5 million golden crowns. By the time they finished the works, the total actual cost was 38 million gold crowns.
There was approx. 176,000 cubic meters (215,381.34 cubic feet) of soil removed. The Parliament stands on an incredibly thick concrete foundation of 2-5 meters (6-16 feet). The building is 268 meter (879 feet) long, 123 meter (403 feet) wide across the center. The dome is 96 meter (315 feet) high. The surface area of the Hungarian Parliament is 18,000 square meters (193,750.388 sq ft), and 473,000 cubic meters of space (i.e. 5,091,329.63 square feet).
40 million bricks and 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of gold of 22-23 karat were used to construct the building. More than half a million ornamental stones were carved for the parliament wall decorations. The Hungarian Parliament has 27 gates, 13 elevators, 29 staircases. You can count 90 statues on the exterior of the parliament, in addition to the coats-of-arms of Hungarian cities and counties adorning the building. The interior of the Parliament in Budapest boasts 152 statues and motifs of the Hungarian natural fauna.
Why is the Hungarian Parliament so often Scaffolded?
As mentioned above, there were more than 500,000 carved stones used for decorating the Gothic walls of the Parliament in Budapest. Unfortunately, the original carved stones were made from soft limestone. The soft stones have been gradually replaced with hard limestone, plus the building has been being cleaned from the smog too. The scaffolding and restoration works have been proceeding for more than 24 years now…
Where is the main entrance of the Hungarian Parliament?
While most of the stunning photos taken of the Hungarian Parliament are shot from across the river Danube on the Buda side (most typically from the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Buda Castle, or from the Danube promenade close to the Batthyany Square, or from the Citadel on the Gellert Hill, what you see on the photographs is the aesthetic facade of the building, the back of the Parliament. The administrative official main entrances of the Hungarian Parliament is on Kossuth square.
The Main Staircase
The main stairs at the entrance on Kossuth Square are flagged by the lion statues of Bela Markup (unfortunately, the original lions were destroyed in WW2, today you see the restored statues made by Jozsef Somogyi). If you are a visitor to the Hungarian Parliament, you will not enter the building through the main stairs. Instead, tourists (lines stand by Gate X) are to enter via Gate number XII on the corridor parallel with the main facade, and proceed to the main interior staircase, where they can start their their tour of the Hungarian Parliament.
The stunning main entrance to the Dome Hall is one of the most magnificent architectural solutions in Budapest (designed by Imre Steindl in baroque style). The dimensions of the main staircase alone are extraordinary: the staircase takes up almost the entire width of the interior room from the foot of the staircase up to the dome. At the main staircase you can see the bronze bust of the architect, Imre Steindl (former professor of the Budapest Technical University) – the bronze bust was cast by Alajos Strobl (the maker of the beautiful Matthias well in the Buda Castle, and a host of wonderful statues). The bust made in 1904, 2 years after the opening of the gates, is set in the marble wall on the left.
The main stair hall is supported by various columns, 8 of the columns are from Sweden (an unusual thing, as the constructors were to use Hungarian resources only), and visibly stand out with their beautiful deep red color. The Swedish columns are 6 meter (over 19 feet), and each of them weighs 4 metric tons (8818 pounds). These smooth columns were all cut from the same rock on the same cliff face.
The main stairs are decorated with the statues of pages (personal servants), holding the coronation symbols, looking down on the stairs. These statues are made from cast-zinc and resemble painted Gothic wooden figures.
If you look up at the main staircase, you can see frescoes on the ceiling: the scenes on the 3 frescoes painted by Karoly Lotz are allegorical, the symbolic figures represent the actions of governing the country.
Frescos in the Main Stair Hall
“The Apotheoses of the Legislation”
The one that is closest to the entrance of the Parliament is entitled “The Apotheoses of the Legislation” and depicts a thousand years of the ruling by the law in Hungary. On the column in the middle of the fresco, you can make out Hungary’s most famous laws. (these laws begin with the Austrian-Hungarian Compromise of 1867) The ancient looking plinth is decorated by a relief showing the blood compact of the seven ancient tribal chiefs. In the hands of the figures appear the Hungarian crown and the coat-of-arms.
The subject of the second painting is the „Glorification of Hungary” also containing unambiguous historical references. At the feet of the woman holding the coat-of-arms is István Széchenyi on the left and Petőfi Sándor on the right. Petőfi, posed as he is in the memorable statue by Adolf Huszár, is leading an enthusiastic crowd who are dressed is Hungarian clothing and waving Hungarian flags. The third picture shows the Hungarian „middle coat-of-arms” – the unified heraldic symbol of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Transylvania, Fiume and Hungary – supported by angels.
The Dome Hall
Reaching the top of the stairs, the visitor enters the Dome Hall whose 16 corners amplify the sensation of space. It is true that the inside ceiling is much lower than the outside cupola, but this ingenious structure gives the feeling that this 27 m high round room is imposingly high. This splendid hall is the structural and spiritual heart of the building, and on occasion hosted the combined sessions of both houses of Parliament. Together with the main entrance, this was one of the first parts of the building to be finished, so that in 1896 Parliament could hold its festival session for the millenium celebrations. The statues and coats-of-arms of 16 rulers which are placed around the interior of the Dome Hall provide the admiring visitor with a brief history lesson. Opposite the main stairs the series starts with the chieftain Árpád and proceeds clockwise with St. Stephen, St. Ladislaus, Könyves Kálmán, András II, Béla IV, Louis the Great, János Hunyadi and Mátyás Hunyadi. Then follows the Transylvanian princes, István Báthory, lstván Bocskai, Gábor Bethlen. The final three figures are Habsburg rulers, Charles IIl, Maria Theresa and Leopold II. These royal statues, as well as their companion pieces in the longues, halls and corridors, are works of the most famous Hungarian sculptures of the day. Besides the already mentioned cast-zinc, pyrogranite was used – the latest curiosity from the Vilmos Zsolnay ceramics factory in Pécs. Pyrogranite proved to be ideal for covering exterior walls and it is on these that many of the stylized depictions of the national flora appear. But as a basic material for statues – as critics have noted for the last 90 years – it wasn’t the most fortunate choice. „Misshapen figures with parrot colors, misnamed statues,” grunted Zoltán Pap, a deputy in 1902 who complained that the vivid colors only emphasized the conventionality of their form. Besides the material, a bigger problem was the boring monotonity of the modeling. Although the criticism is not unfounded, the statues have been from the very beginning special, indispensable components of the atmosphere of „The House of the Motherland”. Marble tablets at the sides of the columns in the Dome Hall represent the national memory. These four marble tablets commemorate the building of Parliament, the celebration of the millenium of the conquest, details from St. Stephen’s exhortations and perhaps as a sort of compensation since as the leader of the most powerful anti-Habsburg rebellion his place should have been among the rulers – a dedication to the glorious memory of Ferenc Rákóczi II.
Rooms Around the Dome Hall
Fascinating rooms surround the Dome Hall from the Danube side. Opposite the main staircase is Hunter Nall, the great dining hall of Parliament, decorated on the riverside by a colonnaded terrace. The fresco on the southern wall, the portrayal of the two Hun brotherkings, Buda and Attila, engaged in the princely pastime of bison hunting. A work by Aladár Kőrösfői-Kreisch, commemorates János Arany’s beautiful verse: “The cry of the hunt sounds in the valley Nowhere on land, nowhere in the sky Does a wild beast remain.” Someone wishing to enjoy a more peaceful sight need merely to turn to the northern side of the room where a fresco showing a fishing party on Lake Balaton can be admired. This work, an outstanding representative of the Hungarian secessionist style, depicts Tihany Peninsula with the Benedictine Abbey. In the foreground the monks directing the fishing net represent a thousand year old tradition of Hungarian history – the silent workers underpinning civilization’s achievements. On the ceiling Viktor Tardos-Kenner painted the allegorical figures of Reaping, Harves and Abundance. On the entrance wall Béla Spányi painted five famous Hungarian castles. The first is in the center of the Hunyadi ancestral estate – Vajdahunyad Castle; the next is Árva Castle, recalling Thurzo and Thököly; in the middle is the Anjou and Hunyadi castle at Visegrád (this is the only castle which is within the borders of modern Hungary); then comes Klissa, a famous Dalmatian fort of an order of German knights; and finally, Máté Csák’s citadel at Trencsén. From the corners of Hunter Hall two smaller rooms open out. The southern room plays host to the deputies’ cafeteria and the northern – the Tapestry Room – houses press conferences. It was in the 1920’s that the 9 X 3 meter tapestry which gives the room its name was hung here. The tapestry, designed by Gyula Rudnay and completed in two years by thirty weavers was inspired by the lines of Anonymus, a chronicler at the court of King Béla. „The leader and his nobles have made all the rules and laws of the country,” he wrote. „The place where all of these were done was named by the Hungarians in their own tounge – Szeri, because there they proclaimed all the things of the country.” Even though it is more than likely that the conquerors never actually held a session at Pusztaszer, the ingenious explanation given by Anonymus for the name of this locality is a perfect symbol for the birth of Hungarian constitutionalism.
The Deputy Council Chamber and the Lounge the Deputies
As the visitor arrives from the main stairs and stops in the middle of the Dome Hall, under the rose candelabra, she will have a magnificent view of the functional structure of the building. The view through the open doors at the end of both sides opens directly on to the Speaker’s lectern in each of the two session rooms. Since December 1944 the Hungarian legislature has been monocameral. As there is only legislative body, the former session room of the Upper House is now used for holding international conferences. Turning first to the southern side, the visitor comes upon the Deputy Council Chamber, where the Hungarian legislature sits today. On the way to the chamber the visitor must first cross the lounge .
This room, instead of being the site for a fruitful exchange of views between the deputies (these are held today mostly in the corridors), is used by the press. The statues are allegorical symbols of the technical sciences and a few important branches of industry and commerce. Historians consider it a symptom of the cultural politics of this period that, in the execution of the paintings in the Parliament, a disproportionately large role was accorded to Zsigmond Vajda, who was a painter of more modest talents. In this room some of his rather crowded compositions depict images from the Hun-Magyar legendary world – the Mythical Stag, Attila’s Sword, Buda’s Death and Emese’s Dream. At the end of the lounge, on the other side of a short corridor, is the Deputy Council Chamber .
Through the ogive arch of windows a gentle light shines evenly over the entire space of the most important room in the building. (The room is 25 m deep, 23 m in length and 17 m high at its extremes.) The warm brown of the Slavonian oak, a deservedly famous building and decoration material, gives the room its color. Inside the acoustically superb council chamber are 438 specially designed leather chairs for the deputies, while the velvet-upholstered seats in the inner circle are reserved for the ministers of the government. The middle area opening off of the Speaker’s lectern is slightly recessed to accommodate a table for the shorthand writers. Formerly, the junior-clerk of the Parliament placed here the summary of a thousand years of legislative activity – the volumes of the Corpus Juris. The Speaker and the clerks sit on a platform which is raised for acoustical reasons. In the middle carving of the Speaker’s lectern is a bullethole, made when a pistol was fired at the Speaker, István Tisza, who had been grossly violating the internal rules of the Parliament. On 4 June 1912 a would-be assassin attempted to prevent Tisza from pursuing illegal and violent measures aimed at bringing an end to the opposition’s filibustering which was paralyzing the work of thf The House. opposition felt that they needn’t keep to the rules of parliamentary etiquette in the presence of a majority which had won the elections by manipulation. After his failed attempt the assailant turned the gun against himself, and the unharmed Speaker continued the session. There were other equally dramatic moments in the Parliament from the breaking of furniture to the removal of deputies by the police. This is why „stormbells” were placed behind the Speaker’s lectern on both sides. But it is not these horrible shrill bells which keep the peace but rather the lofty statues representing Harmony, Peace and Wisdom which calm the souls of the statesmen. But if truth be told, standing between these gilded figures are those of Glory, Eloquence and War. Above the Speaker’s lectern is placed the middle coat-of-arms, while on either side of the actual lectern are tempera paintings by Zsigmond Vajda. The one on the left shows the symbolic birth of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy – the crowning as Hungarian king of Franz Joseph, the man who sent the martyrs of Arad to the gallows after putting down the Revolution of 1848. The other picture is much more important however. Here, too, there is a Habsburg – a cousin of Franz Joseph – but in a completely different role.
The picture portrays a significant moment in Hungarian parliamentary history: Palatine István on 5 July 1848 opening the first session of the first Hungarian popular representative assembly. Of course, tendentious legend and romantic pipe-dreams maintain that the origins of the institution of parliament date back a thousand years to when the Magyar tribes first conquered the Carpathian basin. Current research has been able to determine with a high degree of certainty what kind of institutions of his own time Anonymus, who was attempting to descrive events that occurred nearly 200 years before, introduced into his depiction of the blood compact as well as into his explanation for the place name, Pusztaszer (recall the Tapesty Room). In the history of the Middle Ages numerous different types of national assemblies or gatherings can be found all over Europe. Of these the most important in Hungary as well – was the royal council governing the early feudal state. The make-up of these powerful judicial and governmental assembly sessions was gradually broadened to include not just the prelates and barons but in some way or another representatives of other groups in society. Often it was a war council that provided the occasion for an assembly, at other times a church council. For example, at the famous Council of Szabolcs hosted by King Saint Ladislaus 1 in 1092, decisions were made with the cooperation of secular figures, prelates and representatives of the people.
A true national assembly can only be born of such gatherings if the concept of country or state already exists. In other words, the state must be more that just the king’s person; it must encompass as well a community which is made up of smaller groupings possessing political rights. A thorough examination of documents from the Middle Ages shows that these groupings – the estates – formulated the body of their rights and interest under the influence of rediscovered Roman law and with the help of shifting canon law. Solid research of the last several years indicates that besides Hispania, England, some areas of Scandinavia, and a small Italian princedom, the Friaul-Aquileia patriarchate, Hungary developed the earliest – in the decades between 1270 and 1300 – institutions based on the estates. In 1277 on Rákos field, members of the country held an assembly at which prelates, barons, nobles and the kuns all participated. The nobles – most of whom had been subservient to the King, gaining rights only with the proclamation of the Golden Bull in 1222 – were, of course, far from being staunch supporters of the throne in the power struggle against the provincial lords. In any case, laws enacted by the national assemblies of 1290 and 1298 show clearly that the group of Hungarian prelates and church intellectuals organizing the institutions of the early estate system not only stood at the leading edge of European legal and political culture but were also attempting, in full awareness of their responsibility, to direct the fate of a country foundering in anarchy in the final days of the Árpád dynasty. During the time of the Anjous the memory of these early estate institutions faded. The sporadically held assemblies of this period did not themselves write laws but merely passed those drawn up by the king. It was not until the first half of the l5th century, towards the end of Zsigmond’s reign and during the time of Ulászló I and primarily during the governance of János Hunyadi, that feudal monarchy stabilized. At its center in Hungary was the institutional system of feudal assemblies, aiding the king while at the same time constrained by law. At this time a new grouping, the burghers – fourth in importance – gained the right to have their representatives participate in legislation, the enactment of taxes, declarations of war and peace negotiations, occasionally the election of the palatine and other high-ranking officials, judicial processes, and other national assembly work. Finally in 1608 a law was passed to confirm the century-old common law, according to which the prelates and the barons sat personally in the upper chamber, while chosen delegates of the counties, the free royal cities, the free territories and the chapters conducted the business of the country in the lower chamber. From the end of the l8th century the intellectual program of the Enlightenment, the philosophical and political formulation of man’s right to personal autonomy, made new demands on Hungarian legislation. If every man is equal at birth then not just the privileged but all men are full members of the „country”. The serfs and the millions in the lower classes must at once „be included into the sanctity of the Constitution” ; they, too, must win representation in the national assembly. This became one of the most important demands of the reformers in the bourgeois transformation of Hungarian society, which was triggered by the economic and social crises of the time. This objective of the program for the bourgeois transformation of the state structure – that is, the creation of popular representation in the county and national assemblies – was organically complemented by the other fundament of a true parliament, the rapid introduction of responsible government. Many important details of this dual problem were formulated in the 1790’s by József Hajnóczy, one of Hungary’s most important bourgeois thinkers. In the early 1830’s in the fight for larger steps towards the gradual introduction of true representation and responsible government, Miklós Wesselényi and Ferenc Kölcsey, as well as the young Lajos Kossuth who later played a huge role in the creation of a modern bourgeois public, elevated to a political program the reconciliation of the interests of the nobles and the serfs. It was Kossuth who was the most vehement representative within the liberal reform opposition headed by Ferenc Deák and Lajos Batthyány in the 1840’s of the view that, despite the position and influence of the privileged estates in the court at Vienna, only through broadening the reform of popular representation could the national assembly bring to a victorious conclusion its „homeland and progress” campaign. Though it was the Revolution in the Spring of 1848 that fnally made it possible, it was really as a result of the passionate battles of the preceding decades that Acts on popular representation and responsible government were finally adopted. And it is on this legal basis that today’s national assembly functions as well. Zsigmond Vajda’s painting then – returning to the Deputy Council Chamber – depicts the opening of the first parliament which represents free citizens (even if their number was restricted by assets and educational preconditions) instead of the privileged estates. For the first time in Hungarian history executive power had rights delimited by constitutional responsibility. The painting was styled on a lithograph by József Borsos and August Pettenkofen. To the side of the Palatine and the central group from the Batthyány Government are famous liberal politicians authentically portrayed.
The Old Upper House Hall and the Lounge
Opposite the Deputy Council Chamber, to the right of the Dome Hall in the northern wing is the successor to the chamber of the privileged estates, the Clpper House. The walls and the carpet of the longue are colored blue. The statues are allegorical depictions of agricultural and industrial branches.
The paintings on the ceiling, also works of Zsigmond Vajda, have historical subjects: St. Ladislaus finding medicinal herbs; Könyves Kálmán prohibiting the burning of witches; St. Stephen welcoming the monk Astrik who is bringing him the crown; the apotheoses of the Holy Cross; King Mátyás dispensing justice; and Louis the Great ordering the building of the church at Kassa. In a curious addition to this last painting the artist included a portrait of not just himself but of the dome’s restorer, lmre Steindl.
Due to the symmetry of the building the Upper House Hall is just as imposing as the Deputy Council Chamber. After the war it was restored but not to its original state. They did preserve, however, the brown-gold shine of the interior and the original gilded cast statues: Science, Power, Truth, Criticism, Faith and Charity. The paintings of Mátyás Jantyik, while new, retain the political content of the originals. Just as in the Deputy Council Chamber the theme of the independent Hungarian heritage dominates. Here it manifests itself in a composition about the proclamation of the Golden Bull, while loyalty to the Habsburgs is represented by a depiction of the oath to the young Maria Theresia, offering military protection for her throne.
The Delegation Room and Corridor
Exiting the council rooms a visitor may take a variety of paths to reach a part of the main staircase – near the entrance – not yet discussed. Along the way can be seen the beautiful window compositions of Miksa Róth, one of the premier glass painters of the fin-de-siécle.
A glance should be reserved for the decorated gratings of the heating system, which maintains a constant temperature in the building. Technical knowledge is married to practical ingenuity in the corridors where numbered ashtrays allow the deputies to dash into the council chamber to vote without having to stub out their scented Havannas. The corridor of the Delegation Room is decorated with the paintings of Andor Dudits, symbolizing the main ministries: Defence, Religion and Culture, Justice, Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce. Formerly the offices of the ministers opened off this corridor (e.g. the office of the Speaker of the Parliament was once the office of the Minister of Religion and Culture). This large room above the main entrance got its name during the Dual Monarchy when 120 individuals, delegations of 60 persons each from each Parliament, exercised supervision over the common ministries (Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance). During the sessions held in Pest the Austrian partners admired the central work of Master Dudits’ youth, the painting covering the western wall. The moment of the sword stroke at the coronation of Franz Joseph in 1867 is today more a symbol of the illusions of the past than of the achievements of that „social order”. The most remarkable feature of the former room of the Council of Ministries, which opens from the southern end of the corridor, is the ceiling paintings of Károly Lotz, „Fortitude” and „Wisdom” – his most outstanding works in the Parliament.
The President of the Republic’s Receptions Rooms
Today the two extreme wings of the Parliament house the offices of the country’s most important public personages. The northern wing is for the Prime Minister, while the southern is reserved for the President of the Republic. Two noteworthy rooms open from the President’s offices. In one of them is the „Apotheoses of Hungarian Rulers”, a group of paintings done between the two world wars by Géza Udvary and Antal Diósy. On the longer wall, Udvary represented the victorious János Hunyadi listening to the noontime bells, tolling according to the Pope’s decree in honor of Hunyadi’s victory against the Turks near Nándorfehérvár, today called Belgrade – hence the title of the room, the Nándorfehérvár Hall. On the northern wall Udvary painted the apotheoses of Lajos Kossuth with Petőfi, Bem and Damjanich, all heroes of the 1848 Revolution.
The Munkácsy Room, opening from the President’s office, houses the most precious work of art in the Parliament. “The Conquest” , which Munkácsy, who was living in Paris at the time, originally intended for the Deputy Council Chamber, ended up in this room because among other things the Speaker’s lectern had to be raised for acoustical reasons. More importantly many deputis protested that Mihály Munkácsy represented the first meeting between the conquerors and the original inhabitants of the region as a peaceful greeting and not as a victorious submission. It took twenty years after the completion of the work for it to placed here.
The Parliament Library
There is not a parliament in the world which does not have a libray of its own. A sound decision requires a wealth of information, a purpose served by the Parliament Library. This first-rate institution serves more than just the deputies. It functions as a national library as well, specializing in law, recent history, U.N. publications and, of course, in parliamentarianism. The Information and Documentation Centre of the Council of Europe is situated here as well. (The documents of the Parliament are adminsitered by Archives.) Access to the half million volumes is facilitated by numerous informational systems. The massive reading room is situated under Hunter Hall.
„I didn’t want to create a new architectural style for the Parliament,” he confessed upon accepting his academic chair, „because I couldn’t balance a building that has to stand for hundreds of years with ephemeral details. I have tried modestly and carefully, as is required by art, to bring a national and unique spirit to this magnificent medieval style.”