History of the Parliament in Budapest

History of the Parliament in Budapest

Historical context of the Parliament architectural project

By the 19th century there have been vast social changes in the more and more industrialised Austro-Hungarian empire where the richer Austrians domineered over the poorer Hungarians. The lower class Magyars were getting richer too thanks to the many technological innovations, new factories, investments, trades, and so on. Suddenly there were more and more middle class people and city dwellers, a politically agile and economically stable group, who wanted to have a say in what is going on in their own country. And the term ‘nation‘ became more than a handful of Hungarian noblemen.

In the 1840s the Hungarians decided it was high time that Hungary became an independent kingdom again, just like in the middle ages (before the Turkish came and conquered south-eastern Europe, and threatened the rest of Europe too in the 16th century). So in 1848 a revolution broke out to sever the ties from Austria for good.

Parliament, Budapest

Parliament, Budapest (photo by Rodger Mattlage)

Although the revolution tragically failed, Austrians and Magyars managed to achieve a compromise, only referred to as The Compromise in 1867, which put the political bitterness of the failed revolution on the backburner, and helped to concentrate more on the here and now thus laying the grounds for huge developments in Hungary, especially in the capital city of Budapest (note: in the meantime the two towns at the river Danube, Buda and Pest – plus Old Buda on the north – united as Budapest in 1873). Many of the top attractions of Budapest come from the era after the 1867 Compromise, designed in the feverish preparations towards the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state (founded in 896, heading for 1896). So there were very very busy years in Budapest between 1867 and 1896.

The Hungarian Crown - Parliament, Budapest

The Hungarian Crown – Parliament, Budapest (photo by Bogdan I. Stanciu)

Hungarians wanted to have their own Parliament. Not an Austrian. A Hungarian. And a big one. Small nations need big things. After all it was almost a 1000 years ago that the Magyars settled down in the Carpathian-basin, at the rivers of the Danube and the Tisza. So the new Hungarian Parliament should be ready for the millennial birthday and it should be millennial accordingly.

Building the Parliament

There were many tenders, but the one the committee picked was the most grandiose ever, the designs of Imre Steindl. If the planned parliament is built, it will be the biggest and richest building in Hungary. If you have ever seen the Houses of Parliament in the UK, you will understand why. Just add an enormous dome in the middle to make it prettier, take away the Hogwarts towers to make it less palace-like. Oh, and add half a million ornamental stones, 40 kg of gold, and a slew of statues. Admittedly, the designs of the Hungarian Parliament were very much inspired by the Westminster Palace.

The neo-gothic eclectic Parliament was built from 1885. For the planned millennial celebrations the Parliament was inaugurated in 1896, but it took another 8 years to actually finish the building in 1904. Not just another 8 years, but more than twice the budget allocated  (38 million crowns – former forints – instead of the planned 18.5 crowns). And overspending has not stopped.

The Quest of the Parliament: Maintenance and Restoration

In the 1930s there were some soft limestone parts of the Parliament that started to crumble and in WW2 it was damaged.

Since WW2, the building has been constantly renovated. No exaggeration! If you ask anyone in Budapest if they have ever seen the Parliament without scaffolding the answer will be very likely ‘No’. Unless you meet a 100 year old Budapester. The exterior of the Parliament was made from soft limestone, which is very fragile. It is corroding very easily.

Thirty years after the final touches on the building it was already in need of maintenance. These days the 15-30 cm thick soft limestone has gradually been replaced by hard limestone, according to Istvan Ferenc, the construction manager of the Reneszansz Co. But the exhaust fumes make the limestone grey, so even with the hard limestone the Parliament will be the most costly building of Hungary ever.