Since I was a kid I would look up at the Houses of Parliament in London and think they were simply the most beautiful building in the world. I saw pictures of other parliaments around the world and knew none could compare.
Then I went to Budapest. And bloody hell was it stunning.
Ever since I’ve wondered whose pips whose to the post, but never dared look too close — until today. Let’s pitch the UK parliament against Hungary’s and see who comes out top.
The Houses of Parliament are actually called the Palace of Westminster. Of course Big Ben is world renowned, though that’s just the bell. The actual structure is called Elizabeth Tower.
History and Geography
It’s actually a royal residence, not that it’s ever used for such, and is the second palace to stand on that site (the old one, like all London buildings was lost in a fire). It’s next to the beautiful Westminster Abbey, sits directly on the Thames and is a Grade I listed building and UNESCO heritage site.
Parliament has been involved in some potent protests. There’s been manure, flour and tear gas thrown here in protest. It is also, of course, the site of the failed gunpowder plot that gives us fireworks night. Boom.
There was a competition for the design, won by Charles Barry, who is responsible for Trafalgar Square but little else that’s instantly recognisable. Also responsible was Augustus Pugin, who assisted Barry. Due to difficulties in building, neither lived to see its completion.
The current palace was built over thirty years from 1840–70 with many problems along the way. These continued when WW2 bombs hit the palace fourteen separate times, with parts being destroyed.
The design is Gothic Revival, built in a symmetrical style though I can’t see it. Apparently Pugin hated the symmetry. He’s the one that designed Big Ben, so I suspect he did so to thwart it. The palace is pretty short on space, and many of its gardens are closed to the public. It has an astonishing 1100 rooms over its four floors.
The first floor is the main stage for parliament, with the Lord’s Chamber (the one we’d recognise) in the southern section. The palace is filled with art and frescoes, galleries, chambers and lobbies. The oldest part is Westminster Hall, which was built back in 1097 — once the largest hall in Europe.
All of the 1100 rooms have functions and uses, which is why rehousing parliament during renovation will be such a costly venture. I guess at least we know something goes on behind those doors.
This has been well documented of late. It’s in serious need of restoration. You don’t deal with fourteen bombings and politicians everyday without it taking a toll. The renovation could cost in the billions, and won’t be finished until 2022.
Hungarian Parliament Building. Boring… though the Hungarian translates as House of the Nation, which is far nicer. Lets face it, a palace is way better than a house.
History and Geography
The Parliament building was built after three cities unified to create Budapest. It lies along the Danube, is the largest Building in Hungary and the tallest in the capital. It too is listed and the whole Danube Bank is a UNESCO site.
Impressive as that is, doesn’t quite beat attempted regicide by explosion, does it?
The Hungarian Parliament design was also a product of competition, this time international. It was won by Imre Steindl. Steindl has a fewer buildings to his name than Barry, but one of them is Corvin Castle in Transylvania. Yes, the one now referred to as Dracula’s castle. That’s kinda cooler than Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately. Steindl actually went blind before its completion, never seeing the result of his hard work. There must be a curse on parliament architects.
It wasn’t just Steindl that won though. The second and third place actually had their designs realised, just as different buildings. I love that no one really lost, while Hungary gained not one but three magnificent buildings. Brilliantly done, Budapest.
Building began in 1885, 15 years after London’s completion, but finished in a much quicker 11 years, opening on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s birth. The Hungarians are clearly a lot quicker on the uptake.
Like London, the parliament building is Gothic Revival. It’s symmetrical and has a central dome. It has a whopping ten courtyards and 691 rooms. It’s height matches the year of Hungary’s millennium (1896) which is a nice touch. Half a million precious stones and 40kg of gold were used in its construction, with stained glass and mosaics too.
One symmetrical side is used for politics, the other tours. Parliament only uses one chamber in the lower house, so that’s one of the 691 room accounted for… It also houses the Holy Crown of Hungary (royal jewels equivalent).
Because the building is ridiculously detailed, it’s under near constant renovation. However, this does mean that the individual renovations are usually much smaller and shorter, therefore making less of an impact on visitors and ministers.
Overall, I’m not sure that helped. London may pip Budapest to the post in history, but the Hungarian Parliament still looks fresh and new today. At the end of the day I love them both, but definitely for what goes on outside than inside.