There are a few days every year when some of Budapest’s most hallowed government institutions allow visitors to enter and explore never-before-seen bits of monumental city sights – such as Hungary’s Parliament House. In the course of the recent European Heritage Days, we had the chance to take a glimpse inside the Parliament’s dome, and then we could even climb out onto the rooftop for wonderful views, both of the ornate building itself and the surrounding cityscape.
Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence has always been a true technical wonder, as nobody ever understood how such an immense building could be constructed with medieval technology. Even though a few centuries passed between the construction of that landmark in Florence and Hungary’s Parliament House, and technology has developed a lot since the Renaissance age, the Budapest masterpiece of Magyar architect Imre Steindl is still breathtakingly beautiful.
The Parliament’s dome is among the ten tallest buildings of Budapest with its height of 96 meters – similarly to the Basilica. Another resemblance between the two edifices is that there is a dome on the top of both buildings, which can be explored from the inside, too.
We start our trip at the side nearest to the Chain Bridge, at gate I. Through a labyrinth of corridors we reach the building’s centerline, where an elevator takes us up to the bottom of the drum. Stepping out of the elevator, we can view a mini exhibit about the history of the building: there are original tin figures from the frontispiece, Zsolnay porcelain ornaments, and old photos documenting the removal of the red star on display (during Hungary’s communist regime, a red star was placed at the peak of the Parliament dome). With the help of these exhibits, our guide even explained how light bulbs were changed here.
From here, we reach the top through a narrow staircase. At this level we can already admire the monster figures that decorate the small towers, the ventilating chimneys, and the various Zsolnay porcelain ornaments.
The tour around the dome only begins here. Stepping into the interior of the dome, a narrow metal staircase leads us up to the top. If we don’t look down at all, this climb isn’t frightening, but in past years there were occasions when panicking visitors had to be rescued from the steps.
About the roof’s shell, our architect guide told us that the original slate roof that came from England – and was restored last year – can only be seen at a small spot; everywhere else, there is a different-colored artificial slate cover.
From the top we can see the inner courtyards, and we discover that while the façade is decorated with white stones, the inner surfaces are covered with clinker bricks.
In the evenings, there are normally numerous seagulls circulating around the dome, who don’t actually live here, but reside somewhere near the river; however, kestrels love nesting here.
From the top of the Parliament we get a truly wonderful view over Budapest; we can gaze directly down and admire never-before-seen sights, and carved into some bricks, we can read the names of carpenters, metalworkers, and repairmen – these are the names of those who built this architectural masterpiece, and of those who get to see this breathtaking panorama everyday nowadays.