With politics commandeering social media feeds and news sources lately, this week’s Bucket List offers a different perspective of government and brings you seven impressive legislative buildings around the world. From the U.S. Capitol Building to the Great Hall of the People in China, these structures are architecturally impressive, historically rich and politically relevant. All are open to the public for a peek behind the walls where the world’s politicians rule.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Aside from the White House, the United States Capitol Building is quite easily the most recognizable piece of architecture in Washington, D.C. Located on Capitol Hill at the end of the National Mall, it serves as the home of both legislative bodies of the U.S. Congress, that being the Senate and House of Representatives. The original building dates back to 1800 after Thomas Jefferson initiated a design contest for the capitol in 1792. Architect William Thornton submitted the winning design, stating several Paris landmarks as his inspiration like the Louvre and Pantheon. The neoclassical building has undergone several modifications and expansions, including the addition of its iconic wedding cake-style dome in 1855. Tours are available for free Monday through Saturday via the Capitol Visitor Center.
Photo by wbeem, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Though technically still unfinished, construction of Romania's Palace of the Parliament (People's House) began in 1984 at the direction of former president Nicolae Ceauescu in an attempt to rebrand Bucharest. It took 700 architects and an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 people to construct the building. The massive Palace of the Parliament has several claims to fame associated with it, including the titles of largest administrative building, fourth largest building, heaviest building, as well as the most expensive administrative building in the world. Four of the behemoth building's 12 levels are located underground, one of which serves as a bunker in case of nuclear war. It contains more than 1,000 rooms and houses the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. It's also home to the Bucharest International Conference Centre and numerous museums, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of the Palace, as well as the Museum of Communist Totalitarianism. Despite its many uses, an estimated 70 percent of the building remains unoccupied. The interior is impressively opulent, featuring crystal chandeliers, mirrors, mosaics, marble, oak paneling, ornamental doors, stained-glass windows and decorative carpeting. With a valid passport on hand you can tour many aspects of the Palace of Parliament, including the Senate when not in session.
Photo by Alejandro Giacometti, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Considerably newer than many of the other legislative buildings in this gallery, Australia's Parliament House in the country's capital city of Canberra was built in 1988. Breaking from Gothic-style tradition, the Parliament of Australia meets in a modern-style building inspired by the shape of boomerangs. Parliament House is built into Capital Hill and the visible portion of the building is topped with a 266-foot flagpole waving a massive Australian flag. The interior contains more than 4,500 rooms and many portions are open to the public all year.
Photo by JJ Harrison, CC BY-SA 2.0
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The United Kingdom's bicameral parliament meets in the Palace of Westminster in London. The Gothic palace sits on the River Thames and consists of several iconic structures like Elizabeth Tower, which includes Big Ben. After the original palace was destroyed by fire, the building was reconstructed during the mid-1800s. It took more than 30 years to complete and today contains over 1,000 rooms. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public. A variety of free tours of the House of Parliament are available and include chambers of both houses, state rooms, Westminster Hall, as well as a chance to witness debates.
Photo by Hernan Pinera, CC BY-SA 2.0
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The absolutely magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building sits along the Danube River in Budapest and houses the unicameral National Assembly. A reported 40 million bricks, 90 pounds of gold and half a million gemstones were used during construction of the Gothic Revival building, which began in 1885 and was complete by 1904. Today it remains one of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe. For the best views of the Hungarian Parliament Building hit the river or head across the Danube to its other bank. You'll get the full perspective of this breathtaking building, including the massive Renaissance Revival-style dome. Tours are also available when the National Assembly is not in session and include the old House of Lords, as well as the Hungarian crown jewels.
Photo by Miroslav Petrasko, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Great Hall of the People in Beijing breaks from the architectural trend of many other iconic legislative buildings around the world. This considerably modern building is located in Tiananmen Square. It was built in 1959 and is where the Chinese Parliament continues to meet today, along with a variety of other special events and conferences. All provinces and special administrative or autonomous regions have a designated and unique hall within the more than 1.8 million square feet of space, in addition to a number of other meeting spaces. The Great Auditorium, where much of the business and fanfare takes place, features a ceiling adorned with lights depicting the cosmos. The hall is among the spaces open to the public for touring for a small admission fee.
Photo by Dmitry P, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Located on Parliament Hill within Canada's capital city of Ottawa is Centre Block, which houses the country's House of Commons, Senate, the prime minister's office, administrative spaces and more. Aspects of Centre Block are depicted on the Canadian $10, $20 and $50 bills, specifically the iconic Library of Parliament and Peace Tower. The building that exists today was built after the original was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1916. The Library of Parliament was the only portion to survive. The facade of the stone Gothic Revival building features intricate carvings and embellishments like friezes and gargoyles. Centre Block is open to the public and free to tour daily.
Photo by Pascal Walschots, CC BY 2.0