Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament (66)

In the time of Edward the Confessor, on the land today occupied by the building of the British Parliament, stood the royal palace. This was the case from the 11th century until the time of Henry VIII when, after a fire that took place in 1512, the royal family moved. However, the Parliament is still officially considered a royal palace. In fact, the name of the building is the Palace of Westminster. 

In 1547 the palace was transferred to the Parliament, and since then has been the home of the two houses, those of the Commons and those of the Lords. On the famous green benches of the House of Commons sit the MPs, the elected members of Parliament. The interventions of these 650 members of parliament are chaired by a figure called the Speaker. In this chamber, the government occupies the left-hand side and the opposition, the right.

The oldest part of the Houses of Parliament is a room called Westminster Hall, which began to be built in 1097 and which was restored in the 14th century. Today it is used for acts of State. One of the last occasions when it was used was during the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. As a curiosity, we should remember that this is where William Wallace was tried, the historical figure that Mel Gibson played in the film Braveheart.

In 1834 a fire broke out that destroyed nearly all the building, with the exception of Westminster Hall, the crypt of the chapel of Saint Stephen’s and the Jewel Tower. The reconstruction of the building, awarded by public tender to Charles Barry, took shape in just 30 years. The neo-Gothic building we know today was fully operative by around 1870. The elaborate decoration is the work of August Pugin, one of Barry’s collaborators.

The outside of this new Palace of Westminster features the two towers. Firstly, there is the Clock Tower, known by many people as Big Ben, with a height of 96 metres. This structure houses the famous clock, the carillon of which is famous the world over. On the south side of the building is Victoria Tower, 98 metres high, in which more than 3 million documents are kept, among them the original copies of the Acts of Parliament since 1497.

In 1941, German bombs destroyed the House of Commons. The architect Giles Gilbert Scott rebuilt the hall in neo-Gothic style and it began to be used again as from 1950. During the works, the Commons moved temporarily to then House of Lords, which was not damaged and even today conserves the decoration by August Pugin. In this hall the benches are red and there is a throne from which the Queen gives a speech every year for the opening of Parliament ceremony. 

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