The Houses of Parliament in London, also known as the Palace of Westminster, house the British Parliament and are flanked by the world-famous bell tower Big Ben.
The Houses of Parliament in the British capital London are the seat of the two parliaments of Great Britain, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The magnificent building, also known as the Palace of Westminster, is located in the City of Westminster on Parliament Square. Together with Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret's Church, the Houses of Parliament have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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PICTURES: Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
History of the Houses of Parliament
Until 1529, the Houses of Parliament served as the seat of English kings. King Edward the Confessor was the first monarch to make his home in the Palace of Westminster on the banks of the Thames in the mid-11th century. About 200 years later, the two Houses of Parliament were founded, of which the House of Lords stayed in Westminster Palace from the beginning and the House of Commons was added in 1547 when King Henry VIII moved the royal seat to Whitehall Palace.
Unfortunately, not much is left ofthe original building since a devastating fire in 1834. The oldest remaining parts of the Houses of Parliament are Westminster Hall from 1097 and the Jewel Tower from 1365. After the devastating fire, the two English architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin were entrusted with the reconstruction out of 97 bids. Thus, in a good 30 years of construction time, the magnificent neo-Gothic building was created, which is still known today.
Thepalace is flanked by two striking towers, the square Victoria Tower and the graceful Elizabeth Tower, the latter known worldwide as Big Ben. In the middle of the Houses of Parliament, the 91m-high Central Tower rises into the London sky. After the destruction of the Second World War, the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt true to the original 19th century designs.
The Houses of Parliament house in their 1100 rooms the council chambers of the two British parliaments, meeting rooms, libraries, sports halls, bars and dining rooms. The 98m high Victoria Tower, with the British flag Union Jack flying on its top, houses the archives of both Houses of Parliament.
The 96m high Big Ben is probably the most famous part of the Houses of Parliament. The distinctive clock tower on the north-west side of the Palace of Westminster has become a worldwide symbol of London. But Big Ben is not the tower at all. Since 2012, it has officially been called Elizabeth Tower and was previously known as St. Stephen's Tower.
Big Ben is actually the name of the monumental bell inside the tower, which weighs a good 13 tonnes. Every hour, the world-famous melody, taken from George Frideric Handel's "Messiah", rings out from Big Ben, which is actually called the "Great Bell". Sessions of Parliament are indicated by a light at the top of Big Ben.
Unfortunately, only British citizens can climb Big Ben; visitors from overseas can only imagine the fantastic view over London 's spectacular sea of houses. In return, they save themselves the climb up Big Ben's 393 steps.
Visit to the Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament can be visited on several tours. The House of Lords, for example, is open to visitors, and its meeting rooms are much more splendid than those of the House of Commons, which only represented the people. In the Central Lobby, members of parliament can be addressed and won over to certain interests. This is where the term "lobbying" comes from.
British citizens can attend debates in the Houses of Parliament, attend committee, take a guided tour of Parliament and climb Big Ben. Foreign visitors have to be content with Saturday tours during the summer months, but can also attend debates and committees. Tours of the Houses of Parliament explain the main 19th century rooms and how the British government works.
Tip: The Jewel Tower can be visited for free with the London Pass!