Although I had glimpsed it in the evening, the Palace of the People, now the Palace of Parliament, emerged as I looked out the hotel window in all its, hum… in all its existence.
The product of a dictator’s megalomania, construction of the enormous structure and adjacent parks required the eviction of 40,000 people and the destruction of 1/9th of all downtown buildings, in part under the guise of wanting to build more earthquake resistant structures.
It is today the 2nd largest public building in the world (after the Pentagon), measuring 270 m wide, by 240 m deep and 84 m tall, for a total of 350,000 m2 of floorspace. A lot of it is vacant, but it does house both chambers of Parliament, as well as various Government offices. During the 1980’s and 1990’s the impoverished nation spent an estimated 3 billion euros on the construction.
Recently a survey was done amongst residents of Bucharest and the building finished first on the list of the city’s most beautiful buildings. With lots of very ornate decoration, the interior is a showcase of fine Romanian craftsmanship. This is no Dubai gimmick built with a blank cheque, foreign architects, foreign engineers and foreign workers; this was built by Romanian architects, workers and artisans, exclusively using Romanian building materials, from the wood to the marble to the metalworks and the fabrics.
Paradoxically, on the same survey, the building ALSO finished #1 on the list of the city’s ugliest buildings! Meant to impress, the product of a deranged man’s mind is mostly an endless succession of dark, cavernous marble halls where the only thing you feel like doing is looking for the exit. To be fair, I suppose if all the chandeliers are on it’s not so dark.
More. We walked around for a couple of hours, and at the end the guide told us we had visited about 5% of the building.
And more. Although they look empty here, most of the halls are available for rental and many are fitted with simultaneous translation booths for international conferences. The rooms number well over a thousand, although the majority are more normal looking offices.
Everything is out of proportion, like the 19 m ceiling in this room.
And the 250 kg velvet curtains. These staircases were apparently built and re-built 4 times. A short man, Ceaușescu would inspect the sections once they were completed. Here he felt uncomfortable climbing the steps due to the incline, so he ordered the entire section demolished and re-built. Three times.
The 2.5 ton chandelier.
I don’t know if the unused areas are actually finished, but the main areas are. However, some display panels remain empty to this day. Meant to be filled with Communist symbols that were either destroyed or never built, they were never used for anything else.
The only Communists symbols are relegated to the basement.
This theatre is used for presentations, but cannot be used for actual theatre or any such artistic purpose, as no backstage or curtains were included in the design. Such omissions are perhaps due to the fact that the chief architect of the world 2nd largest public building was very inexperienced. A design competition was held and Anca Petrescu won at the age of 28. Incredibly, this was probably the first major building she ever designed and when construction started, she was 35 and led a team of 700 architects.
But the inexperienced architect was not the only one influencing the strangeness of the building; the paranoid dictator was also at work. Incredibly, despite being built mainly in the 1980’s, this immense structure does not have central heating or air conditioning. Radiators and wall mounted AC units take care of climate control. Ceaușescu refused to have central ventilation because he was concerned about the risk of being killed by poison gas!
Just as in North Korea, where I saw a triumphal arch 1 m higher than the one in Paris, in Bucharest Ceaușescu razed an enormous section of the city to build a copy of the Champs-Élysées, but just a little longer. The people of Paris must be so jealous.
And the same view, from the roof. The event in the large open space was a wedding convention. I don’t know what was exhibited inside, but outside, they showcased wedding transportation, such as horse drawn carriages, vintage cars and stretched limos. In a big city, such services are usually plentiful, so as a provider, you must distinguish yourself from the competition.
And what better way than to put an Arab terrorist on the bloody car?!? I could see this catching on in Gaza, but who wants a terrorist-themed wedding in Bucharest?!
Alright, enough with this crazy city, time to move North. Mirror, crucifix, garlic, check! I’m off to Transylvania.