In the heart of Bucharest there stands an imposing giant, a Palace of epic proportions. The gigantic structure, The Peoples Palace was the brainchild of a Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Its construction cost the Romanian people billions of dollars and so much more as a nation. Back in the early 1980’s, Churches, Synagogues, businesses and an estimated fifty thousand private residences were leveled to make way for the massive project.
Construction began in 1983, twenty thousand people worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep pace on the development. The Palace was the crown jewel of the project, Nicolae had also commissioned buildings with residences for the people in his government. The apartments blocks flank the Palace.
Ceausescu took on enormous foreign debt to keep the project financed. He starved the Romanian people exporting the countries agricultural and industrial production to repay the debt. The standard of living in Romania sank to an all time low. Construction of the ironically ordained “Peoples Palace” continued until December, 1989 when a brutal and bloody revolution exploded. The fighting escalated and the people prevailed forcing President Ceausescu and his wife Elena from power. The couple attempted to flee Romania but were captured, tried and executed by firing squad for genocide and sabotage of the Romanian economy.
At this point, the Communist government fell and the Palace was almost complete. Some Romanians, understandably called for the structures demolition. Many saw it as a painful reminder of the oppressive regime. Ultimately, with so much invested already the people realized it’s value and the Palace was completed to hold the new government.
Aptly named The Palace of Parliament today, it houses both chambers of Parliament and the Romanian Senate. It’s also a tourist attraction and hosts a number of tours daily. We spent two hours on a guided tour wandering the halls of this behemoth. We were blown away by the story behind it’s creation and it’s enormous size and extravagance.
The Palace of Parliament is the second largest office building in the world, the Pentagon holds first place. It is however, number one for weight (heaviest building).
Here’s why: Standing twelve stories high it contains 1 million cubic meters of Transylvanian marble, 3500 metric tonnes of crystal for 480 chandeliers with 1409 lights and mirrors, 700000 tonnes of steel and bronze, 200000 square meters of woven carpets and 900000 cubic meters of wood. Not to mention all of the bricks and concrete!
Our guide was great, the tour was two hours long but the time flew by. As we walked through the Palace our guide always referred to Elena Ceausescu as “the Presidents wife” never by name. I found this odd at the time but dismissed it as some sort of formality. I learned later Nicolae was admired and even loved by some and hated by others but Elena, she was hated by all. Maybe this is why our guide never spoke her name?
We got to see the Palace underground as well. Our guide let us look around independently to put any rumors of secret rooms or torture chambers to rest. She assured us there was no such thing. Of course we only saw the first level of the underground, there are more than one….
A selection of tours in Romanian and English run daily. Costs range from 15-45 lei ($5-$15) and there is a 30 lei ($10)
money grab photo tax of to take pictures inside the Palace. We took the two hour complete tour which covers about 5% of the building including some rooms inside the Palace, the terrace and one level underground . The complete tour was the only tour offered the day we visited (a Friday). Given a choice we would have skipped the underground, we felt it was underwhelming. Make sure you bring your passport. You need to show it to tour the building.