For me, visiting any city in the world means seeking to know its unique character, exploring the different types of neighborhoods, visiting some of the key sites (monuments, museums, grand boulevards, riversides, etc.), sampling its food, and watching life go by when time allows it. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, the Latin Quarter, and the omni-present cafés. Rome has Roman ruins galore, the Trastevere, and the Campo de Fiore. Santiago has the Cerro Santa Lucia and the Barrio Bellavista. And, as I have recently learned, Bucharest has the Palace of Parliament and Old Town.
The Palace of Parliament (“Parliament”) is such a massive building and its story equally massive in the insanity of the project that it is worth its own writeup. It is the second largest building in the world (after the U.S. Pentagon) and, ergo, the largest civilian building the world. And it certainly is a great way to understand recent Romanian history and the mental health, perhaps, of its long-in-power, last communist leader, Ceausescu.
Seeing the building from the outside is quite a sight. It is HUGE. But to best appreciate the scale of the structure and the ego that drove its construction, one MUST see it from the inside. This means going for a tour. There are a couple of options, one that covers the main rooms and another that adds to that visiting the main balcony and the basement. I highly recommend the latter and it only takes about 2 hrs for the longer tour (hours are 10AM – 4PM as of July 2012).
I was surprised to learn that it has 12 stories. It just seems so much more monumental from the outside! It also has:
- 340,000 sq m or 3,700,000 sq ft (the Pentagon, as a comparison, has 600,000 sq m or 6,500,000 sq ft)
- 1,100 rooms
- 1,000,000 cubic m of marble
- 480 chandeliers
- 200,000 sq m of woolen carpets (some sown on-site so they could be installed as they were so big!)
- and so on…
Get the picture? It is worth noting that about 95% of all materials were sourced within Romania itself.
Seeing the land around the building (the tour takes you to the roof terrace, the best platform for the 360 degree view) also gives a sense of the massive destruction that was required in order to clear the way for its construction. In fact, such is the extent of the land around the Parliament building that the largest Orthodox church in southeastern Europe is being built in a corner of its grounds!! (picture that follows)
The History behind Parliament
Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were, to put it simply, megalomaniacs. Crazy, narcissist, cruel, and all such words would apply as well. Maverick applies too as he was able to keep the USSR at bay; but that is another story. The point is that they saw the need for a monumentally-scaled building to house all of the key government bodies (to be called the “House of the People”), including serving as his residence (and bunker). One can see easily how it would help them better control government as just being in the building would give one a sense of their (Nicolae’s and Elena’s) power and omnipresence as opposed to feeling semi-secure and semi-removed a few blocks away from them. The new construction (though in neoclassical style) also helped drive forward the battle between the old and new which was not about aesthetics or modernity but the battle to cement communism over past systems and regimes.
So one of the most historic parts of Bucharest (with over 20 churches and 30,000 residences) was destroyed and a major hill was razed in order to clear the land for this building and other structures. What shocked me was to learn this all happened in the 1980s! Somehow that blew me away: that in such “modern times”, what is called the largest peacetime (willful) destruction of a city in recent history took place.
The Ceausescus, poor them, did not get to see the building finished (it is still not finished!). The revolution swept them out of power and out of this life in 1989. Sweet revenge by karma, I say.
The tour will take you from meeting rooms to large halls to massive hallways to ballrooms to grand staircases and everything else needed to convince people of someone’s greatness. Even the chamber that serves as preamble to the grand ballroom was designed so that as the Ceausescus’ approached the grand ballroom, the clapping of people in the ante-chamber got acoustically magnified by the room’s design so the people waiting in the grand ballroom heard an even louder reception for them before they walked in to the grand ballroom. (Mental note: consider that for a future renovation of my home’s foyer…)
The grand ballroom is of great scale and the other rooms not too shabby either. Some of them have big open spaces on the walls – were portraits of the grand couple were supposed to be hanged…
The meeting rooms had everything you may expect including hidden doors behind the chair Ceausescu would use in case he had to make an emergency exit. The hall (music hall, theater, whatever you want to call it) has what has to be one of the largest chandeliers in the world (per an article in Wikipedia, the largest chandelier in the world is in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul – who knew). Some of the chandeliers have over 7,000 light bulbs! For the chandelier below, there is actually a hidden room or passageway above that is used to access the light bulbs when they need to be changed! I imagine that STILL does not make it an easy endeavor…
The rooms in the building are not all alike. The styles vary based on purpose, location, etc. As I mentioned before, the building actually is not yet finished. In fact, there are a lot of unfinished spaces. Curiously, the original main architect, Anca Petrescu, (there was a rather large team of architects involved – about 700!) is still the main architect today.
The grand balcony is worth stepping into. The scale of the building carries onto the balcony and its columns. Also, a little secret is that the balcony railing is shorter than normal because Mr. Ceausescu was a short man and he wanted to make sure that the “adulating crowds” saw him as tall. Were there no psychotherapists in communist Romania?? LOL.
So – What to Make of this One HUMONGOUS Building in Bucharest??
A few pictures do not do this building justice. I am sure there are thousands out there. But, of course, the best is seeing in for oneself.
It is hard to be happy with the destruction of a historic city quarter to satisfy someone’s ego. Having said that, the building is already there and it is something to see if travels take you to Bucharest. The scale and grandeur of this structure should put it on everyone’s must-see list for sure!
Have you been to the Palace of Parliament? What were your thoughts as you saw it?