Romania’s current Parliamentary building is called the ‘Palace of Parliament’ and was built by Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife starting in 1984. He borrowed large amounts of money in the early 1980s, not just to rebuild earthquake damage in Wallacia but to create a huge civic centre, ‘Project Bucharest’, in the centre of the capital. As part of this process, seven square kilometres of the city were cleared including a monastery and a hospital and 40000 citizens were relocated. This grandiose vision of the Ceausescus was to be valued at $1.75 billion dollars in the year of their execution in 1989. A curious link to the price of the ‘People’s Palace’ was that Australian mining magnate, Lang Hancock offered $1 billion dollars for it in 1990.
Ceausescu had visited various fellow communist countries during his reign and his desire to build for himself a bigger and better seat of government than his socialist confreres was the driving force behind his plans for ‘Project Bucharest’. He wanted the largest government administration building in the world and if you exclude the Pentagon in the USA, he achieved this. It is said the architects model for this project was Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
Every aspect of the Palace of Parliament was built with extravagant opulence. We were shown through a series of large meeting rooms as well as the grand ballroom where the guide pointed out two empty, curved frames at each end of the long room. They were still empty of the proposed images of Ceausescu and his wife Elena as they were not finalized before they were summarily executed on Christmas Day 1989. A similar frame in the next room originally held the symbolic shield of Communist Romania. It was now replaced with a gold plated copy of the new shield of the post 1989 Romania.
The post 1947 shield on the left and the post 1989 shield on right representing the 5 regions of Romania. Below, two spectacular rooms from the Presidential Palace.
The Presidential Palace was not finished by December 1989 when the protests in Timisoara started and Ceausescu had sent the miners and secret police in to deal with the protesters. History may have been different if he had been making his explanatory speech from the balcony of his new magnificent palace rather than a balcony of the Ministry of the Interior in Palace Square…at least he would have had multiple escape routes.
One of the views out the window of the grand room at the back of the balcony showed an area that hadn’t been finished in 1989 and still has not been developed. I asked the guide what had been planned for this area. He explained that this was where the grand landscaped gardens modeled on Versailles were planned. This last unfinished aspect of the dictatorial couple’s grand vision finished off a portrait of two sociopathic megalomaniacs who were determined to spend their country’s money on a monumental folly to their own glory. Elena Ceausescu even had a building over the road from the palace where she ran her own department of government and they had a tunnel built under the square for Ceaususcu to visit her if life got lonely at the top. One can only wonder if Ceausescu pondered the multiple ironies of his downfall as he faced the firing squad, his last cry may have been, “Where could I have gone wrong!!!!”
The above image shows the view from the balcony of Ceausescu’s grand palace with avenues radiating out into the city to remind visiting world leaders that Bucharest was the ‘Paris of the East’! It was a much better view than from the balcony at the Palace Square for a dictator whose end was in sight.