The Palace of the Parliament: Ceausescu’s Final Dream
The Palace of the Parliament from Bucharest is one of the most important communist built monuments in the entire world. The gigantic and controversial concrete dream of one of the most relentless communist dictators – Nicolae Ceausescu – the Parliament Palace is a World Record construction with over 1,000 rooms and a must-see for all those interested in the history of communism, the regime that changed the history of the world.
Located on Arsenalului Hill, very close to the central Unirii Square, the Palace of the Parliament or the House of the People is one of the highlights of Ceausescu’s megalomaniac vision of how the capital was set to transform if his dictatorship would have lasted. The capital was supposed to be an example of the new society Ceausescu wanted to build, the devastating earthquake from 1977 giving him the perfect excuse to systematize the city. His plans involved destroying the Old City Center, its presence being a vivid reminder of a historical time the regime wanted to erase from the collective memory. Overall, one fourth of the historical center was destroyed and no doubt the process would have continued if the regime would have lasted beyond 1989.
The first step in the remake of Bucharest was to build a monumental construction – the House of the People, known back then as the House of the Republic – even with the price of substantial shortages for the entire population. The construction works started in 1984, in a decade when Nicolae Ceausescu decided to pay all the country’s debt to the International Monetary Fund even if that meant rationalized food, heating, electricity and a penury of basic goods. But the harsh daily life of most Romanians was not about to stop Ceausescu’s cult of personality finding new ways of expression. The communist dictator was among many superlatives also ‘the first architect of the country’.
Massive relocations and demolished neighborhoods
Tens of thousands of people were relocated and entire neighborhoods from Bucharest, including the stylish Uranus, were destroyed as well as hundreds of years old monuments to make room for the Parliament Palace and the new Civic Center. Among the 20 churches and monasteries destroyed were also the unique 18 century Monastery of Vacaresti and the 17th century church Saint Spiridon Church.
Despite of the political risks involved, eight churches were saved from a similar faith with the help of civil engineer Eugen Iordachescu. He designed and implemented a procedure through which the churches were moved even 300 meters away from their original place, hidden completely after the tall blocks of the communist Civic Center. Making their presence as less visible as possible was the only chance of survival. Some of the churches were moved in only a couple of hours at -20 or -25 degrees. The heaviest part moved weighted 9,000 tones and was part of the Antim Monastery.
World Records and key numbers
With its 365,000 square meters surface, the Palace of the Parliament is the second administrative building on the planet after the Pentagon. The construction is also the third in the world after the Rocket Assembly Building at Cape Caneveral in Florida and the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico when it comes to its volume: 2,550,000 cubic meters.
The building is 86 meters tall above ground level and has a depth of 14 meters, is 270 meters long and 245 meters wide. The size of the raw materials used is impressive. Overall were used one million cubic meters of marble; 900,000 cubic meters of the finest woods; 700,000 tons of steel; 3,500 tons of crystal; 2,800 chandeliers; 100 kg of gold; 3,500 meters of leather; and 220,000 square meters of carpets. The results are spectacular as all the decorations, no matter how big and elaborate, are hand-carved and personalized according to the thematic and purpose of the room.
At least 700 architects worked on the construction site together with 20,000 workers. The construction works took place in three shifts, taking place 24 hours, every day of the week, for 7 years. The magnitude of the work effort was unparalleled, possible only in a communist country. All the materials as well as the workforce were brought only from Romania.
Photo by Antony Stanley
It is hard to estimate the total costs of the palace as the state was the sole owner of the resources used for the construction and the communist regime was anything but transparent with its bills. Still, excluding the workforce, the value of the materials used alone is estimated to at least 4 billion Euros.
The House of the People is the main protagonist of many urban myths, from the ghosts of the dead workers to the secret subway line that connected the building to the airport. If it’s certain that the construction site had its share of deadly work accidents, the existence of the subway line is hard to prove due to security secrets. What’s almost sure is that two underground water channels were executed to allow Ceausescu to escape in case of a revolution. Two anti-nuclear fallout shelters were also built in the underground. However, it’s not likely that this part of the Parliament Palace will be open for visitation anytime soon.
Ceausescu didn’t live enough to see the his dream come true. The Palace of the Parliament was only 70% finished in December 1989 when he was rapidly executed after the uprising street protests that started the Revolution. In 1994, this oversized symbol of communism became the headquarters of a key democratic institution, the Parliament.
While in the early days of the 90’ some angry voices supported extreme actions like the demolishment of the monument because it was such a major symbol of communism, the former House of the Republic survived. It is today one of the top attractions of Bucharest and one of the key representations of a regime that completely changed Romania.