Although here on business, it’s impossible to visit a foreign city without sampling some of the star attractions, and although I’d never admit it, sometimes I’m just a tourist. On Monday we were offered a tour of the Palace of Parliament, Romania’s most famous icon and the unmissable leviathan of the Bucharest skyline.
It is a phenomenal construction – the world’s second largest building – with over 3000 rooms covering 12 stories. Only the Pentagon has a larger surface area, and within the marble walls are grand halls, galleries and conference rooms. We stood in a room built to be a theatre, but since there’s no backstage it’s used for meetings. Amongst the million tonnes of marble and crystal chandeliers (all mined in Romania), the neglect of common sense offers a lesson in the folly of socialist calculation.
For the people of Bucharest, the cost of this elephant was immeasurable. About a sixth of the city was bulldozed to make room for the Palace, and when lit it would consume a day’s supply of electricity for Bucharest in just 4 hours. During a time when people starved on the streets (as they still do) and hospitals lacked basic medicine, 700 architects and 20,000 workers laboured non-stop to build nothing more than the egotistical whim of a megalomaniac.
Romania’s dictator - Nicolea Ceausescu – ordered construction to start in 1984 and took control of many details of the design. He made sure that the emblem adorning the marble floor would match the pure silk drapes and would change his orders daily. Indeed he still hadn’t decided on the roof design when his regime was toppled in the 1989 revolution, but construction continued and the building now houses the Chamber of Deputies.
Now, it feels very melancholic to walk through the immaculate, grandiose halls. The entire construction is a testimony to Romanian craftsmanship, and must be treated with awe. And yet this is the world’s biggest statement of what communism really means – a human genocide to finance the lavish political elites. Before advocating a greater concentration of power to central government, and before letting politicians get away with taxing us for their lives of majesty, remember this building.
We stood on the balcony that looks out toward Unirri. The vista is deliberately longer and wider than the Champs Elysees, and the concrete blocks lining the road frame the Palace so that it commands the attention of anyone walking through the main district. Whilst Ceausescu called it “a victory of socialism”, the people called it “a victory of socialism over the city”.
Lest we forget.
For more photos from Bucharest click here