The House of the Republic, The House of People, The Palace of Parliament, Ceausescu’s Palace- you can call it as you wish, is Bucharest’s biggest, baddest, most popular asset.
It’s been more than 20 years since it was built and locals still have contradicting opinions about it. Some consider it a token of architectural genius, others think it’s an ugly monster-house. I’ve witnessed peaceful, friendly conversations going completely crazy once people started to debate on the House of People. It’s no wonder that it was voted simultaneously the most beautiful and the ugliest building in Bucharest. The controversy is strong around this one.
In late 70’s, Ceausescu went on several official visits with North Korea and China having the biggest impact on him. He came back with ideas on reforming the country and transforming it to suit his newly developed socialist standards. The dictator’s priority for Bucharest was to build a new Civic Centre with the House of People as the centerpiece.
The project began in 1983 with a team of 700 architects (some sources say 200) and 20.000 people working 24/7 in 3 shifts. An area the size of Venice was cleaned out to make room for the Civic Centre that included the House of People continued with the Victory of Socialism Blvd. and ended in Alba-Iulia Square with a gigantic statue.
It was supposed to be grant, splendorous and superior to anything built before. To a certain extent, the goals have been achieved as the House holds several records: 1st place in the world at costs of maintenance, 2nd place after the Pentagon in area covered, 3rd place in volume after Quetzalcoatl Pyramid in Mexico (its volume is 2% bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza).
This superstructure was intended to be a cluster for the country’s government and institutions and the headquarters of the Communist Party. After the Revolution, nobody knew exactly what to do with the building. There were voices that argued for its demolish but it was too late to abandon the project. It was roughly completed in 1997 and the Romanian Parliament moved there, changing the name of the House into the Palace of Parliament.
Today, besides the Parliament, the palace hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art, a terrace-bar and several events around the year.
I was never a fan of this building, mainly because of what it represents but I have to admit that, like any other expression of madness, it breeds a sort of curiosity in the human mind. Therefore, I recently went on a complete tour so I can have a better rounded opinion and maybe figure out where I stand towards it.
There are different tours available, depending on how much you want to see. I chose the full version that included the basements, part of the interiors and the terrace on the 8th floor.
The tour starts in the basement with a presentation on the history of the House and a collection of pictures from the construction site. It’s not exactly sure what the basement was meant for and, apparently, not even the guides are allowed to wander around as they please. Our guide confessed that she hasn’t left the premises of the tour and doesn’t know what lies in the underground.
Most interesting was when we were shown, on a wall, the absolute symbol of Communism: the hammer and sickle. This mark is the only piece of “decoration” put there during the regime. It was a strange feeling to see it since signs like this were erased immediately after the revolution. I’ve never seen one besides in pictures and there it was, lurking in the underground, blood-red, scoffing at us.
Shaking off the moment, we continued with the visit of the interior. The House of People was never intended to be a living space so none of the 1000 chambers is a bedroom.
We went through different reception and conference rooms, each of them having something in particular. The Ion I.C. Bratianu has curtains embroidered in gold and silver. The original name was the Hall of Provinces as it was supposed to have elements representing regions of the country. The C.A. Rosetti Hall, decorated in cubist & art-deco style, has the biggest chandelier out of the 2800 existing in the building. The most impressive of them all is the Unirii Hall with its Greek temple like appearance.
The terrace on the 8th floor is one of the highlights of the tour. To be noted that this 8th floor in the House of People means the 18th floor in a normally sized building so the panorama over the city is quite beautiful.
I found the interiors somewhat spectacular and elegant but a little out-of-place. The entire purpose of the building was to celebrate the triumph of socialism over the old, unworthy ways and yet, we see glass ceilings like the ones at Peles Castle or embroidered ceilings and pink marble that make you think of the Throne Hall in the Royal Palace.
A socialist composition would have given authenticity and unity to the palace.
The standard tour is interesting and informative but there is no mention of the side stories and dirty secrets that everyone is curious about.
The most popular question regarding the House is: ”What’s in the basement?”. The rumors go as far as a floating underground city where Ceausescu and his family could live in case something destroyed the entire country. Some extreme conspiracy-lovers believe that Ceausescu and his family live their happily ever after in this floating city. It’s safe to say that this will never be proven or confirmed. However, we know for sure that there are two atomic-bomb shelters, casually called Bubuline (Romanian nickname for lover, mistress or chubby lady).
The 80’s were influenced by Ceausescu’s phobia that the world wanted him dead or that the people would rise against him. Hence, the speculations that he also built a private subway line that connects the House with the airport, for a quick escape. This is one idea. The other one is that he wanted a private line for him and his official guests so they wouldn’t see anything in the city besides the Civic Centre. Those were tough years for Romanians. Food was scarce so the endless queues in front of grocery shops was not something guests were supposed to see.
The only commonly known fact is that a tunnel does exist from the House to Izvor metro station. Probably no other information will surface any time soon as the underground is under the control of the Secret Services and basically, nobody gets permission to go and explore the interesting parts.
Another tale is about Ceausescu’s cage. Not only was he afraid of outside enemies and inside riots but also earthquakes. Apparently he asked the architects to design his office like an indestructible cage, somehow independent of the building itself. In case of Armageddon, he would have survived.
A mystery is also how much this building actually cost. During the regime there was no cost estimate made because the dictator was never interested in this fact. It is said that the only things he would care were effectiveness and deadlines. A number that circulates is 3 billion dollars (taken into consideration that all the materials used were 100% Romanian).
The constructions site was a complete madness as the work started simultaneously for all the 23 separate buildings that constitute the House. People now affirm that, besides the hardships of the actual work, they had to face the dictators constant disapproval. The slogan was: build by night, demolish by day.
This around the clock schedule led to several deaths. Officially, the reports mention 27 accidents but popular belief presents a different story. Allegedly, the workers that were assigned to the underground site or other secret tasks, were deliberately killed so they wouldn’t talk. This rumor has been heavily denied by the authorities.
When in Bucharest, the House of People is a must-see. If, for any reason, you cannot go on a tour, coffee on the terrace-bar in the National Museum of Contemporary Art is always an option. Opening hours: 10:00-18:00.
Reservations (one day in advance reservation is needed)
- + 40 21 311 36 11;
- + 40 21 414 14 26
- Standard: 25 RON pp
- Terrace (City Panorama): 15 RON pp
- Underground: 10 RON pp
- Standard+Terrace: 35 RON pp
- Standard+Underground: 30 RON pp
- Complete Tour (Standard+Terrace+Underground): 45 RON pp
Photo fee: 30 RON
- You must present a valid ID at the entrance
- Opening hours: daily from 10:00 to 16:00 (last tour 15:30)
- Payment is possible only in cash (an ATM is available only after the security gate that you cannot pass without a ticket so it’s not an option)
- Metro station: Izvor (5 min walk), Piata Unirii (15 min walk)