Edifice Complex: Bucharest's Palace of Parliament

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This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's guide to Romania.

Controversy still rages around this massive edifice. More than a symbol of Ceauşescu’s communist vision, it stands today as a reminder of the price Romania paid to satisfy the egotistical whims of Nicolae and Elena. While people starved, hospitals suffered medicine shortages and industry ground to a halt, Ceauşescu embarked on building the world’s second-largest building at an estimated cost of €3.3 billion.

The monument has even attracted its own myths which, added to the facts, make this Bucharest’s most fascinating architectural wonder.

FACTS:

  • It was built in 1984 to house the Central Committee, presidential office and state ministries. Today it houses the chamber of deputies, constitutional court and an international conference centre.
  • One sixth of Bucharest was bulldozed to accommodate the monstrous building and its surroundings.
  • It stands 85m tall and has a surface area of 330,000 sq m.
  • It is the world’s second-largest building in surface area (after the US Pentagon) and the third largest in volume.
  • More than 700 architects and three shifts of 20,000 workers laboured on it 24 hours a day for five years.
  • It has 12 storeys and 3100 furnished rooms.
  • Two of its 60-plus galleries are 150m long and 18m wide.
  • Forty of its 64 reception halls are 600 sq m.
  • Union Hall is 3000 sq m in size.

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  • Beneath it is a vast nuclear bunker, plummeting 20m deep.
  • In the 1980s, when lit, the building consumed a day’s electricity supply for the whole of Bucharest in four hours.

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  • The carpet once covering the floor of Union Hall weighed 14 tonnes; it’s rolled up today.
  • The crystal chandelier in the Human Rights Hall weighs 2½ tonnes.
  • It is still known locally by its former name, the House of the People (Casa Poporului).
  • In 2000 the halls of the palace were plastered with religious icons during the making of the movie Amen.

FICTION:

  • The glass ceiling of the ballroom can open to allow a helicopter to land!
  • Michael Jackson stood on the balcony and said 'Hello Budapest, I’m so glad to be here’ – he actually made the legendary error at the national stadium (though palace guides encourage the irresistible tale when leading groups to the balcony).
  • The entire palace is decorated with pure gold.

The desire to commission huge architectural structures is mockingly called the Edifice Complex -- an allusion to Freud's Oedipus Complex. Going one step further than killing one's father, the Edifice Complex has the potential to kill one's fatherland. Or, at least, sorely deplete it of wealth.