It’s huge. No, actually it is gigantic. Or colossal – you choose the adjective. The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s second largest office building, after the Pentagon in Washington, and also as the heaviest building. More than 700,000 tonnes of steel and marble.
To try and put the building in perspective, an entire neighbourhood, 30,000 people were displaced to erect the structure, their homes razed completely. Twenty thousand workers laboured around the clock in three shifts for six years (1984-89) to bring building to 90 per cent completion – which is pretty much where things stand today. Things don’t always move swiftly in post-Communist Romania.
There is a tendency for parliament buildings worldwide to be built to impress, but this takes impressive to a new level, although not necessarily in a good way. At least Romanians can take some comfort in knowing that this monument to excess was not commissioned by their politicians but rather is an inheritance from former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu who built it as his palace (and admittedly also to house government offices). When he was deposed (and executed) the new government considered demolishing the structure, but given that the construction cost was already past four billion Canadian dollars (in one of Europe’s poorest countries) my guess is they couldn’t afford the cost of the dynamite. So they put the structure to use to house some government offices and the parliament. It is also used for international conferences and you can even rent some of the rooms for weddings.
Touring the Parliamentary Palace was my only “must” on our visit to Bucharest. Never having been to Romania before, I was pretty flexible as to what we would do and when, but as a political junkie I knew I had to see that building.
Admission was cheap compared to what you would pay to see a North American museum, like pretty much everything in Romania. It actually cost more for a permit to take photos while on the tour than for the tour itself. (It just occurred to me that in Canada we don’t charge to visit our legislature buildings, they are open to the public and tours are free. However, given Romania’s economic situation I don’t begrudge them the income – the annual electricity bill for the building, if I understood our guide’s accented English correctly, is two million Euros, more than 2.5 million Canadian dollars.)
I was a little disappointed that the rooms for both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate both were not part of the tour. I got the impression that the rooms are open to Romanian citizens, but not tourists. That being said, there was a lot to see and there was a certain amount of visual overkill involved. The building is underutilized. After almost 90 minutes we were told that we had seen was about five per cent of the total. Mind you, I would imagine a lot of it has a certain sameness to it. A parliamentarian’s office is a parliamentarian’s office – I’ve seen enough of them in Canada to know that! We didn’t pay the extra fee to see some of the building’s eight underground stories, so we don’t know if the rumours of a subway station and an escape tunnel to the airport (16 kilometres) are true. You would think though that if they were there would be more than rumours.
So did the building live up to the hype? Definitely. And I haven’t even told you about what Michael Jackson did there. Tomorrow perhaps.