MPs find dream home in mad dictator's folly: The sight of officials luxuriating in Ceausescu's opulent pile angers many Romanians, writes Adrian Bridge in Bucharest

NOBODY knows how many rooms there are in the 'House of the People' in Bucharest. According to some who had a hand in its design there are 2,500. Others put the figure closer to 3,000. There are rumours that it is the focal point for a network of underground passages linking the city's key strategic points, and which are wide enough to carry tanks.

There will always be myths attached to the building and uncertainty over how many Romanians died in its construction. But no matter how many rooms and reception halls, its scale is truly breathtaking and its style - an eclectic mish-mash of neo-classical, Renaissance, Stalinist and pure kitsch - is unique.

Almost five years after the death of its creator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the House of the People remains a grotesque eyesore on the Bucharest skyline, and a fearful reminder of the former dictator's megalomania. The palace, the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon, is a terrific drain on the country's limited resources and a constant headache to its rulers.

'This building is a huge wound in the Bucharest landscape that bears brutal testimony to an extreme expression of a dictator's nightmare,' said Mariana Celac, the deputy president of the Romanian Architects' Union. 'It is the ultimate expression of a totalitarian view of power, and it is still extraordinary to think that Ceausescu had the power to turn it into reality.'

In its conception, the House of the People was to be the crowning glory of one end of a brand new two-and-a-half-mile avenue to be known as the Victory of Socialism Boulevard. Ceausescu was to have had his headquarters in the palace in which the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the government and the parliament were also to be based, directly under his command. Along the boulevard, the construction of which involved the demolition of more than one fifth of the centre of Bucharest, were to be housed ministries, a cultural centre, the army headquarters and about 17,000 prestigious new flats.

At the height of construction work, which began in 1984, 24,000 labourers, many of them conscripted against their will, were set to work on the House of the People. In rotating shifts which ran round the clock they toiled on the masses of concrete and reinforced steel that went into the exterior, while others chipped away at engravings on the thousands of white marble columns intended for the interior.

According to Mrs Celac the aim was simple: to erase as much as possible of Bucharest's traditional architectural and religious heritage and to replace it with buildings appropriate to what Ceausescu called 'new Socialist man'. For those who remember the old city, known as 'Little Paris' between the wars, it was an act of wanton destruction.

'What we had before was so beautiful and what we have now is so awful,' said Alexandra Nikita, one of the estimated 150,000 people bulldozed out of their homes in the mid-1980s. 'I feel bitter every time I see that palace. It was a criminal act.'

By the time Ceausescu was executed in December 1989, most of the elements of his new civic centre were in place. In their initial fury some Romanians called for the demolition of the House of the People and the reconstruction of the 16th Century monastery that had been swept away.

Others called for it to be transformed into a complex to house banks and a stock exchange, alongside much-needed university lecture halls and schoolrooms. There was a suggestion to turn it into the largest casino in the world.

'It was a hideous building, but many of us believed then there was a chance it could be put to some good use,' said Anda Ionescu, a student at Bucharest University.

'It would have been nice if, after all the sacrifices involved in its construction, it could have been genuinely put to the use of the people.'

Like Ms Ionescu, the government wanted the palace to serve a purpose. Unlike her, the country's MPs decided last year that its best use would be as their own headquarters. 'Love it or hate it, we had to do something with this building,' said Gheorghe Stan, the deputy secretary-general of the Chamber of Deputies. 'And what could be more appropriate than having it serve as the home to the country's democratically-elected parliament?'

The palace, 80 per cent of which has not been properly furnished, is also set to become a centre for international conferences and a venue for art exhibitions and concerts. From the window of Mr Stan's office, in what has been renamed the Parliament Palace, the Boulevard to the Victory of Socialism (renamed Union Boulevard) stretches into the distance. It is an awesome sight and one Ceausescu would have enjoyed.

Mr Stan denies that the ghost of the former dictator stalks the palace's never-ending corridors. 'We have no time to think of him; we have much more important things to be getting on with,' he says.

Other Romanians, sceptical of the extent to which their leaders have shed their Communist pasts, feel uncomfortable about what has happened. 'In a perverse sort of way, they have realised Ceausescu's dream,' Mr Nikita said. 'When I heard that parliament was going to be moving into the palace, I shuddered.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living