Romania has been fighting for decades to step out of the shadows that its communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu cast. Though communism and violence ended with the revolution nearly 30 years ago, the lasting impacts on Romania and its capital Bucharest have been stark. This in combination with the tumultuous political environment in Romania's Northern neighbour Ukraine, have had long-lasting, damaging impacts on the nation's image - particularly so when it comes to its tourism. When Eastern European tourism did make a comeback, countries such as Croatia and Hungary became fan favourites, leaving Romania in yet another shadow. In this sense, Romania has been an underdog travel destination for quite some time; a hidden gem waiting for tourists who are adventurous enough to keep heading East.
But all this is changing with Romania's capital city of Bucharest quickly becoming one of the upcoming destinations in the spotlight for 2017 in the travel and influencer community. To better understand how the city today has become such a diverse and alternative urban space, I took the 'communist tour' in Bucharest, offered by Authentic Romania.
The tour offers unique insights to Romanian society, both past and present by guiding you through the Parliament building while also painting a historic picture of the more difficult times of communism. Beyond first appearances of the structure's enormous size and flashy embellishments, it is really the history that makes a trip to the parliament building worth-while.
Ceausecu, a man of modest background, was elected head of the council of state in Romania’s Communism party in 1965. This minimalistic upbringing perhaps contributed to his thirst for power and luxury, which was apparent in his many grandiose infrastructure projects. While he was spending a fortune to commission apartment blocks inspired from his time spent in North Korea and the 365,000-square meter Parliament Palace building, the Romanian people were suffering food shortages and military intimidation.
As a result of his obsession, today the Parliament palace is known as the world’s second heaviest structure (second to the Pentagon in the United States), taking close to a decade to complete. The building is so large that its utility bills are estimated at 8-12 million euro per year and its energy usage could power a town of 400,000 people.
The building’s staggering size and beauty will leave you in awe, while the obscene lengths Ceausescu went to build it may leave you stunned. To be exact, the parliament building contains 350 tons of crystal, 220,000 square meters of carpet and 1 million cubic meters of marble. Its entrance stairs are modelled after the winter palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, while its upper level houses the largest carpet in the world, weighing in at 4 tons and requiring at least 35 people to move it.
It is interesting to note that the palace was built entirely with Romanian materials, requiring several factories to be constructed within the nation specifically for its production. The dictator behind the blueprints not only enforced most of the adult population to be involved with the project, but he even mandated that children worked. School children were responsible to care for silk worms, which produced the silk for the palace’s wall paper.