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New Europe

Day Sixty-three: Bucharest

Ceausescu's Palace 
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Inside Ceausescu's Palace. Bogdan Oltianu, MP and President of the Chamber of Deputies, tells me the lighting bill alone is 200,000 euros a month.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIt's a grey, overcast morning for my visit to Ceausescu's Palace of the People, now known as the Palace of Parliament, the concrete, stone-clad behemoth that crouches over the city it devoured, like a great bird halfway through a meal.

Like anything to do with dictators it's designed to make you feel small and insignificant. Hence the 1,000 rooms, some as big as football pitches, the 4,500 chandeliers made from 3,500 tonnes of crystal and the one million cubic metres of marble.

'And it's not finished yet,' my companion points out. He's another Bogdan, Bogdan Oltianu, a Liberal Party MP and President of the Chamber of Deputies.

His office is rather elegant, with a beautiful parquet floor, walnut panelling and
a classical ceiling, which, at only 20 feet high, is one of the more intimate corners of the palace.

Oltianu is a slim, shaven-headed lawyer whose wife is expecting a second child any day now. As an eighteen-year-old he stood in Revolution Square the day Ceausescu's bluff was called. Now thirty-five, he's one of the up-and-coming Romanian politicians, by his own admission less interested in a tub-thumping international role than dealing with the urgent work of providing better schools, housing and hospitals in Romania itself.

His first concern is whether or not to take his tie off for our interview. He decides it should come off.

We walk through one of the mighty ballrooms, where a squadron of cleaning ladies is at work. Faced with a Herculean task, their mops glide slowly and silently from side to side as they move across the polished wood floor. Bogdan apologises for the mess, but there had been Halloween celebrations here last night.

Talking to him, I find out some interesting things about this colossus. For a start, Ceausescu, though he insisted on defining how it would look, was unable to read architectural drawings (the head architect, a woman, was only twenty-seven when she took on the job), so all they could do was build something, have him try it out and if he wasn't happy, knock it down and start again.

'Everything was rebuilt a couple of times. That's the way he liked to work.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixty-three: Bucharest
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Bucharest
  • Book page no: 152

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