Ceauşescu’s palace – City Column
1,498,00 cubic metres of marble, 321 million litres of cement, and 200 hectares of oak forest felled for the woodwork: just a sample of the figures quoted by my guide. I may be off by a million or so cubic metres, since most of what was said didn’t really register. As big as the province of Utrecht is another frequent comparison (London is that big, and Utrecht of course). The second biggest building in the world – only the Pentagon is bigger – and its total volume exceeds that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Ceauşescu’s palace is big.
‘And who paid for all of this, how many workers lost their life during the building of the palace?’ Our group, which consists of older American, Germans, Indians and two Tibetan monks, fires off one critical question after another. They laugh scornfully when the guide says that the dictator had the monumental staircase rebuilt five times before he decided that the height of steps was exactly right. Ceauşescu was a villain, and we don’t want to seem too impressed with this building, or with his taste, which those in the know describe as ‘eclectic’, a mishmash.
When dictators hightail it, or are executed by the people, as happened in Ceauşescu’s case, in November 1989, their houses are usually ransacked. The television footage that follows this event is predictable: their houses turn out to be wallpapered in gold, there are kangaroos or crocodiles in the garden, and at least ten Ferraris in the garage. Recent examples include the house that the Ukranian president Yanukovych left behind when he fled, and Gaddafi’s palace, in which gold pistols and homo-erotic literature were also found. The Romanians were already familiar with the interior of the palace when they strolled into it after the death of their leader: 20,000 of them had helped build it (which may have prevented them from immediately plundering it in a blind rage). They knew that it was incredibly big, but the most surprising thing they found was Nicolae and Elena’s bathroom: It was huge, of course, and the taps were, of course, made of gold. The couple, both of whom were said to suffer from constipation, spent a lot of time there. That must be why there were also big video screens in the bathroom. She watched Sissi films, while he was fond of westerns.
p.s. 1: Top Gear, BBC’s programme for car enthusiasts, was given permission to race through the palace’s underground tunnel system.