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A Romanian Monument Shrouded in Mystery

People’s House or the Palace of Parliament

The capital of Romania, Bucharest, is home to one of the famous buildings of the
country. I am referring to the People’s House situated on the former Spirii Hill, the name
of a renowned doctor. This particular building stands out as a symbol Romanians both
abhor and cherish. For some it means Communism and kitsch for others it is a site worth
visiting by tourists, that is, money for the country.
The People’s House is heavily laden with cultural markers, both old and post-
Communist. President Ceausescu was the one who came up with the idea of its being
erected after his visit in North Korea. In Phenian he saw a similar architectural display
and decided to have his own replica back in the capital. So the working site was opened
in the 80s following the launching of the urbanisation programme in that area. After the
1977 earthquake, Ceausescu wished to rebuild the city from ashes. The palace was meant
to be grand, to show the power and wealth of a Communist country and together with the
Constitution Square and the boulevard, surpass the Champs Elysées in Paris. It was the
ideal location for the President, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and
several ministries. A place fit rather for a king.
It was and still is a most controversial architectural project. Seven square kilometres
were demolished, old family houses brought to the ground and people dislocated. What
for the President was excitement for the people involved, it meant only tragedy and loss
of roots, of a tradition lasting for centuries maybe.
The palace first of all constitutes a marker for the Communist period and for some,
the Golden Era of Ceausescu. Some people today still yearn for that period when we had
no heat but we could afford eating in a restaurant. It is a symbol of greatness. The
building has a height of 84 m (12 storeys) and 92 m underground, a surface of 330.000
square metres. It is quite imposing and nowadays we can see the building from space. It
is the 2nd biggest after the Pentagon and inscribed in the Book of Records. At least we
have broken a record in something!
It is shaped as a no cone pyramid. It has vast hall-ways, long corridors and
innumerable huge rooms. It is a marker of luxury but also excess. It has marble staircases,
a number of crystal chandeliers, of which the heaviest weighs 5 tons and disposes of 7000
light-bulbs. There are ceilings with lace ornaments, mosaic, carved wooden doors, crystal
lamps, commissioned carpets, outstanding furniture. Although Ceausescu imported the
model, the materials were entirely Romanian. Thus the palace is a marker of
Romainianness, so to speak. When we look around, we see proofs of our Romanian
artistry. We become proud of what we can create even if it required destruction of lives.
But then again, many things were built on destruction; violence is in the nature of
humans.
Then, the palace and the boulevard also represent the erasure of the cultural
markers of the past that stood there. Today we can no longer admire the Vacaresti
Monastery, the Brancoveanu Hospital, the National Archives or the Republica Stadium.
All these monuments are gone and we can only know how they were from pictures. It is a
shame that Ceausescu and Communism wanted to do away with historical signs of the
aristocracy. The President aimed at destroying what was not Communist. Level the nation
down.
It is a marker of kitsch for many professionals because it does not instantiate a
unitary style. It combines Corinthian columns with Italian renaissance, Cubist, Art-Deco
and floral elements. The sight of the palace is too much for artists and many deny the
qualifications and taste of the chief-architect who won the bid back then, Anca Petrescu.
Today, it is an economic marker for tourism. Foreigners come to visit the place and
the country wins a lot of money from this. Against the voices that ask for its being blown
to pieces, others sustain it helps the economy. Why ruin a building which cost us so much
and was designed to last centuries? We have to live with our past not bury it.
Mystery is another side of the palace. It has to do with architecture and power. We
are allowed today to visit only 1% of the site. The folklore of the building adds to its
appeal. There are multifarious suppositions about the unseen.
Nowadays the square in front of the palace is used for all sorts of celebrations and
fairs, festivals, concerts. It is thus a marker of cultural events and entertainment. The
water in the huge, ornate fountains ripples away, enchanting with its music the passers-
by.
Obviously, this monument is a combination of cultural markers, both positive and
negative. Many challenge its existence and want it gone but it is a part of our past and we
should hold on to it. We should not make the same mistake as our precursors and try to
wipe out what others before us built. The palace and the boulevard are still imposing and
foreigners like what they see. We must admit that Ceausescu left a lot of things behind
for us which helped us. The underground and many flats are just an example. Until
recently, we have fed on what the pre-revolution generation gave us. The palace is a
building like all others which has served many of our modern purposes. Stop calling it
kitsch and a Communist site. Art cannot be Communist!!!

VARZAN SIMONA
BCS, 2ND YEAR.