The Communist heritage of Bucharest
Communism in Romania started in 1945, right after World War II after King Michael I of Romania was forced to abdicate, leaving the country in a dictatorial regime, ruled by 5 leaders as the Great National Union or State Council. From 1974, Nicolae Ceausescu, previously head of the State Council, became president of that was back then the Romanian Socialist Republic. It was the longest a president ever ruled Romania for 25 years until he was overthrown from power in December 1989 at the Revolution. Today, you can still see the remnants of that turmoil: here are the best places to see in you want to learn more about communism in Romania:
Palace of Parliament – The symbol of communism legacy in Bucharest
The Palace of Parliament, also known as the People’s House is one of the most extravagant and expensive building projects in the history of mankind, a symbol of wealth and power and the world’s second-largest building by surface area after the US Pentagon. To build the Palace, Ceausescu ordered to demolish most of Bucharest’s historic districts including many churches and synagogues and about 30,000 homes. In present days with many of the premises being unoccupied (more than 70% of them), the building houses Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. It also has a nice terrace on the top floor where you can enjoy a drink and the amazing view of the city.
This is the place where the bloody revolution in 1989 took place and it used to be called the Palace Square. Now, little of the communist regime are visible from the outside of the building that houses nowadays the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But looking around at the buildings surrounding the square point out the remnants of communism like:
- The former Royal Palace, housing The National Museum of Art of Romania. Half of the building consists of Romanian art while the other half of European art.
- The Athenaeum, neoclassical concert hall
- The Athénée Palace Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Bucharest
- The University of Bucharest Library,
- The Memorial of Rebirth, a marble monument in memory of the lives lost during the revolution in December 1989
- The building of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (from where Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989).
Primaverii Palace – The Residence of Ceausescu
Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu lived the last 25 years of their lives in this mansion, together with their three children. Although not that glamorous from the outside, the building is actually a palace. It has 80 rooms, a swimming pool, and even a cinema. The interior is decorated throughout in a ghastly style: Chosen by Ceausescu’s wife, Elena, the decor is perhaps best described as neo-classical kitsch is decorated with silk wallpaper, wood panelling, and paintings signed by famous Romanian painters.
It is nowadays open to the public and here you can see how the communist legacy is still alive by wandering at the luxurious lifestyle the former dictator was enjoying while ordinary people were living in poverty.
House of the Free Press (Casa Presei Libere)
Casa Presei Libere or formerly called Casa Scanteii ( Scanteia being the name of the Communist Party official newspaper) was until 2007 the tallest building in Bucharest. Designed by a Romanian architect, Horia Maicu, in the style of Soviet Socialist realism with details typical of the religious architecture, Casa Presei was intended to resemble the main building of the Moscow State University and to house all of Bucharest’s printing presses, the newsrooms, and their staff. Its dimensions are striking.
Casa Scanteii was built on socialist aims: science and knowledge for the people, gigantic industrial factories, the socialist star and the symbol of the Communist Party, the sickle and the hammer.
Across the street from the University Hospital, on the bank of Dambovita river, Casa Radio is one of the architectonic ghosts that symbolising the communist vision on how the city should look like. Its construction started in 1986 and it was meant to serve as the headquarters of the National Museum of History of the Socialist Republic of Romania. It was inaugurated before it was finished, when only the façade was ready, so that Nicolae Ceauşescu could watch the August 23, 1989 parade from the building’s balcony. It was the only event the dictator attended. Casa Radio was left unfinished and is supposed to become of a private retail space or shopping centre.
Carol Park and its Mausoleum
What used to be called The Monument of the Heroes of the Fight for Freedom of the People, the Country, for Socialism, the Mausoleum is located in Carol Park on top of Filaretului Hill. At the foot of the 48m tall Mausoleum, there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the crypts of several important personalities of local communism. After 1989, their remains were moved to other cemeteries. In 1991, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was brought back to Carol Park and set up at the park entrance end of the alley leading up to the Mausoleum. In 2006, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was moved back to its initial place, on the esplanade in front of the Mausoleum, named today the Memorial of the Heroes of the Nation.
The former HQ of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party
Located in Revolution Square, the building was built before the communist regime and was used as headquarters for the Central Committee where meetings of the government and of the executive political bureau were held. Nicolae Ceaușescu delivered his last speech from the balcony of the building, on December 21, 1989, trying to pacify the people who had rebelled following the events in Timișoara. Later, the helicopter carrying the Ceausescu family took off from the rooftop of the building when the two were trying to flee from the revolution that had emerged in the capital. The building currently houses the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Next to the Revolution square, Sala Palatului, known today as a concert hall. During the communist time, the building hosted the congress of the Communist Parties. It was built between 1959 and 1960, during the regime of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, with a capacity of 3,150 seats. In 1982, Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to increase its capacity to over 4,000 seats. Today, almost every week there is a show or concert, making it one of the most popular places for entertainment in Bucharest.
Throughout his reign, he and the communists reshaped the country and Bucharest with some impressive buildings whose stories still captivate millions of people worldwide. Ceausescu is associated with Romania in the mind of everyone, but experiencing his legacy is something different. When in Bucharest, get to experience the remnants of communism with these well-known landmarks.