Romania’s most controversial building sits like a megalith in the middle of Bucharest, a monument to the folly and ego of fallen Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who conceived his grandiose idea after visiting another dictator, Kim II-sung, in North Korea. Started in 1984 and designed by young Romanian architect Anca Petrescu, the palace was conceived from Ceaușescu’s wish for it to be the biggest office building in the world – and he almost got his way, with only the Pentagon being larger. Churches, synagogues and 30,000 private homes were demolished to make way for this awesome monstrosity, and its mammoth proportions include 12 stories (with four underground), 1,100 rooms and state apartments, a brutal Soviet Realist façade of 270 meters (886 feet) in length and a vast subterranean nuclear bunker. Around 20,000 builders worked for six years to complete the palace, working seven days a week and using only materials available in Romania. The austere exterior belies the fanciful interior, full of gleaming crystal chandeliers, plush auditoriums, gold leaf, hand-woven carpets, marble halls, bronze doors and carved wooden staircases.
Ceaușescu never saw his palace completed, although by the time he met his end by firing squad in 1989, it was virtually finished. After his death, it fell empty but is now the home of the Romanian Parliament, an international conference center and the National Museum of Contemporary Art – and still much of it lies empty and slowly decaying.
Admission adults 25 lei; students 13 lei. Open daily 10am–4pm for guided tours only. Book well in advance. A valid passport, driving licence or international ID is required for entry into the palace. Metro to Izvor or Piaţa Unirii.