Dominating the entire project from the western end of B-dul. Unirii is the colossal Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului; daily 10am–4pm; tours €6, plus €10 for use of cameras), claimed to be the second-largest administrative building in the world – after the Pentagon – measuring 270m by 240m, and 86m high. It epitomizes the megalomania that overtook Ceausescu in the 1980s; here he intended to house ministries, Communist Party offices and the apartments of high functionaries.
Built on the site of the former Spirei Hill, which was razed for this project, the sheer size of the building can only be grasped by comparison with the toy-like cars scuttling past below. It has twelve storeys, four underground levels (including a nuclear bunker), a one-hundred-metre-long lobby and 1100 rooms, around half of which are used as offices while the remainder are redundant. The interiors are lavishly decorated with marble and gold leaf, and there are 4500 chandeliers (11,000 were planned), the largest of which weighs 1.5 tonnes, but the decoration was never finished due to the Ceausescus’ everchanging whims. They were demanding patrons, allowing little more than a technical role to the architects, of which there were around seven hundred – one staircase was rebuilt three times before they were satisfied. Meanwhile, the floor pattern – which mirrors the layout of the building itself – was, apparently, designed that way so Ceausescu wouldn’t get lost.
This huge white elephant was officially known as the Casa Republicii, then as the Casa Poporului, but more popularly as the Casa Nebunului (“Madman’s House”), before taking on its present name. The new government spent a long time agonizing about an acceptable use for it, and in 1994 it was finally decided to house the Senate and Parliament here; it is now also used for international conferences. You can visit from entrance A3 (right-hand side as you face it; metro Izvor), although you may have to wait until there are enough people to make up a tour group. The 45-minute tour takes you through ten of the most dazzling, most representative or simply the hugest of the halls, such as the extraordinary, glass-ceilinged Sala Unirii (“Unification Hall”), where legendary Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci was married in 1996. One of the last rooms you’re led to is the Alexandru Ioan Cuza room, whose balcony offers defining views of the city. Although Izvor is the nearest metro stop, the approach along Piata Unirii gives you the most impressive view of the building.