Inside Romania's Monument to Megalomania

06/07/2016 04:22 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017

We're having an amazing time, filming "The Best of Romania" for a new TV show (which will air with our new series on public television this fall). In this video clip, step with me into the biggest building in Europe -- the gargantuan palace of the dictator Nicolae Ceau￈ルescu. Our job today: to take the script (below) and cover it with beautiful images or me doing "on cameras" where it's difficult to "cover."

We said this about the palace in our script:

Thriving as it is today, Bucharest's Old Town was lucky to survive the communist period. Most of the historical center was wiped out by the dictator Nicolae Ceau￈ルescu so he could build a grandiose new town perfect for a megalomaniac.

From uneducated peasant roots, Ceau￈ルescu rose through the communist ranks to take power in 1965. During his 24 years in power, Ceau￈ルescu's ego ballooned. Later, in the dark days of the 1980s, he became addicted to massive projects without budgets, creating a cult of personality inspired by the nearly deified dictators of Communist China and North Korea.

In six frenzied years in the 1980s, after an "inspiring" visit to North Korea, he ordered the city to rip out 80 percent of Bucharest's historical center -- that's tens of thousands of houses, schools, and churches. In its place, Ceau￈ルescu created his enormous new Civic Center -- with wide boulevards, miles of fountains, stone-faced apartment blocks, and a Pyongyang aesthetic.

The culmination of Ceau￈ルescu's master plan was a palace fit for a megalomaniac. At around four million square feet, and with more than a thousand rooms, the Palace of the Parliament is the largest building in Europe.

Ceau￈ルescu, throwing resources at his pet project like a crazed pharaoh, literally starved his people to build his dream. From 1983 to 1989 thousands of laborers worked on it 24/7. When it finally opened in 1994 -- five years after Ceau￈ルescu died -- the Romanian people, whose food had been rationed for years to help pay for the palace, were both wonder struck and repulsed by this huge and opulent edifice.

Ceau￈ルescu planned the perfect balcony from which to deliver speeches...while looking down a boulevard grand enough to match his ego. This palace, and similar projects around the downtrodden country, created a powerful anti-Ceau￈ルescu sentiment.

In late 1989, the winds of change swept the Eastern Bloc.ᅡᅠ Armed revolution spread across Romania. An angry populace rose up. They arrested their dictator and shot him on Christmas Day.

Today their dictator is a distant memory, and Romania has joined the European Union. While its challenges are big, the country is moving in the right direction. Joining local families on a sunny Saturday morning in the park, you feel optimistic -- and that its people are counting on a promising future.


This is Day 55 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.