Romania has been a communist country for almost 45 years, and the vestiges of that era are still visible in many cities, especially in Bucharest, the capital.
After August 23, 1944, the Soviet troops occupied the country and assisted the communists in taking over the power. Communism was a political system that aimed to build a society without social classes or private property, claiming that the country's wealth was the good of the whole people.
The communist ideal was an egalitarian society led by a single party. The communists falsely claimed that the working class owned the state power. In reality, the absolute power belonged to the few at the top of the party hierarchy.
After having gone through the Second World War, the people of Romania were brutally deprived of their democratic rights and freedoms, being forced to accept a new type of society following the model of the USSR.
The communist regime in Romania ended violently in December 1989 with the outbreak of an anti-communist revolution.
1. House of Free Press (“Scanteia” House)
This was the first large-scale construction of which the Romanian communists were very proud. It was completed in 1957 in the north part of the city to host the main printing house in the country and the headquarters of the “Scanteia” newspaper – the main propaganda organ of the Central Committee of the Romanian Labor Party. The building style is known as Socialist realism (Stalinist) – an architectural style developed in the Soviet Union after 1932 and present in all socialist countries after the 2nd World War. It looks very similar to the State University in Moscow, the Ukraine Hotel in Moscow, or the Palace of Culture in Warsaw, Poland.
Following the end of the communist era in Romania, the building is mainly used as an office building by some newspapers, TV stations, and other private companies. It cannot be visited in an organized way, but you can get inside and look at its long halls and monumental doors if you are curious.
Between 1960 and 1990, in front of the building was a statue of Lenin. Nowadays, on the same spot, a monument called “Wings” is dedicated to the heroes of the anti-communist resistance in Romania.
The House of Free Press is located in the North of Bucharest; the address is 1 Free Press Square (click here for Google Maps location). You can get there by Bucharest City Tour Hop-On Hop-Off or by buses 331, 784, 330, 335, 131, stop at Free Press Square (Casa Presei Libere).
2. The Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului)
There is no way to visit Bucharest without noticing the unique building that dominates the city center. It has become one of the city’s landmarks ever since its construction, and it is the most visited tourist attraction in Bucharest. The creation of this massive building was one of the last dreams of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Unfortunately, his dream did not come true because the building was not completed when he was shot in December 1989.
The works at what initially was called “The house of people” began after 1980 with the demolition of a whole neighborhood of old houses called Uranus. Tens of thousands of families have been forced to move to other districts, and over 20,000 workers coordinated by more than 500 architects have been mobilized on the site during the following years. The initial project was carried out by a young Romanian architect named Anca Petrescu (29 years old). Still, Ceausescu himself carefully supervised the works requiring various modifications and improvements. In total, the demolished and rebuilt area is about 600 hectares. There is an 86-meter-high building at its center, 270 meters long and 245 meters wide, with a built-up area of 66,000 square meters and more than 3000 rooms.
The building is entirely made with materials of Romanian origin, and it is the second-largest administrative building in the world after the American Pentagon. The communist president of Romania intended to make this building the center of the political power of Romania and part of a massive architectural complex called the civic center, including Unirii boulevard and Unirii Square.
The Palace of Parliament can be visited by guided tour only, and a reservation is needed (telephone +40 733 558 102, www.cic.cdep.ro). The entry for visitors is from Natiunile Unite boulevard (click here for Google Maps location).
3. Civic Center (Centrul Civic)
The Civic Center represents the central area of Bucharest, including the Palace of Parliament (old name House of the Republic, Union Boulevard (Socialist Victory Boulevard at that time), and all the adjacent buildings. Everything here was built between 1980 and 1989, before the end of communism, and it was considered modern and futuristic for that time. To create the magnificent civic center, Ceausescu demolished around 8 square kilometers, including private residences, monasteries, churches, synagogues, hospitals, etc.
The civic center consists of concrete buildings with marble facades hosting government offices and apartments spread over a surface comparable to Venice's. Starting from the slogan “Because I say so,” the former communist dictator of Romania completely remodeled the center of the city in less than 10 years. In fact, a resident who would have left Bucharest in 1980 would no longer recognize the city center if he had returned in 1989!
The easiest way to visit the civic center is to take the metro to Unirii Station or walk along Unirii Boulevard after visiting the Parliament Palace.
4. Bucharest Metro
Although there were some ideas and plans since the early part of the century, the construction of the Bucharest metro began in 1975 under the leadership of the communist regime. Ceausescu himself has been involved in this project from the beginning and wanted to use only Romanian-made materials. The first six stations were inaugurated in 1979 and, until 1989, the metro network had around 40 stations. The most interesting stations (to be visited) are Titan, Politehnica, and Eroilor.
5. The Mausoleum in Carol I Park
This impressive monument that can be seen from any corner of the park was inaugurated in 1963 and was dedicated to the “heroes of the fights for the freedom of the people and the country, for the socialism.” Up to 1991, the mausoleum housed the tombs of some important representatives of communism in Romania (former heads of the Communist party, ministers, etc.). After the anti-communist revolution of 1989, the monument was gotten rid of, and the tombs of the Communist leaders were moved to other cemeteries. Following some contradictory discussions about its future role, in 2006, the monument became a memorial dedicated to the Nation’s Heroes.
The nearest metro station to visit Carol I Park and the mausoleum is Unirii or Eroii Revolutiei (The Revolution heroes).
6. The Romanian Kitsch Museum
Although it does not contain exhibits only from the communist period, this small museum includes a wide range of trendy objects for that period. It is located in the heart of the city, in the old center, on Covaci street at number 6. The nearest metro station is Unirii.
7. The tomb of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu
After a brief trial, the presidential couple was executed during the 1989 anti-communist revolution inside a barracks near Targoviste. After a few days, the bodies were buried under a small cross at the Ghencea military cemetery in Bucharest. As a result of some family suspicions, the bodies of the two were exhumed in 2010, and the grave was extended to mention the names and the title of “President of the Socialist Republic of Romania.”
8.The Revolution Square
This is definitely the place to see when in search of Communist landmarks in Bucharest.
The Revolution Square is where over 100000 people protested against the abuses of the communist regime in December 1989. In this square, you will see the balcony where on December 21, 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu held his last speech until everything got out of control. A particular monument catches the eye: an obelisk penetrating a brown sphere. Unofficially, it is called the “Potato,” but the official name is “the Memorial of Rebirth.” It is a monument dedicated to the hundreds of people killed during the Anti – Communist Revolution. On the white walls, one can notice even the names of some of those who died in December 1989.
9. The Mansion of Nicolae Ceausescu
A couple of years ago, in Bucharest, a new museum was opened to visitors: the Mansion of Ceausescu, the former residence of this communist dictator and his family. Soon, it became a must-visit destination in the capital city as thus, the curious travelers get to know more about the personal life of Nicolae Ceausescu and the other members of his family. The role of this museum is for visitors to see how Ceauşescu lived, not only as an internationally known head of state but as a man in his own private life – the hobbies that he had, what his routine around the privacy of his home was, how he studied or what art collections he had in his house.
It is preferable to call in advance to book your spot for a visit. To find the museum is quite easy and you can take the Metro to the Aviatorilor station and from there 10 minutes on foot. Here is the walk from the metro to the museum.