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Mystery Visitors Raid Ceausescu’s Palace of the People

REUTERS

Phantom robbers are raiding the “People’s Palace,” which the late Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu planned as the grandiose seat of Romanian government.

They sneak in at night and haul away valuable pieces of the building--light fittings, flooring, chandeliers, even a marble balustrade.

It took eight years and about $1.5 billion to build the neoclassical palace, one of the world’s biggest buildings. In Europe, it is second only to the Palace of Versailles.

Then communism collapsed, and Ceausescu was executed in a revolt in December, 1989. Work was halted and the palace became a monument to the dictator’s vanity, folly and brutality.

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Work on the palace was restarted later to provide a meeting place for the new democratic parliament.

Now the People’s Palace, a sore point for many Romanians, is back in the public eye because of reports about the mystery visitors who slip in at night to dismantle segments of the building and spirit them away.

The newspaper Adevarul said the phantom robbers stole furniture and lighting fixtures from right under the noses of night watchmen.

Local newspapers reported that a marble balustrade weighing nearly a ton was taken apart and carted away.

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“If things go on at this pace, anyone who dislikes this building won’t need dynamite to blow it to oblivion,” said a young Bucharest resident, referring to public calls for destruction of “Ceausescu’s folly.”

Palace administrators confirmed the loss of truckloads of oak parquetry, expensive furniture, big crystal chandeliers and large ornamental bronze grates.

“Things started to vanish into thin air during the 1989 revolt, when it was difficult to guard this place against the angry crowds,” said building engineer Mihail Cocora.

Cocora heads a small staff of technicians and administrators employed by parliament’s lower house, which moved into a part of the building last November.

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On top of the $1.5 billion the project consumed under Ceausescu, an additional $50 million will be needed to complete the interior, Cocora said.

“When we get that money, if we get it, it will take at least another two years to finish the work,” he said.

“This place was built in a dictatorial system. Now we can’t build at that mad pace, at least not in a democracy. . . . “

One-fifth of old Bucharest was razed to make way for the dictator’s palace that sprawls across 86 acres. The building itself covers 30 acres and has been likened to a huge, rectangular, wedding cake.

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“There is no logic here. If you want to find the logic of this place, you must ask Ceausescu. It looks just the way he wanted it to be,” Cocora said.

Three of the four wings were originally intended to house the Communist Party Central Committee, the State Council and the Cabinet.

Ceausescu’s living quarters would have taken up an entire wing. “He always had separate living quarters built for him,” Cocora said.

Ceausescu had six separate offices custom-built for himself that were supposed to dwarf everything else in the building.

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The palace has about 2,000 rooms, including 30 large conference and function halls. “But it is difficult to make an exact sum total of madness,” Cocora said.

Myths are growing. “Foreigners ask me, for instance, to show them Ceausescu’s diamond-studded, gold-plated doors. Many people are disappointed when I tell them there are no such things,” he said.

He said a rear admiral from the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean visited the palace because he wanted to see a maze of secret underground galleries.

“There’s no catacombs. It’s just ordinary leaky storage galleries, where people may wade ankle-deep through puddles of water on bad rainy days,” Cocora said.

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