Amongst the many things to do in Bucharest from visiting the Palace of the Parliament to exploring the Bucharest Old Town, one of the city’s most eye-opening attractions doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The former Ceausescu mansion, known as the Spring Palace, is located in On my final day in Bucharest, after a night of a bit too much Palinca, I made my way across the city to check it out. I wasn’t sure what kind of experiences to expect, but seeing my hungover reflection in a dictator’s gold bathroom mirror wasn’t one of them.
In 1965 Nicolae Ceaușescu took over from Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej to become the second communist leader of Romania. He would go on to rule until 1989 when he was violently overthrown in the Romanian Revolution. His reign, pockmarked by abhorrent human rights abuses, lavish North Korean style parades, and massive food shortages, ended in a hail of bullets when Nicolae, along with his wife Elena Ceaușescu, was put on a short trial before being executed by firing squad.
In the carnage that followed the dictator’s death, various buildings across Bucharest were burnt, bullet-riddled, and ransacked. One of them was spared such treatment, however. Oddly, it was the 80-room Ceaucescu mansion where Nicolae Ceausescu and his family had lived for nearly twenty years. Situated in an elite, closed off part of Bucharest, it went under the codename P50 during the Communist-era.
As Bucharest burned during the Romanian Revolution, the building was taken over by large numbers of troops from the Romanian military and defended from any looters. The reason? It was widely believed that the former Ceausescu mansion was going to be used as the new residence of the incoming Romanian president, who at the time was unknown but would later be Ion Iliescu of the National Salvation Front. Iliescu, however, chose the former royal palace at Cotroceni instead. The Ceausescu palace then lay gated off, gathering dust and off-limits to the public.
As a result of the actions of the Romanian Army, the Ceausescu mansion today is left as a timewarp into the extravagant lives of the dictator family. Some of the rooms, with the couples pajamas still left on the bed, strike an eerie image, and give the feeling that the family has only just left. Despite them having been violently executed over three decades ago.
Unlike the former mansion of Enver Hoxha in Tirana, the Ceausescu mansion has been open to the public since 2016. Two years before when it was still closed off, Romania made attempts to auction it off to the highest bidder. Thankfully, nobody was interested which opened the way for the Spring Palace to be turned into a museum.
Visitors have two options when visiting. They can either join a group tour for the price of 50 Lei (around $12) or book a private tour for a higher price. The idea of being taken around a mansion with a large group of international tourists jostling for space was not my idea of a hangover cure and I wanted to experience the Spring Palace in its entirety so I opted for a private tour of the Ceausescu palace.
After donning the ubiquitous blue shoe coverings synonymous with British stately homes belonging to the National Trust, I stepped into the Ceausescu mansion. First impressions did not fail to leave me speechless. The palace, laden with gold and marble, it a testament to the 1980s kitsch tastes of a dictator family.
“A leader who on paper at least strove to create an egalitarian society that provided generously for all could have the temerity to live in such luxury while the 23 million souls whose well-being he claimed to care for queued for basic foodstuffs.”– Craig Turp-Balazs
Most tourists looking for things to do in Bucharest flock to the enormous Palace of the Parliament and rightfully so. This behemoth of Communist architecture is the heaviest building on earth. Weighing in at around 4.10 million tonnes, it’s still not finished. Whilst the Palace of the Parliament is indeed a sight to behold, it was never used by Nicolae Ceaușescu. The Spring Palace, whilst nowhere near as large of the parliament, offers unrivalled insight into the intimate and private side of the Ceaușescu family.
The rooms, often decorated by various lavish items of the Cold War era, are a symbol of the friendship Ceaucescu had with various other Communist regimes and rogue states around the world. An elegant vase from Chairman Mao, an electronic chess board from Gorbachev, and various African themed gifts from long gone dictators from across Africa.
It’s the grandiose bathrooms of the family which often leave the most striking impression on the guests with their gold toilet roll holders and taps to the enormous gold bathroom mirror in the en suite of the Ceaucescu couple’s bedroom. The latter quarters were the place that left the most lasting impression on me.
The couple’s bed in the Ceaucescu mansion is neatly made with luxurious sheets. At the foot of the elegant bed lie the nightgown of Elena Ceausescu and the dressing gown of Nicolae. The enormous wardrobes that line the room are full of stout, high-class suits, and small pairs of handmade shoes. Despite the alternate image portrayed of him by state propaganda, was only 5ft 5in. The eerie image portrays the feeling that the Ceausescu will return at any moment and for a handful of nostalgic folks in Romania, many wish he would.
For more articles on the world of alternative travel from city guides and food to safety advice and must-sees across the fascinating lands of the former Eastern Bloc, check out the Eastern Europe Insight travel section where, for Romania in particular, you can read our article on the top seven cultural drinks in Romania!