Ceausescu's greatest folly, begun in 1984, initially took 20,000 workers, 7,000 architects and uncountable billions of Lei to build. But when the dictator died, only the exterior and three rooms had been finished. Work continues on it to this day. What is seen from street level on Bulevardul Unirii is a monolith rising 84m (276ft) above ground level but it is nearly as deep under ground, rumoured to hold a nuclear bunker big enough to contain the entire government, although its actual functions have not been revealed. Inspired by North Korean Communist architecture, which reflected Ceausescu's political leanings, it is 330,000 sq m (3,552,090sq ft) in area and the second-largest administration building in the world (after the Pentagon). Intended to house Communist Party offices, ministries and state rooms, it is now the seat of Romania's Parliament and headquarters of the International Conference Centre, although it has also been used as a film
 set, imitating the Vatican.

Visitors now enter on the north side, from Bulevardul Natiunile Unite, where regular 45-minute guided tours are offered in English. However, by telephoning ahead, tours can also be arranged in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Hungarian. The lobby's centrepiece is a magnificent crystal chandelier only one of the palace's 2,800. At the far end, a pink marble staircase leads to shimmering stained-glass windows.

The tour focuses on 10 rooms, including those used by the Senate (if it is not in session) decorated in plush pink carpets, mosaics, rich oak
panelling and marble work carved by the country's most talented craftspeople. The largest room, the 16m (52.5ft) high and 2,200sq m (7218sq ft) Sala Unirii, has a sliding ceiling, wide enough for a helicopter to enter one of the many details indicative of the president's paranoia.

Vast sums were lavished on these rooms and stairways and the guides love to recount how often they were rebuilt or redecorated, as
Ceausescu and his wife Elena kept changing their minds. The opulent Alexandru Ioan Cuza Room, where Ceausescu was to have signed all his documents, opens on to a balcony, which looks straight down the Bulevardul Unirii and over the Centru Civic. From this viewpoint,
one feels at the centre of the universe just the way the old dictator liked it.

Bulevardul Natiunili Unite
Opening hours: Daily 10:00 - 16:00
Admission charge.