"I never noticed that," Petrescu recalled. "I was exhausted and the others were petrified." The men in his entourage assured Ceausescu that the columns were identical, and Petrescu added, "We all swore that it was ok." But he ordered someone to climb a ladder and measure them, and determined that one flower "was one centimeter (half an inch) shorter than the others. We could not believe our ears."
Petrescu insists that Buckingham Palace and Versailles were her artistic inspirations, not North Korean architecture, even though Ceausescu sent architects on a visit to Pyongyang to study architecture there after he was inspired during a 1971 visit. She says it's neo-classic in in style, while others diplomatically call the style "eclectic."
"This building ended up such big due to a technical reason," she insisted. "There were supposed to be three big institutions in here: the presidency, the executive and the legislative corps, and round the back that's where the protocol and reception section were meant to be. It's basically a mega city that's why it's this large."
She said that if Ceausescu — who was tried and executed Dec. 25, 1989 — were alive to see what had become of it, he "would make the sign of the cross" — a Romanian expression that means he'd be horrified.
But Valentina Lupan, one of 2,000 architects who worked on the project says Ceausescu "was demented. Why did he want the biggest building? Like Hitler, like Mussolini, dictators love architects. Trust me on this. They, the dictators, imagine themselves as architects of the new world."
Tourists tend to rave about the sheer scale of the building rather than the architectural beauty.
"The inside is fabulous," said Dean Edgar, a resident British businessman. "You have no idea the immense size of the rooms inside, there's marble everywhere, ornate furnishing, ornate tapestry, truly an incredible building. I don t think it's particular pretty but it's big, it's impressive." '
If You Go...
CEAUSESCU'S PALACE: Bucharest, Romania, http://www.palatulparlamentului.ro . Open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (last admission 3:30 p.m). Admission between $10 and $15 for a guided tour. (Price varies depending on how long and complex the tour is; check in advance as not all tours are available every day or year-round.) Tours are offered in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Romanian and last up to two hours. Maximum group size is 25.
GETTING THERE: 15 miles (25 kilometers) from. Bucharest airport.
HOTELS: Most foreign visitors stay at the Ceausescu-built hotel behind the palace, now a Marriott, called The Grand, http://www.grandhotel.ro or via http://www.marriot.com .