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  • Ilinca Stroe

Communism’s Emptied Tomb: the Carol Park Mausoleum

A 20-minute walk from Piaţa Unirii in city centre Bucharest lies Parcul Carol I, located on the Filaret Hill, designed by French landscape architect Éduard Redont and inaugurated in 1906. The park is home to the world’s first technical interactive museum (the “Dimitrie Leonida” Technical Museum, founded in 1909), the country’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (built in 1923 to honour the memory of soldiers killed in WWI), and one of the city’s most important open-air theatres, Arenele Romane (the Roman Arena), built for the Romanian General Exhibition in 1906.

But what first strikes the visitor walking into the park, down the broad main alley paved with cubic stone and slabs of marble, is the whimsical structure looming tall at the far end of the alley: with its five long arches carving imposing curves out of the blue sky, the building is known as the park’s Mausoleum and it’s got quite a history.

It was built by the Romanian communist regime between 1959 and 1963, a structure with a circular base plated with black granite out of which the narrow 48-metre-high arches rise up, made of red granite imported from Sweden, while the ceiling is decorated with a golden mosaic – the whole of it designed by architects Nicolae Cucu and Horia Maicu/Harry Goldstein, who also planned Bucharest landmarks Casa Scânteii (House of the Free Press) and Sala Palatului (Palace Hall). [1]

The official name of the building was at the time the "Monument of the Heroes Fighting for the Freedom of the People and the Motherland, and for Socialism", as the circular interior hosted the tomb of the country’s most prominent communist leader, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. It was watched over by a flame in a granite amphora which used to burn around the clock, standing for communism’s “vivid light”, while the ray-shaped slots fanning out from the centre were ready to become eternal home to other high-ranking communists; of them, two were taken by the remains of Petru Groza, the prime minister of the first communist government set up under Soviet occupation in 1945, and C.I. Parhon, respectively, the first head of state of communist Romania (1947-1952). In the hemicycle near the monument other remarkable communists reposed in crypts of their own, such as Ana Pauker, Ştefan Gheorghiu, Alexandru Moghioroş, Vasile Luca, Iosif Chişinevschi, Emil Bodnăraş, Chivu Stoica, Ion Gh. Maurer, Ştefan Voitec, etc. In fact, had revolutionary bullets not ended up their lives so curtly and irreverently, the Ceauşescus themselves might have been honourably buried there. [2]

Following the fall of communism, in 1991 the families of the illustrious communists entombed at the Mausoleum picked up their remains and transferred them to proper cemeteries, and the monument was rendered useless and left to decay. In 2004 the government had the structure removed from the list of historical monuments and donated the area to the Romanian Orthodox Church, so the Mausoleum could be demolished and a Cathedral for the Redemption of the People could be built there, instead. However, the mayor of Bucharest at that time opposed the plan, sued the government and won. In 2006-2007, the Mausoleum was thus re-included on the list of historical monuments and officially re-named a “Memorial to the Nation’s Heroes”.

Subsequently, the interior of the rotunda was completely reorganised: gone were the tombs and in came, instead, video projectors and panels with maps, photographs and war scenes showing Romania’s endeavours during the wars it had fought. The centre of the hall, where Dej’s remains used to lie, is now occupied by a sculpture made in 1924 by artist Ion Iordănescu, depicting King Ferdinand I, the Unifier, protected by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. [3] Some of the communist-style (secretive) atmosphere was preserved, though, since access is forbidden to the public all year round, except on the Heroes’ Day (the same as Ascension Day) [4], which this year is on 6 June.

A historical monument designed to remind us of death and of (anti-)heroes, which was almost destroyed by plans of drastic redemption, the Mausoleum is certainly a symbol of the nation’s coming to terms with its communist past, as well as an intriguing architectural feat which would have arguably deserved a better treatment from history...

Notes & Sources

[1] <>

[2] <>

[3] Ibidem.

[4] <>

Picture credits






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