Bucharest, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- Hidden under a sumptuous palace filled with works of art lies the last secret of Romania's brutal Communist regime: strongman Nicolae Ceausescu's nuclear bunker, which was photographed by an epa correspondent on Thursday.
The paranoid Romanian autocrat, who ruled the country with an iron fist between 1965 until his ouster and summary execution in 1989, was obsessed by thoughts his enemies were attempting to poison him.
Buried 10 meters (33 feet) below ground, a steel door leads to a small room just 25 square meters (269 square feet) wide protected by thick walls and equipped with a powerful air filtering system.
"It's a transition bunker," tour guide Roxana Iliescu explained to EFE.
Lacking a kitchen or even a bathroom, it was "intended to be used for a brief period of time in the face of any emergency situation," she added.
The so-called Palatul Primaverii ("Spring Palace") in Bucharest, where Ceausescu and his family resided during his 24-year rule, was opened to the public as a museum a year ago, after having remained closed for over a quarter-century.
Public access to the mystery-filled bunker was only allowed at the end of 2016.
No one knows when it was built or if it was at any time connected to the exterior through a tunnel. If an underground passageway existed, no evidence of it has yet been found.
"As far as we know, the bunker never got to be used by the Ceausescu family," Iliescu said.
The fallout shelter has been preserved in the same state as it was in the Central European country's Communist era.
It is decorated with several trophies and gifts to the dictator surrounding a large table with eight carved wooden chairs.
The bunker's antechamber is called the "Scornicesti Room" as a tribute to the small town, located 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the west of Bucharest, where Ceausescu was born in 1918.
"It's decorated in a way that would remind him of his hometown," Iliescu said while pointing at a panel displaying animal pelts alluding at the avid hunter's lifelong passion.
After exiting the bunker, visitors must pass through a hall decorated with paintings showing Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, being acclaimed by the masses.
Even by Stalinist standards, Romania's regime was notorious for the fervorous cult of personality enjoyed by Ceausescu, who _ as Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party, President of Romania and President of the State Council _ possessed virtually-unlimited power.
The Spring Palace, completed in the mid-1960s, is located in an affluent Bucharest neighborhood and covers an area of more than 4,000 square meters spanning over 80 rooms.
It includes a luxurious movie theater decorated in "Art Deco" style _ where the ruling family would watch Western films that were banned for the rest of the population _ an interior swimming pool and a majestic greenhouse containing palm trees and exotic plants.
Outside, peacocks still roam the vast gardens surrounding the palatial building.
Murano crystal lamps, costly porcelain objects and natural marble adorn the opulent former home of the self-proclaimed "Genius of the Carpathians," who also liked to style himself as the "Danube of Thought" and the "Great Conductor."
Ceausescu ascended to power in 1965 following the death of Communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, who had been the country's head of State since King Michael abdicated under duress in 1947.
Strict censorship, purges, nepotism and brutal repression of the slightest internal dissent marked Ceausescu's rule, as he was seen even by his allies as the most rigidly Stalinist leader in the Eastern bloc.
After he ordered troops to fire on anti-government protesters in Timisoara on Dec. 17, 1989, a revolution spread through the country and Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were forced to flee the capital in a helicopter.
The couple were soon captured by the military, tried and sentenced to death by a court-martial on Dec. 25.
Convicted of genocide and economic sabotage, they were shot by a firing squad on that same day.
Almost three decades after the revolution, there is now a growing number of Romanians who wax nostalgic and defend Ceausescu's figure.
According to public opinion surveys conducted in 2015, more than 40 percent of Romanian citizens would now cast their vote for the ruthless despot to preside over the country, while more than half said that life was better under state socialism.
The restoration of Ceausescu's lavish palace comes as many other emblems of the dictatorship are being re-opened for the public to visit and admire the recent history of a country that has not forgotten its complex past.