Centennial Orphans on Sale

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Calling them orphans may be brutal, but Croatian castles, manors and forts are just that. Of a thousand such buildings, some in private and some in state ownership, most are in catastrophic state. The state doesn’t have a clue what to do with them. So the question of revitalising castles, some which can be bought for 27 thousand euro, is being tossed from one department to another. In the meantime the effect of time keeps mounting and these centennial buildings await a master plan

Such a complete master plan, a multi-departmental approach to the issue is being called for by academician Mladen Obad Šćitaroci, regular professor of the Architecture Faculty of the University of Zagreb who made protecting and restoring castles his life mission, proved by series of books and scientific papers on this topic, Tportal reported on March 4, 2017.

Although the notion of castles evokes a lovely historical-romantic image, the reality is much worse. Out of a thousand castles, manors and feudal towns included, most are in poor shape. “I have been writing and talking for years that he state must create adequate preconditions – framework to enable a system for a network of castles,” Obad Šćitaroci said.

He adds if you mention the issue to someone, they immediately think of the Culture Ministry. But the address alone cannot solve the problem.

“Everyone must network and work in unison. Create a system. Will it be a strategy or a master plan, irrelevant. Besides culture, there is regional and spatial development, economy, finances, tourism, local administration, state…”

This does not mean the state should restore the castles as it requires huge money which is missing, but to secure a thoughtful and systematic framework for economic and touristic revitalisation of this cultural treasure and create preconditions for investments. “There is no such things so investors stay away,” he said and added the largest problem is the lack of coordination of our institutions which operate in their department, separately.

The state is not necessarily a poor owner. “When it wants to, it manages well,” he said and mentioned castles such as Trakošćan, the only one able to make serious money from ticket sales, or the Oršić castle in Donja Stubica which houses the Museum of Peasant Revolts.

“What could have been done was done, everything else should go into private hands with new content,” said Obad Šćitaroci.

For new content and tourists who look for an experience, we need to start anew. We shouldn’t compare our castles with renowned French castles in the Loire or Bavarian castles. But something can be done.

Since Zagreb is marking a huge growth of tourist arrivals, tours should be organised in castles within 100 kilometres of the capital. They don’t necessarily have to be renovated, but it is important for them to tell a story or offer an experience. To offer accommodation in castles, it takes more effort and less complications.

“The transformation of castles into hotels is not simple. The relevant institutions for the protection of cultural heritage are not keen on hotels as they are a large construction intervention which can lead to large changes. There are also no clear criteria on how to do this. A way needs to be found for castles to be renovated for such content,” he explained. For hotel tourism ambience is important. “Castles are mostly in villages, poos road connections and municipal infrastructure and backyards are a mess,” he added.

“So how do you find investors?” he asks and recalls a time of national fervour, in the early 1990s, when many decided to buy castles which were cheap then, some even for one kuna. “They were dreamers. When they saw the reality, it came to nothing,” he added.

Ownership of castles is mixed. Some of them have lately been returned to legal successors, some still don’t have settled ownership, some are owned by local administration or directly the state. Some still house the elderly, mental hospitals and until recently schools. And this is good, says Obad Šćitaroci, as it is important for someone to be in them so they won’t decay.

Which is exactly what happened to a baroque castle from 1770 in Oroslavje. A castle with four wings and a large park is being sold for a million euro. “Until twenty years ago it was occupied by a health institution. After they moved out the castle has been falling apart. Several years ago it was returned to inheritors. It is one of the rare castles which had intact wall and ceiling paintings. A large part of that was destroyed during the recent leak in the roof,” he explained.

Mali Tabor has been on sale for years for 500 thousand euro. The same for Vinica castle at 800 thousand euro. Unlike Mali Tabor which is close to the Slovenia border in a poorly connected part of Zagorje region, Vinica has potential as there are seven or eight manors and castles within ten kilometres.

The most expensive castle on sale is Gjalski in Zabok near Zagreb. The sale price is two million euro as it has a hotel and restaurant. Its good condition is due to the fact it is a replica made in the 1990s, destroyed in a fire since the Second World War.

Offered are also manors, more humble buildings for lower nobility. The manor in Štrigova in Međimurje region in the north is being sold for the price of a car – 27 thousand euro. The building is in poor shape, missing a few outer walls, but for those who want to live like an aristocrat, it is an ideal opportunity. Investors are either foreigners or locals who live abroad.

The real estate agency Nekretnine Croatia offers six castles, including Mali Tabor, Gjalski, Oroslavje, stating such real estate is of interest mostly to Croats living abroad or foreign investors.

“There is interest for each of those castles, but it takes a long time to make it happen,” said Dražen Mesec, agency director.

He agrees the prices of our castles are much lower than those sold abroad. “These are very favourable prices, reduced many times during the years,” he added.

The ownership of the castles in their offer is private. They are either owners who received them back after nationalisation, as is the case with Oroslavje, or are being sold by those who bought them before the crisis.


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