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SLOVAKIA'S CASTLE AUCTION CAMPAIGN AIMS TO PRESERVE NATIONAL HERITAGE

Castle, anyone?

SLOVAK castles and historical monuments are being auctioned off in a concerted campaign by local owners to save them from dilapidation.
In the vanguard of the auction is a catalogue run by the Slovak Conservation Institute (SPÚ), which can be found online at www.pamiatky.sk. Now almost a decade old, the catalogue lists 60 castles, chateaux and monasteries put up for sale by their owners. Many of the sellers are municipalities or individuals who acquired the properties under a law returning them from communist appropriation, but who lack the finances to repair them after decades of state neglect.


HALIČ castle was sold to a Bratislava firm for Sk35 million.
SLOVAK castles and historical monuments are being auctioned off in a concerted campaign by local owners to save them from dilapidation.

In the vanguard of the auction is a catalogue run by the Slovak Conservation Institute (SPÚ), which can be found online at www.pamiatky.sk. Now almost a decade old, the catalogue lists 60 castles, chateaux and monasteries put up for sale by their owners. Many of the sellers are municipalities or individuals who acquired the properties under a law returning them from communist appropriation, but who lack the finances to repair them after decades of state neglect.

"These monuments are generally in a bad state because they were not used at all in the past," said Ľudovít Škoviera from the SPÚ. "Many of them started reconstruction [over the past decade], but whenever the owners ran short of money, the repairs stopped and they began to decay again. We help the owners spread information on the objects they want to sell, although it's not we who sell them."

A robust castle with a chapel that rises above the town of Halič in Banská Bystrica region had been until recently listed in the SPÚ catalogue. Built in the 17th century on the ruins of a previous castle and surrounded by a 22-hectare park with exotic trees and a pond, it is now the property of a firm in Bratislava.

"From 1965 to 1992, the castle housed mentally disabled patients," said Jozef Šimko, head of the Libertas local social care institute, the castle's previous owner. "But maintenance was very expensive. For that reason we decided to move the patients to a dormitory in Lučenec and sell it."

Halič castle sold for Sk35 million ($746,000), and was one of the most expensive monuments offered for sale in the catalogue.


THIS castle in Turňa nad Bodvou can be yours for Sk2.
photo: www.hrady.sk

The catalogue has listed 450 out of 12,000 monuments in Slovakia in its print and Internet versions. The information, after being published in Slovak media spread to Austria, Germany and Switzerland. While interest in buying the properties has been expressed largely by local buyers, the SPÚ has received over 30 requests for more information from foreigners.

Sigurd Hochfellner, 42, a doctor from Austria who has visited castles across the Europe, is one of them.

"I've looked at around 30 Slovak castles already but I haven't made a decision yet. I like castles and Slovakia a lot. For that reason I want to buy and then reconstruct four or five of them with my friends. Then I want to find a local family to live there for free and keep a close eye on them. But I want to do it now, because three years later it might be too late, as they are in really poor condition."

The majority of the interested buyers, though, are businessmen and small entrepreneurs looking for company offices or tourism and recreation opportunities.

"Some buyers are also looking for monuments with facilities that could be used for production, such as old industry halls," said Škoviera.

Unless they register a company in Slovakia, foreigners are otherwise not allowed to buy Slovak real estate under domestic law. That will change once Slovakia joins the European Union, although it may take several years.

Once a contract is signed between a previous and a new owner, the latter is obliged to submit a reconstruction project following certain rules to a regional conservation institute. Owners can be fined if they do not meet the agreed reconstruction terms.

According to Škoviera, location is key to determining the price of each property.

"If the monument is near an area that can be used for building a golf course or for recreation purposes, the chances that the monument will be sold increase," he said.

Slovakia is not the only post-communist country to be selling its monuments. After restitution, properties in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were also offered to new owners. Slovakia, however, has worked harder to promote its assets.

"Slovakia is unique in having a catalogue listing the offers. The media campaign was also bigger here than in other countries," said Škoviera.

All involved in the sales deny they are selling off the national heritage. On the contrary, they say, the new owners offer hope that monuments will be saved that would otherwise disintegrate.

A castle in Turňa nad Bodvou, one of eight monuments on sale in the eastern Košice region, was abandoned in 1585 and has been deteriorating ever since. A reconstruction project proposed in the early 1990s failed. Surrounded by an attractive national park, it still awaits a solvent owner.

"We haven't set the price for the castle yet, but if somebody came and persuaded me that he would do something useful with it, I would sell it even for two crowns [5 cents]," said Vladislav Bartók, the mayor of Turňa nad Bodvou.

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