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EROSION AND NEGLECT BRING DOWN PART OF SLOVAK LANDMARK

Trenčín Castle wall collapses

RESIDENTS of the western Slovak city of Trenčín on March 7 were startled to find that part of the city's medieval Matúš Čák castle, one of Slovakia's best-known landmarks, had collapsed. Although areas near the castle were evacuated, no one was hurt in the incident.
Between Thursday night and Friday afternoon, an estimated 1,100 metric tons of stone and mortar fell in three separate showers from the 15th-century fortifications of the castle. Trenčín Castle is Slovakia's third largest, behind Spiš and Bratislava castles. Several nearby buildings were hit by falling debris.
"Other parts of the fortification of Trenčín Castle are still threatening to fall. If anyone goes back there, it is at their own risk," said Stanislav Bejda, spokesperson for the Trenčín mayor soon after the collapse. Trenčín regional government ordered people living under the castle walls to leave their homes until March 11 while further dangers were evaluated.


TRENČÍN Castle before (left) and after 1,100 tons of stone and mortar fell from the fortifications.
photo: TASR

RESIDENTS of the western Slovak city of Trenčín on March 7 were startled to find that part of the city's medieval Matúš Čák castle, one of Slovakia's best-known landmarks, had collapsed. Although areas near the castle were evacuated, no one was hurt in the incident.

Between Thursday night and Friday afternoon, an estimated 1,100 metric tons of stone and mortar fell in three separate showers from the 15th-century fortifications of the castle. Trenčín Castle is Slovakia's third largest, behind Spiš and Bratislava castles. Several nearby buildings were hit by falling debris.

"Other parts of the fortification of Trenčín Castle are still threatening to fall. If anyone goes back there, it is at their own risk," said Stanislav Bejda, spokesperson for the Trenčín mayor soon after the collapse. Trenčín regional government ordered people living under the castle walls to leave their homes until March 11 while further dangers were evaluated.

"[The damage] could be at least Sk10 million (240,000 euro), and that is only if no other parts of the castle fall, which is something we can't rule out," said Pavol Krištof, director of the Trenčín regional government office.

According to structural engineers, the collapse is largely due to natural erosion compounded by years of neglect. A scout expedition last year to clean bushes and trees from the area of the wall may also have speeded erosion by allowing water to flow and ice to form between the wall's stones.

"The immediate cause is erosion of the building materials," said structural engineer Jozef Závacký, cautioning that further collapses are possible in the near future.

"The wall is so damaged that it simply cannot remain in its present state. The pressures [on the remaining wall] have increased, so there is a threat that the whole side could fall," he added.

And because of the scope of the collapse, rebuilding the wall is not an option, Závacký said.

"It is already impossible to salvage the wall, so conserving it is out of the question. Now we have to be concerned with protecting people's lives and property," he said.

The collapse raises questions about who will finance the cleanup and the castle's preservation. Trenčín officials are worried that because the castle belongs to the regional government, financial assistance from the state to shore up the failing fortifications and protect the rest of the castle complex may be hard to come by.

Slovak law requires the owners of historical structures to pay for their upkeep, but includes provisions that owners not able to pay can request assistance from local jurisdictions and the Culture Ministry.

Preservationists say many of Slovakia's historic structures are in similar or worse states to Trenčín Castle. Last year, the ministry received requests for around Sk600 million (14.3 million euro) to preserve historical sites, but granted less than Sk20 million (478,000 euro).

In the past, as many as 300 castles stood in Slovakia, but only around 100 remain today, many of which are steadily deteriorating ruins. Even relatively well-off historic sites struggle for survival, as time accomplishes what the Turks were unable to.

Europe's largest castle ruins, Spiš Castle in east Slovakia, were saved from complete decay in 1970 when local preservationists stabilised the failing walls. Over the next 20 years the castle was extensively reconstructed, but a lightning strike in 2000 nearly brought down the castle's northern wall and required emergency repairs be carried out.

"Literally every castle in Slovakia needs help, but assistance from the side of the state has been small," said Ľuboslav Škoviera from Slovakia's Monument Preservation Office.

"[In the past] sometimes cement was used for repairs, and that eats into the walls even more. This doesn't have to happen. All castles should be reconstructed, or at least conserved [in their present state]," said Škoviera.

The head of Trenčín regional government, Štefan Štefanec, has already petitioned Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda for Sk10 million (240,000) to save Trenčín Castle, and President Rudolf Schuster has said the government should pay to save the structure before further damage is done.

Local authorities and officials from Trenčín Museum, which administers the castle, say that without the state's help they may be unable to halt the decay.

"We have already talked with our trustee, the Trenčín regional government, but because of the limited possibilities, we will have to find other resources. Reconstructing the wall in this state would be very expensive, so this is out of the question," said Katarína Babičová, director of the Trenčín Museum.

"Firstly, we will make the castle safe enough that it can be opened to the public again, and afterwards we will have to find a solution to repairing the wall and locating the financial resources to pay for it.

"I hope [the emergency] will not last more than two weeks," said Babičová.

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