While the wait to restore the crumbling manor house in Rusovce on the outskirts of Bratislava goes on, the history of one of its most illustrious owners is being rediscovered.
Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, the widow of Crown Prince Rudolf of Habsburg, the son of one of the Habsburg Empire’s most famous figures, Empress Elisabeth - better known as Sisi – gave up her royal titles to marry the man she loved and spent almost four decades in the manor house.
But the history of her life in what is today a run-down but impressive neo-Gothic building on the edge of the Slovak capital is little known.
“In all honesty, how many inhabitants of today’s Bratislava know that such an important figure lived there?” asked Bratislava tour guide Zuzana Godárová.
The first mention of a castle in Rusovce dates back to the 13th century, but the manor house that stands in the village today is the result of a large-scale reconstruction of an existing building in the mid-19th century.
The extensive park surrounding the manor house is currently undergoing revitalisation, but the building itself is in severe disrepair, having been left largely unused for decades.
A public tender for its reconstruction – it is planned to be used for state representative purposes afterward - is in its final stage.
Few people are aware of the history of its inhabitants.
Most Bratislavans connect the manor house more readily with the folklore ensemble Slovenský Ľudový Umelecký Kolektív (SĽUK), which used to have its headquarters here, than the aristocrats who lived there.
Meanwhile, the fact that the village of Rusovce, called Oroszvár in Hungarian and Karlburg in German, became part of Hungary in 1920 after the disintegration of Austria-Hungary and has only been part of Slovakia since 1947, has only added to the lack of awareness among many Slovaks of the history of Princess Stéphanie’s life there.
Nevertheless, she has not been forgotten by historians, nor people in Rusovce.
“Even today her generosity is remembered there,” said Diana Mašlejová, who published a book about the life of the princess last autumn.
Who was Princess Stéphanie?