- August 3, 2015
- Posted by: admin
- Categories: News Romania, SEE News, Uncategorized
Transylvanian churches, castles and fortresses in central Romania being stripped of original features in €100 million “renovation” plan funded by European taxpayers
Maria Radna Franciscan Monastery in Romania Photo: Alamy
The imposing Franciscan monastery of Maria Radna in Romania is nearing the end of a costly makeover that should have restored it to full Baroque splendour, but instead it looks like a Disney castle built on a bomb site.
Maria Radna is one of dozens of ancient Transylvanian churches, castles and fortresses that have been brutally revamped in this fashion over the past five years, all funded by the European Union’s Regional Development programme at a cost of well over €100 million to the European taxpayer.
Tourists visiting the interior of Maria Radna Franciscan Monastery in Romania (Alamy)
Almost everywhere, the pattern is the same: old materials are ripped out and replaced with industrially made materials churned out from local factories. The workers are invariably young, low paid and inexperienced: in the case of a 13th century fortress in the city of Deva, workers were taken from a local prison and forced to do restoration work.
Meanwhile, the money circulates between the beneficiaries and companies run by their friends.
Following a visit to the region in June, Prince Charles wrote a letter to the Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture, in which he praised the local architecture and craftsmen, but lamented: “It is deeply dispiriting when the essential integrity of a street or entire village, or valley, is impaired by the unsympathetic rehabilitation of traditional buildings, for example with brightly coloured, machine-made tiles.”
“In Romania, there is a unique opportunity to modernise, and yet still to preserve the beauty of your stunning landscapes and townscapes.”
The Prince, whose great-grandmother Queen Mary was from Romania, owns two properties there, including a seven-bedroom cottage he offers to rent.
In his letter, he wrote that he had restored them both with traditional materials and hoped local builders would do the same.
The Saxon region is dotted with hundreds of huge, fortified Gothic churches which tower like castles over their surrounding villages.
Built by an industrious German-speaking population and fortified with giant stone walls as protection against the Tartars who periodically rampaged through the area, the churches survived the centuries, and then the concrete march of Ceausescu’s communism, relatively unchanged.
Then, in 1989, with the collapse of Communism across eastern Europe, the German-speaking population began to leave. Over two years, more than 250,000 of them packed up their houses and headed to Germany, leaving entire villages almost completely empty.
“For generations the villages were supported by the community. Now the community is gone but the thing that has replaced [them] in terms of restoring the buildings is the EU,” says Friedrich Gunesch, secretary of the Evangelical Church office secretary of the Evangelical Church of Romania Consistory, who has administrative control over the Saxon churches and the EU money that is pouring in to keep them upright.
Evangelical church (Alamy)
So far, EU money has found its way to 18 of the churches, and there are another 12 targeted for renovation work.
Of those 18, all but a handful have been heavily and widely condemned by conservation specialists. At a conference in April, around 10 specialists from different countries gathered to launch their complaints at the Evangelical church consistory in the Saxon city of Sibiu in southern Transylvania.
They described how they had seen traditional plaster hacked off with power drills and replaced with cement, traditional wooden beams were sawed through with chainsaws and ancient engraved tiles deliberately smashed to make way for new factory-made tiles.
“It is a disastrous mix of corruption and the desire to get as much money out of the EU as is possible for these projects that causes the problems,” explains Hans Hedrich, co-founder of Neuer Weg, a built heritage and environment conservation group.
“It means no one is interested in how the project looks or what is destroyed, but only how much money they can get for themselves and their friends’ companies.”
William Blacker, a British author and conservationist who has been working on the conservation of Saxon architecture in Transylvania for 25 years, says of the project: “After all the years I have spent trying to preserve every last detail, it makes me weep to see how this magnificent history is being rubbed out with EU funds.”
02 August 2015