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Castles – Conservation guidelines for restoration and use

Northern Croatia is famous for its impressive list of castles, forts and curies. Over the years, complicated ownership structure, complex investments, frequent dead-ends, and a lack of potential recognition has led to a decline in their preservation. In 2019, the Ministry of Culture completed a systematic on-site inspection of all castles listed in the Register of Cultural Heritage. The project included the creation of conservation guidelines for the potential and degree of intervention needed.

Detailed overview of the conservation guidelines

The guidelines for restoration and use evaluate the complete protected zone of castles, including the exterior, gardens and non-residential buildings. They list ownership details, previous conservator analysis, current use and source of investments.

Documentation is currently available for Krapina-Zagorje County as the project continues to expand across other regions and will include all 101 castles in the Register.

Following the on-site inspection and comparing data to the Register, the Ministry of Culture determined that 101 castles are located in 14 counties. 

More than half are considered to be in good condition, while the remaining have structural issues and require complete restoration. 

The biggest challenge for renovation and maintenance is ownership. One third is privately owned, and the government and various associations own the rest. Only twelve were supported by EU funds, while 36 were restored under the Program for Public Needs in Culture.

Castles are categorised according to specific features, architectural style and interior design. Conservation guidelines are divided into five degrees of protection. 

The highest degree includes thorough restoration and protection that will be applied to the castle building. This level of restoration includes minimal intervention and preservation of the historic interior design. Materials and techniques used represent a specific period and identity of the region.

Artistic value visible on murals, furniture and other decorative elements provide insight into the lifestyle Croatian nobility had, and their preservation is essential. 

The most significant number of castles belong to the second degree of protection. This level will refurbish structural elements and restore original interior pieces that had to be replaced due to a lack of maintenance in the past. Interiors will be adapted to the new functions they will have while preserving as much of the original elements as possible .

The third degree of protection includes castles that have replaced or are missing pieces of the original building. Still, the exterior is well preserved, and its protection is valuable in the landscape.

The fourth degree will require complete reconstruction of the building following historical records and maintaining the footprint of the original structure. 

The fifth degree of protection will be applied to only a few castles, where the new function of the building requires an entirely new annexe to be constructed. The architectural design will be supervised by historians and conservators, maintaining the visual aspect of the original castle. 

The value of gardens and non-residential buildings is recognised as the most significant potential for restoration. Areas outside the castle building will play a crucial role in establishing the new function that each castle will have. 

Conservation guidelines suggest the protection of gardens, rich with plants of which many date back to the 19th century. Restoration of gardens and meadows are an essential part as they complement the identity of each castle. 

The current progress of the project

Currently, the Ministry of Culture has completed an analysis of the Krapina- Zagorje county. This included a total of 24 castles, out of which the most important are Veliki Tabor, Miljana, Stubički Golubovec and Hellenbach. 

They are protected under the highest degree, with limited restoration options. The remaining castles were rated as well preserved. Over time they have seen structural and design adaptations that will require special attention from conservators. 

Only two castles will require a complete restoration of the interior, with new architectural solutions inside that will enable the new functionality as planned. The exterior will be completely preserved and restored following available historical records. 

The Ministry of Culture continues to work on this project to complete a database with conservation guidelines for all castles in the Register as they represent the most valuable architectural heritage of Northern Croatia. 

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