EU funds helping to educate experts in historic reconstruction

Reconstruction of Brtnice chateau, photo: Petr Palovčík

The Czech Republic boasts hundreds of castles, chateaux, and churches which annually attract millions of visitors. Regular maintenance is a must – a task that requires not just a considerable amount of money but an army of professionals highly skilled in the reconstruction of precious historical sites. The Czech National Heritage Institute has just launched a pilot project aimed at educating new specialists in the field.

Reconstruction of Brtnice chateau,  photo: Petr Palovčík
Decades of neglect have left Brtnice chateau in Moravia in a dilapidated state. It is one of the hundreds of smaller chateaus, road chapels and fortresses where ownership was never clarified and which no one wanted to take responsibility for.

Today the chateau that was left to go to ruin is a beehive of activity with stonecutters, bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, wall-painters and decorators hard at work on its damaged interior and exterior.

The need to maintain the country’s historic legacy and the growing lack of experts in the field of historic reconstruction and long-forgotten building technologies has led the Czech National Heritage Institute to organize special training sessions for a wide variety of construction workers, painters and decorators. Thanks to EU funds from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Program this was made possible and due to its devastated condition Brtnice chateau was deemed the ideal site on which future experts could perfect their reconstruction skills under the guidance of the country’s leading specialists.

Reconstruction of Brtnice chateau,  photo: Petr Palovčík
Josef Štefan, who heads the masonry workshop, says that today’s masons need to forget about the technology they use regularly and stick as closely to the original construction methods as possible.

“One of the main conditions set by the National Heritage Institute is to respect the old techniques used. In this case to use as little cement as possible because at the time that this chateau was built the various kinds of cement that we now use were not available.”

Experts in the field claim that that the old fired bricks or slate roofs which have survived for centuries are far sturdier and longer-lasting than materials made by the latest construction technologies. And the huge controversy over the quality of the reconstruction of Charles Bridge is ample proof of the construction skills of our predecessors –in this particular case stone-cutters and masons.

Carpenters working on historic buildings are learning the art of only replacing damaged beams not whole wooden constructions and also of linking wood and other materials together without using nails. Martin Šnajdr comes from a family of carpenters and takes great pride in his work. He says that the pilot project is an eye-opener.

Reconstruction of Brtnice chateau,  photo: Petr Palovčík
“I think we all have a lot to learn here – a great deal to learn in the coming months. What I found particularly interesting is the different ways of linking building materials –for instance by using only wooden pins or pegs.”

The pilot work shop is full up – 90 participants enrolled for it almost immediately, leaving others hoping for follow-up projects. It will last until March of 2015 and take place at three different sites around the Czech Republic. With the vast number of historic buildings waiting for a face-lift its participants can be certain that their newfound skills will not go to waste.