Slovakia turning ruins into cash

Travel through Slovakia and you can't help but notice them dotted around the countryside - castles. Most of them are only ruins, reminders of a great past, and now many of them are for sale. The Slovak Institute of Monuments, a government agency administering the national heritage decided it would be a good idea to allow owners to turn their stones into money. Anca Dragu reports:

The most extensive phase of stone castle building in Slovakia started immediately after the Tartar invasion in the middle of the 13th century and lasted till the middle of the 14th century. At the beginning of the 18th century aristocratic families which owned them started to move to more comfortable country houses. Later on many were adapted as museums but others were left in a state of despair. Then the communists confiscated them and some ended up as stables, others as piles of rubble. Now the state doesn't have money to renovate and maintain them and is looking for people rich and adventurous enough to buy such properties. Anybody interested?

"I would say we know more people who want to sell - that's the problem. The reason is because Slovakia is not so well known, not yet. If people knew about the beautiful countryside here, about the economy, I'm sure they would come and buy stuff here, because it is cheaper than abroad. A second reason would be the stability here; it is safer than many places abroad. It is hard to sell something through the internet only because they have to be here, to see it and then they would like it."

Roman Patak is a Project Manager at the real estate agency Oikos Nomos which has been involved in selling properties with historical value.

Luboslav Skoviera from the Institute of Monuments gives more details:

"In the early 90s people began regaining their properties which had been forcibly confiscated by the communist regime and many got back old buildings with historical value but in very bad condition. They could not afford to renovate them and therefore tried to sell them. We compiled a list that originally had 500 buildings, including castles and their surrounding areas which could be regarded as parks. Of these we offered 100 for sale and now there are only 75 left. I must say that these are in really bad condition and require huge investments."

As almost all buyers are foreigners I was curious to find out what Slovaks think about selling such buildings to them.

"I think the state should keep them and transform these buildings into museums or places for cultural events such as exhibitions, where people can go and visit."

"The state should be rich enough to afford keeping these buildings in its property because they belong to all Slovaks."

"I have begun thinking that it is a good idea to let other people renovate them because it is better to have them standing, than being proud about our history but looking at a pile of rubble."

Luboslav Skoviera from the Institute of Monuments says Slovak shouldn't worry because such practice may in fact save the buildings with historical value:

"I've seen some very critical articles in the Austrian press but let's say that even negative publicity is good because it attracts attention. We enlisted only a hundred properties out of 3,000 buildings with historical value that exist in Slovakia, so people shouldn't worry that we will soon run out of places to show out children as our historical heritage."

Roman Patak adds that once Slovaks will get richer their attitude will change even more because they might be interested in becoming buyers of such buildings.