Another EU project: Renovation of fortified castles and luxury mansions

It was about a year ago that I first encountered two new programs launched by the Orbán government: the “National Castle Program” and the “National Mansion Program.”

The castles we are talking about here are actually late medieval fortified structures, built for the defense of the country. They were especially numerous along the border between Royal Hungary and the Turkish occupied center of the country. The structures in Szigetvár and Eger are perhaps the most famous. It was in Szigetvár that Suleiman the Magnificent died in 1566, as did the captain of the fort, Miklós Zrínyi/Nikola Zrinski, the Croat-Hungarian military leader who led his troops to their death instead of capitulating. Eger, the scene of a Turkish-Hungarian encounter in 1552, was memorialized in the popular novel by Géza Gárdonyi, Eclipse of the Crescent Moon. Both are tourist attractions, so it made sense to put them at the top of the reconstruction list.

The government will salvage 35 fortified castles and renovate 34 mansions. All told, 93 billion forints will be spent on these two projects, “mostly from money coming from the European Union.”

The justification for these two projects is that they will boost tourism. The government estimates that the renovated mansions will attract an extra 800,000 visitors, and an additional 600,000 visitors are expected at the fortified castles. Fifteen billion forints will have to be spent on hotels and services near the structures which, the government hopes, will come from private entrepreneurs. Viktor Orbán assigned János Lázár to supervise these projects. He, in turn, entrusted Undersecretary László L. Simon with the task, but Simon was fired a couple of weeks ago for incompetence.

Most of the fortresses are in terrible shape. Once Hungary reclaimed the Turkish-occupied part of the country at the end of the seventeenth century, the structures no longer had any purpose. They could conceivably have been turned into estates since each of these fortified castles had a so-called “residence tower” (lakótorony), which at one point was occupied by the lord of the castle himself. But these uncomfortable old buildings were eventually abandoned in favor of mansions in the countryside or residences in the capital. And after the soldiers left, the locals pilfered the stones and bricks of the castle to build houses nearby. (This is how most city walls have disappeared over the centuries.)

To what extent should these structures be reconstructed? This question has been the subject of furious debate for a long time between those who consider extensive reconstruction a falsification of history and those who argue for complete reconstruction. The government’s emphasis is on tourism, not the sanctity of architectural history. And visitors are not going to flock to see piles of stones. Therefore, most of these fortresses will be more or less rebuilt. This is certainly true of the fortified castle of Diósgyőr.

Readers who want more information about this government initiative should take a look at an article titled “National Castle Program: Removal of ruins or falsification of history.” Here we learn that at least two of these fortresses will be completely reconstructed and that six will be partially reconstructed. In 17 cases only a section of the former structure will be reconstructed. Nine, most likely buildings too far gone, will receive some treatment to stop further deterioration.

And before

The Diósgyőr Castle after the rebuilding and before Diósgyőr Castle before and after

The reconstruction of the fortified castles may make some sense commercially, but the renovation of the mansions is questionable for several reasons. At the moment these fairly decrepit structures, most of them built in the nineteenth century, are not architectural masterpieces. Most eventually were used as schools or were even cut up into apartments or offices. Something ought to be done with them, but should they be completely renovated on mostly EU money? What does the state intend to do with 34 mansions? I fear that the plan is to sell them at a favorable price to domestic and foreign friends of the Orbán government. We mustn’t forget that István Tiborcz, Orbán’s son-in-law, is now in the real estate business and is involved in the sale of the Schossberger Mansion to a billionaire Turkish businessman.

There is another suspicious aspect of the National Mansion Project. In the last few months the number of officially recognized historic buildings has ballooned. The reason for adding more mansions to the list is simple. A construction company who wins a bid to renovate a historic building can charge up to 400,000 forints per m² both for alteration and construction, while for a non-historic building a company can charge only 320,000 for construction and 220,000 for alteration. In brief, more money can be squeezed out of Brussels if the mansion is of some historic significance or is deemed an architectural masterpiece.

The latest outrage is the government’s change in the payment schedule for construction work on these projects. The original understanding was that for projects designed to stimulate the tourist industry 30% of the amount bid could be received in advance. In April the government changed the regulation. Companies involved in these projects could get 50% of their money up front. On Monday the government decided that, without replacing a single brick, the construction companies could be paid in full. As far as Magyar Nemzet knows, “the European Commission is taking a dim view of this practice,” although at the moment the cost is being borne by the Hungarian taxpayers since Brussels will pay only when all work is finished, which in some cases may be only in 2022.

The Nádasdy Mansion is also the part of the program

The Nádasdy Mansion is also the part of the program

The mansion project may seem lavish, but in fact it is seriously underfunded. It costs an average of 400,000 forints per m² to build an ordinary house in a fashionable section of Budapest. To renovate these residences is extraordinarily expensive. According to the former chief of the office that used to handle issues connected with the country’s cultural heritage, the only sensible move would be to sell these state-owned mansions, as is, to domestic and foreign buyers who would undertake their renovation under strict guidelines. The money allocated for these houses, 1.5 billion per structure, might be enough to guarantee that the roofs don’t leak or perhaps it will cover the cost of an assessment of the physical state of the structures. But if that is the case, what will happen to the money the Hungarian government is giving from its own resources to the construction companies for the renovation of these buildings? A good question.

July 20, 2016
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July 20, 2016 9:52 pm

“The government estimates that the renovated mansions will attract an extra 800,000 visitors, and an additional 600,000 visitors are expected at the fortified castles.” I wonder if this is the same government that estimated the minimum number of 2,560 or as much as 7,080 people who will use Orban’s little train? Based on those numbers they received the money from the EU too.

July 21, 2016 2:25 am

Think of the Colosseum in Rome. Wouldn’t it be great to see gladiators in a reconstructed Colosseum?

July 21, 2016 4:06 am

Yes, panem et circenses!

If Hungarians are satisfied with getting “zsíros kenyér” …

And it would be a great sight for Fidesz having opponents being torn apart by lions – much better than Erdogan’s soon to be introduced death penalty.

Following the book I quoted “The Tomorrow File” I’m sure people will happily volunteer for this treatment!

July 21, 2016 8:23 am

Re: ‘panem et circenses’

And in the present just as in the past it recurs in an environment of corruption , lies and dissimulation where the people and government arguably are complicit in how their society functions.

Regarding Magyarorszag , this period does not appear to suggest Gibbon’s age of the ‘Good Emperors’ and the Pax Romana. Rather a Tacitean one where the political , social and cultural life of the country has been put into a straitjacket by the ruling few apparently reporting to themselves. Political freedom at its lowest. If there will be a Magyar ‘Gibbon’ for the future there will be plenty to mine on ‘decline’ in the early 21st. That looks to be the slope of the historic line.

July 21, 2016 3:55 am

London Calling!

All these ‘projects’ are a vector for embezzling funds.

Orban is looking at all aspects of EU funding to create schemes to milk the other 27 while he can – while the gravy train is still on the rails.

Talking of trains – his Choo Choo train ‘fraud’ was predicated on “2560-7080 daily passengers”.

Taking a mid-range conservative estimate of 5000 per day this extrapolates to 1.8 million passengers per year. This equates to a location in the UK of a large – very large town – like Maidstone or Hemel Hemstead! (Each with about 120,000 inhabitants – about the size of Győr!)

For a potty little backs woods village of Felcsút!

Orban needs more projects to create these incredible financial hyperboles to maintain the income stream.

Income-stream ‘creations’ become ever more preposterous as the EU blindly sign over the dosh.

Brexit has been an awful error for the future of our youngsters – but it is a great deal easier to accept knowing this systemic, blatant obvious corruption won’t be funded by us anymore.

July 21, 2016 12:45 pm

BTW the population of Felcsút is?………. 1688!

(And the ‘cathedral’ football stadium holds 3,500!!!!)

July 21, 2016 1:38 pm

I can only hope you read my comment posted yesterday at 9:52 pm with reference. ;

July 21, 2016 2:26 pm


I posted an obscure OLAF report on my ‘KEEP’ when Eva posted an article on it in one of her posts. It listed it as one of 17 corruption cases:

“The tale of the nostalgia train has quite a symbolic interpretation. At one end of the train line, there is Felcsút, with the countryside home of the prime minister and with the football stadium, which was established by him, however financed by tax payers. The length of the railway is less than 6 kilometres, however costs EUR 1.9 million financed by EU funds.

The Hungarian government claimed that 2,560-7,080 passengers would use the line daily in its original funding application, but only 30-50 passengers by day were actually counted.

The prime minister have admitted that the recently renewed railway was right next to his childhood house. He added that he has always been dreaming about playing on it. ‘If the nostalgia train is criticized, it must be prolonged until Bicske, and if it will be still cursed, then until Lovasberény’ – reacted Orbán to the critics against his nostalgia train.

Whilst it’s in poor English – it’s not in Hungarian!

July 21, 2016 8:22 pm

No, I just meant that your numbers are right, and I have the link to the numbers provided by the ministry. LOL

July 21, 2016 4:06 am

The renovations may have tourist attraction value, but in this system of total and institutionalized corruption it’s impossible to know because:

– Routinely projects are initiated without the studies requited by law, or without any studies at all.
– The studies eventually prepared, always by client companies, are often made to fit the government purposes, realities notwithstanding.
– Many of those studies are not made public or only parts are revealed, and they are practically no subjected to real public debate.
– The renovation works, just like the studies, are always performed by client companies, at grossly inflated prices.
– The renovated mentions could be passed to clients at reduced prices and eventually with subsidized credits, if the recent past is any guide (e.g. Alcsutdoboz estate, 5th District properties, etc).

July 21, 2016 6:12 am

Completely O/T

Update to my laugh-fest!

Russia’s Olympic committee and 68 track athletes have had their appeals rejected – so this leaves the IOC a clear path to ban the whole team now.

Even the ‘neutrals’ – those who allowed themselves to be tested outside Russia – are unable to meet the testing regime so will be banned too.

Anything you can do to help your mate, Orban? Maintain the myth that it’s a conspiracy against Russia, perhaps? It’s only the evidence of one man, perhaps? The Canadian judge is biased against Russia, perhaps? What?


Going, going, gone!!!!

July 21, 2016 7:25 am
I think the problem here actually started with Article 3.3 of the Lisbon Treaty which states: “The Union shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and […] ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.” In November of 2014 the EU Council adopted an overly broad document on participatory governance of cultural heritage. It opened the door to exactly what Eva is complaining about in her essay in relationship to these projects in Hungary. In this passage the Council opens the door to these type of projects based on tourism speculation: “develop synergies between sustainable tourism strategies and the local cultural and creative sectors, also through promoting governance frameworks which actively involve local people, in order to foster sustainable quality cultural tourism offer and contribute to the revitalization of urban and rural areas, whilst safeguarding the integrity and maintaining the cultural value of heritage and balancing economic opportunities and the well-being of citizens.” What seemed like a nice liberal vision of cultural preservation becomes intrinsically linked to tourism and real estate speculation. We have all discussed this before on this blog as it relates to the tourism industry in Budapest but its also a world wide phenomenon. There… Read more »
July 21, 2016 8:31 am

Most jobs in tourism tend to be relatively low wage, seasonal and part- time.

That doesn’t have to be the case, Istvan – at least in a well managed industry!

I know people who work during the summer season at the Balaton, seven days a week and then again in winter in the Austrian or Swiss Alps.

They make good money so they can afford to relax two months in between – maybe even go on holiday abroad …

Like our masseur who just went to Japan for another exam (he proudly presents all his diplomas on the wall…) and brought back some new “tricks” – we call him the torturer … 🙂

July 21, 2016 9:28 am

We have people here in the USA that do exactly the same thing Wolfi and they bridge the time gap between seasons with unemployment compensation, which is more and more often being denied because of administrative rule changes here in the USA. However, internationally the tourism industry is driven by low wages and that keeps the cost to tourists down. The kind of savings and total retirement packages you, I, and folks like Eva had are unknown to most workers in this industry.

More and more often in ski towns here in the USA we are seeing the use of foreign workers, see It’s a very parasitic industry everywhere. But the EU has bought into it big time as has the civic elite here in Chicago.

July 21, 2016 10:39 am

OT Breaking News
Sorry but I just love this. Stick it up Orban and his band, who were hoping for Trump because he loves Russia the same way, and would cuddle you like little puppies in stead of being critical of your BS!

Trump: I Might Not Help Nato Members If Attacked By Russians

“he would force allies to shoulder defense costs that the United States has borne for decades, cancel longstanding treaties he views as unfavorable, and redefine what it means to be a partner of the United States.”

July 21, 2016 11:23 am

Fascinating position. If it becomes mainstream we would be witnessing the rise of the ‘tok fejek’ in strategic thinking. Hold on folks it’ll be a bumpy ride in Europe.

July 21, 2016 10:56 am
Just wondering. Where are the ‘rich’ Magyars who are in touch with their cultural heritage? It doesn’t seem philanthropy is top of mind there by the ‘upper caste’. They just take their ten-finger discounts and hold on tight. The steely tool ‘ jaws of life’ wouldn’t separate them from their treasure trove of money. From the looks of cultural preservation ‘scamming ‘ money looks as if its the only preferred way of funding. And Visegrad. Always wondered what they did with it after visiting back in the late 70’s. It was a wreck ….. but a beautiful one. In my own a way I was enthralled walking that ground encapsulating much Magyar history in that strategic area. . Curious how they ‘renovated’ it. I should go back soon and check it out. Personally, I am of the opinion ruins should not be ‘fully’ reconstructed. Reconstruction should only be used in cases where the entire or parts of the structure are subject to loss if no repairs are done. And one thing about ruins. They indicate that world of impermanence. As for a particular ruling period that will have historians peering in judgement at it years hence.
July 21, 2016 11:31 am

When I last visited Visegrád five years ago, it was among the most disappointing tourist sites that I had visited in Hungary. Even to my untrained eye the reconstruction from the inside was lacking expertise workmanship and the signage and audio guides for visitors needed be changed out and updating. If it weren’t for the excellent views it would be more reminiscent of a poorly kept theme park. But given its location and importance, the castle was full of tourists. But I cannot imagine that popular attraction needing more than 50 jobs to maintain regular operations. With some long-forgotten mansion or castle, many times they well off the beaten track, I cannot imagine very many lasting post-reconstruction jobs that would be created.

July 21, 2016 12:33 pm
This ‘easy come, easy go’ EU money is ‘processed’ – that is, over-priced acquisition, apportionment to the ‘corruption clan’ and compulsory billboards dishonestly displaying the overblown contribution to the project which is often so overblown that the required National contribution to ‘matched funding’ is nothing – until the next project comes along. This easy money is splashed around with such gay abandon that the quality of the projects is shockingly poor – so much has been spent on corrupt fees and kickbacks that quality disappears – the infrastructure starts to disintegrate before it is even completed. The feed roads to the ‘Elephant and Castle’ roundabout that I comment on quite regularly here – built near Győr and EU funded, have sunken so badly that the drains poke through and have become major hazards which damage car suspension. Many drivers drive madly around them to avoid these hazards – only obvious when the manoeuvre has completed do you realise why if you are following. The original contractor would not be allowed to tender for further contracts if this happened in the UK and would be forced to repair the road. Not in Hungary – the contractor is rewarded with further contracts… Read more »
July 22, 2016 8:42 am

Thanks for the update on Visegrad. The fact that it was described as a ‘poorly kept theme park’ suggests how Magyarorszag treasures its cultural heritage. There doesn’t seem to be a strong desire to preserve it properly. I probably will go back again though to see the ruins. I’ll try not to think I am at Orlando….;-)…

July 21, 2016 5:33 pm
An astounding story appeared today about the Republican candidate for President of the USA Mr. Trump and his evolved position on NATO. It can be read at Here is the basics of what Trump said, in relation to Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” “If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he added, “the answer is yes.” The implications of this for Hungary are significant. Article 5 of the NATO treaty, signed by President Truman, requires any member to come to the aid of another that NATO declares was attacked. Trump is proposing making this conditional based on NATO nations spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Hungary is spending around 0.85% of GDP on defense. Moreover, in the NY Times interview he reiterated his threat to pull back United States troops deployed in Europe and elsewhere around the world. So good luck Hungary if Trump should win the election if Putin decided he wanted… Read more »
July 21, 2016 8:24 pm

Post Today at 10:39AM.

July 21, 2016 7:31 pm

Let me guess: projects to rebuilt castles and mansions will be begun all over the country…Halfway finished, Orban will declare that there is no more money and they must be sold off. Presto, the nomenclatura will pick them up for a song-and-dance and turn them into spas and hotels.
The Hungarian government as entrepreneurs with never a threat of earning anything back on the national investments!

July 21, 2016 10:28 pm

True, as a marker, just follow any entreprnerial ventures Istvan Tiborcz undertakes. That will be the new political corruption endeavour, after agricultural land and MOL.
It’s all so obvious, even I can find enough evidence to jail them; if I was in a democratic country.

July 22, 2016 10:29 am

Back to the castles:

Just a few weeks ago we visited Szigetvár with my sister and her husband who is a history buff especially interested in ancient Islam (last year they visited the Tadj Mahal) and it was funny that there were quite a few young Turkish people also visiting …,

There is a smallmuseum in the castle quite nicelydone but not too significant.

The place will be a center of Hungarian Turkish friendship – I think even the Croats were invited …

But it’s surely worth a visit if you’re near there and the center of the city also is nice – especially the Pizzeria Palermo … 🙂

July 22, 2016 11:40 am

Good to know for the future.