The restoration of the Transylvanian Hungarian aristocracy – VII.


The reason why so many aristocratic descendants are deciding to return is the Romanian law of restitution, which – at least in theory – calls for former residences and part of the estates to be handed back to their rightful owners. After all, the Romanian state lacks the resources to conserve so many dilapidated, decaying, ruined chateaus, castles and manors. At the same time, as Tamás Barcsay has pointed out, the Romanians at least gave something back, unlike the Hungarian state, which threw dust in people’s eyes with its system of compensatory reparations. Naturally, the situation leads to often lengthy battles with the Romanian justice system, not so much because of the building as because of the surrounding estates that support its upkeep. Even when the court order is finalised, the lands are only given back, if at all, after everything of value has been removed. As Farkas Bánffy said in the same interview from before, “Low value, tiny, long ransacked territories have been returned, but when it comes to the valuable lands, somehow they cannot find the wherewithal to hand them back. There is already a ruling declaring that the lands are ours, but they refuse to cede them, just because.”

Under the terms of the law of restitution of 1999, any claims over property must be backed up with cadastral records or similar documentary evidence, or even the testimony of living witnesses. Within the territory of the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy, cadastral records were kept inside the Carpathian Basin, but not beyond the Carpathian Mountains.



What does the future hold for so many chateaus? Some can be turned into museums or hotels, but not all of them, for demand would never reach such heights even if Transylvania eventually occupied its deserved place in international tourism, which is still a long way off (perhaps it is better this way, for so much value and charm would be lost were tourism in the area to become over- professionalised). Farkas Bánffy, if he ever has the funds to restore it, will probably turn his chateau in Fugad into a family summer home. In Zabola (Zăbala), the Mikes family descendant, Gregory Roy-Chowdhury (aka Gergely Mikes), has turned his ancestral residence into a castle hotel, while the Kálnoky family have likewise created a luxury guesthouse in Miklósvár (Micloşoara). Another possibility is to repurpose them as conference centres, although in the case of smaller manor houses, continued use as a family home may be the best option. In many instances, however, the heirs have no idea what to do with the chateau. No function has yet been found for the Teleki Chateau in Gernyeszeg, a pendant of that of Gödöllő, although first – or perhaps in parallel with its use – the building needs to be renovated.

The resettling aristocrats have set up the Castellum Foundation, and each year they hold a ball in one or other of the family seats. The first was held in Apafi Manor in Almakerék (Mălâncrav), followed by Bánffy Castle in Bonchida, Lázár Castle in Szárhegy (Lăzarea) and the chateau in Gyalu, while the fifth event was hosted in Bánffy Manor in Fugad, under the “management” of Farkas Bánffy. The ninth ball was held in 2017. The idea for the annual get-together sprang from the desire to show friends from abroad, in the words of Zsolna Ugron, “the Transylvania that we love”, and guests arrived from as far afield as Japan and Argentina.

Title image: The Mikes Castle Hotel in Zabola/Zăbala

To be continued

Author: Gergely Szilvay