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Vol 2, No 21
29 May 2000
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Looking After the Family Silver
Catherine Lovatt

Romania is blessed with a vast number of beautiful historic monuments offering examples of a long and often turbulent past. Although many of the historic buildings remain inhabited, a legal infrastructure and protective organisation has been lacking. It is feared that without protection many of the relics of Romanian history will be lost and forgotten, crumbling into obscurity.

On 22 May 2000, Pro Patrimonium was officially launched at the Romanian Embassy in London. Pro Patrimonium is an organisation founded by Şerban Cantacuzino, modelled on the National Trust of Great Britain and similar European organisations. Pro Patrimonium aims to "promote the preservation of Romanian lands and buildings of cultural and historic interest." (Pro Patrimonium leaflet)

The National Trust of Great Britain is renowned for its work to restore and maintain historic British properties that would otherwise have been lost. As an organisation independent from government, the National Trust is unique across Europe and is symbolised by the immediately recognisable "Acorn." For the visitor to National Trust properties the image of the "Acorn" creates the preconceived perception of a well-funded and preserved property of historic importance. Founded in the late nineteenth century the Trust has been, and continues to be, a great success and its links with Pro Patrimonium should provide a useful source of information and expertise for the new Romanian-based organisation. However, as a new project symbolic values are yet to be realised and the economic and legal situation in Romania could raise problems with funding and property rights.

Legal infrastructure

Throughout the period of German influence over Romania during the second World War and then later during the years of Communism, many properties were taken from their rightful owners and put in the hands of the Nazi's and then the Communists. The requisitions included several Romanian historic properties such as manor houses, Royal Palaces and even ordinary homes. The Communists introduced policies of intense industrialisation on a largely agrarian community encouraging Romanians to leave their country dwellings and move to the newly constructed blocks in the towns and cities. Years of Communist rule therefore saw the gradual decay of rural traditions. Although many of the traditions still exist, they exist on a much smaller scale. Pro Patrimonium hopes to perpetuate memories of the past by exemplifying them in restored properties and environments.

In recent years, the lack of a legal framework concerning property rights has threatened the maintenance of Romania's national heritage. However, new legislation that will return requisitioned properties to their original owners is soon to be introduced. Despite the law being morally righteous, many of the rightful owners of historic buildings may not be able to afford to restore and preserve their properties, leaving them to be demolished or sold.

In order to prevent the loss of a unique national heritage Pro Patrimonium hopes to encourage the owners of historic buildings to give or lease their properties to the charitable organisation. Pro patrimonium will then restore and preserve the monuments and, where possible, enable the owner to live in parts of the building. Through this initiative the Foundation hopes to keep the properties in trust for the nation.

Although the new legislation provides a promising gateway for organisations such as Pro Patrimonium, the complexities involved in implementing the law could establish obstacles. For example, establishing who the legitimate owner is could be time consuming and possibly go unresolved. Irreplaceable properties may therefore be lost.


The Romanian national heritage is not only threatened by the lack of a legal framework but by years of neglect and a shortage of government funding. The Communist era and the continuing period of transition has left the Romanian economy struggling. Government funding is simply not readily available. However, President Emil Constantinescu sent his personal seal of approval and support to the launch of Pro Patrimonium at the Romanian Embassy in London, regarding it as a valuable and necessary Foundation to preserve a part of Romanian history for the future.

As a non-profit making organisation, Pro Patrimonium aims to raise funds for rennovations and maintenance through membership subscriptions, private donations, endowments from owners who leave their property to the organisation, from public viewings and very, very occasionally from government grants.

A large bulk of the funding will probably have to come from private donations and good will. To generate appeal Pro Patrimonium has to establish itself quickly as a reputable and worthy cause demonstrating itself as an effective organisation with a strong ability to restore and preserve buildings of historical import. A positive image and symbolism is essential from the start. As Pro Patrimonium progresses its image will become ever more important for developing a unique and notable organisation of national worth.

Although there are teething problems surrounding the establishment of Pro Patrimonium such an organisation has been long needed in Romania. Very few organised attractions and preserved historic monuments exist. However the potential and the history are there. Pro Patrimonium has seized the initiative to help maintain a national heritage that is irreplaceable and would be a shame to lose.

Catherine Lovatt, 26 May 2000

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