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Half-ruined but still alive! The restoration of the Nevitskiy Castle is ongoing

A new life of the history

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Why Transcarpathia has no historical and cultural conservation area? Who owns the medieval castles? What is the correct procedure of preserving and restoring them? Who is supposed to explore them? How can we avoid destroying what is still left alive? Quite a number of questions for a single article, true! But let’s try at least start searching answers to them. And also we are going to show how the restoration of the ruined towers is going on in the Nevitskiy Castle and tell you the story.

Our companion in climbing to the stone fortress wasOleksandr Dzembas   – a personality deserving a whole book and all possible gratitude from Transcarpathians. For he is almost the only archaeologist and researcher of the Nevitskiy Castle. During decades he has collected hundreds of facts, now available in his book and artefacts now kept in the museum rooms of the Transcarpathian archaeological museum – crockery, weapons, coins, ceramic tiles.

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Oleksandr Dzembas

The last time some minor restoration was done at Nevitskiy back in 1980s. Then last year the rooftop of the three-floored donjon finally crashed down after a strong windstorm. A few months ago the castle was closed for reconstruction, at the cost of both the state budget fund and EU (the grant project “Development of infrastructure in the field of tourism and infrastructure in Transcarpathia via restoration of the architectural monument of national significance, the Nevitskiy Castle”), starting from accident prevention operations. In particular, involving restoring rooftops on the towers and conservation of some walls. Total available budget makes up around 11 million hryvnias. The operations must be completed by the end of 2020. Currently the castle has been transferred to the operational supervision of the Culture department of the Transcarpathian regional state administration.

But is it all that the Nevitskiy Castle requires for recovering its life and make a step aside from further ruination and unrepair that are going to come inevitably in case no actions are taken.

We advise you first to watch our video, that we recorded, featuring Oleksandr in the very castle. In the video we will be talking over the issues of who is responsible for preserving the object up until now and what has saved it from a total decline; and what future may be awaiting it.

The value of the Nevitskiy Castle for Transcarpathia and Europe

– This castle is valuable not only for Transcarpathia but for Europe as well because, despite its ruination it is practically authentic. It has not been used since 1664, there haven’t been any rebuilding and customization. This is what gives us hope, after a careful study, fulfill its restoration. Although currently it’s not about that but repair operations only, – says Oleksandr Dzembas, an archaeologist and historian.

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During the last 30 years of work at the castle, Mr Aleksandr, together with volunteers, has been doing archaeological excavations here. Moreover, they have done a thorough study, cleanup and a reconstruction of outer castle moats.

– We have used quite an interesting resource for working on this significant site. I mean out-of-school education. Children, teenagers, students and adults from all over Ukraine and other countries of the world have been spending their time and working. About 5000 kids have been to these camps, many of them eventually became scientists. And the first volunteers came here many years ago from New Zealand. Due to our cooperation with the volunteering foundation SVIT Ukraine, we have accepted over 150 volunteers from 33 countries of the world, – says Mr. Oleksandr.

What now?

– I am most sorry but because of misunderstandings of the real importance of what we did and to what purpose and the consequences of our job for the society we had to stop the mission. Still I do hope that we will cope with the outstanding issues in the future and continue our work, – Aleksandr shares his thoughts with us.

The project now underway in Nevitskiy does not envisage its complete restoration but only withdrawing it from a critical condition. First of all, restoring rooftops on two towers, in order to prevent from further ruination of the castle walls. The central donjon is planned to make functional. According to the experts’ calculation, a complete restoration of the object may require up to 10 million euro. But this is not to be scared of, since it means a gradual and stage-by-stage activity. However, in order to make it possible, a general concept of the procedure and a structural body to take care of the object.

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Taras Stadnitskiy, Head of the company performing the construction activities in Nevitskiy, says the following:

– We have now began assembling the main donjon tower and construction of a viewing platform. It is a quite complicated process, for the activities are being performed at a height about 15 meters. Everything is being done manually, with no cranes, using only hoists.  The weather conditions also do not keep us happy. But we are planning to complete the task by the end of the year under any circumstances. The team enrolls about 16-18 contractor craftsmen, all of them being our Transcarpathian professionals. What we are currently doing in Nevitskiy is only a small part of all what is required. For we are doing only emergency prevention activities aimed at avoiding a total ruination of the object. Generally speaking, there is quite a lot of critical situations there – both outer and inner walls are in a very poor condition. So there quite a good deal of work outstanding, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, our local medieval constructions are in a bad condition, and the state so far does not support their preservation, – Taras reports.

Attitude to significant sites

After the breakup of the USSR, Oleksandr Dzembas was a witness to a Committee to take a decision on the further destiny of the site. It was then required to make up an estimated cost for it. One of the experts suggested “measuring out the total volume in cubic meters of the stone used in the castle and compare it to the same volume to be taken at the neighboring quarry and in this way compile the object value”.

– I am very worried about the very attitude to the castle, for many think that they should be turned into restaurants, hotels whatever. But it should be noted that this is indeed going back to the stone age, both in the direct and idiomatic meaning. Now that the whole world is striving for preservation of authenticity of what has survived till now. This is the only chance for our offspring will see them, says Oleksandr.

The archaeologist would like to not only study the relic but preserve it, too.

– We, scientists will study and keep the knowledge for sure but the sites are to be saved. Unfortunately we are having greatest problems with the prospects of the sites over Transcarpathia. Yes, we may walk around and be proud, take the floor at conferences, meanwhile there is no official body to protect them. I would like to emphasize the shameful fact: Transcarpathia region is the only one in Ukraine that has no historical and cultural or historical and architectural conservation area. None at all! And this is our true attitude to our heritage. For a conservation area is not just a conditional fence around the site, it also means experts, historians, architectures, restoration experts, management of development of the objects in the touristic sense. We often hear on economic problems. But! After the breakup of the USSR in Lviv area there were two historical and cultural conservation areas and now they have six of them. Conclusions are to be drawn from this by the authorities and deputies. We are obliged to save these monuments for our offspring in an authentic form, – stresses Oleksandr Dzembas.

By the way, in the neighboring Slovakia restoration activities are twice as cheap as ours. And respectively, financial suppliers will most likely support two projects than a single one with us. They also have a well-organized activity in the field of cultural and historical and architectural preservation areas, and this is what provides for clarity and openness. The state control over preservation of sites is stronger, too.

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A Utopian perspective

Ivan Ilko, an Uzhhorodian, studied in the National Academy of Fine Arts in Kyiv at the architecture faculty. Eventually he realized that he was more tempted by virtual architecture than the real one. So he started looking for a university where he could advance in the subject professionally, not only using a software approach but a creative one as well. Out of the two universities in Europe, in Denmark and Italy, graduating specialists in the sphere he chose Copenhagen, where he has graduated from the faculty of visual design, gaming and media this year.

He chose a topic for his diploma thesis himself. Ivan was determined then: he really wanted to make a reconstruction of the Nevitskiy Castle in a gaming environment at the times of its greatest florescence – early 16th century. As a result, Ivan defended his diploma thesis, and we got a fully-featured game. In it one can run and jump around, sinking into the setting of the time. It is important to mark that usually such projects are done by large companies, while in this case everything was completed by efforts of a single man.

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Photo by: Karl Smutko

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– As I was choosing the topic of my diploma thesis, I wanted to make a project to become not only an example of my portfolio in the future but also something useful for the society. I really love the Castle of Nevitskiy, and I must visit it every time I am in Uzhhorod. And so it happened that once I came to the place in winter, had another look at it and thought to myself: “Why not make a reconstruction of it in a gaming environment?” I had always wondered about the way it once looked, though nowadays, alas, nobody takes care of it, and it gets more and more ruined with every coming year, – Ivan tells.

Here are some important facts about Nevitskiy, according to Oleksandr Dzembas.

Archaeologists say that by the 13th century the Castle of Nevitskiy had already been existing. At least what goes for the round donjon tower. It is one of the oldest examples of the castle heritage in Transcarpathia.

Three periods of the castle development: the first one in the 13th century; the second one with the coming of the Drugetti Counts; the third one being the completion of the architectural ensemble in the 15th century.

Starting with the mid-15th century, an aqueduct already existed in the castle. What’s important, water flowed in it bottom upwards. They used the law of communicating vessels, to be discovered by scientists in 2 centuries after it had been implemented absolutely empirically here. However, scholars found analogs. As they made the discovery of the aqueduct in Nevitskiy, scientists were surprised in the same way in the castle of Blankenheim. These are unique things, evidencing of strong German settlements at the territory of the region. Mostly they were actually craftsmen. Scholars suggest that the skilled workers building the castle in Germany that we mentioned above, later used their knowledge here as well.

The bridge was always the weakest point in any castle. However, they had two of them in Nevitskiy. Oleksandr Dzembas explains that the castle owners in the 15th century were indeed in a hurry and made the main bridge and a temporary one to speed up the building process.

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*By the time this article is published, the second tower is completed, too.

Text and photo by: Rosana Tuzhanska, Varosh media

Video by: Yuriy Gotra


The present content has been presented by the public foundation “Institute of Central European Strategy” supported by the USA Agency on international development (USAID). The details of the content is a sole responsibility of the above Institute and may not necessarily represent USAID’s point of view or that of the USA Government. Reproduction and using of any part of this content in any format, including the graphical or electronic one, copying or using in any other way without a relevant link to the original source is prohibited.

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