Latvia’s castle ruins keep crumbling

Most of Latvia’s 75 medieval castle ruins are in dire need of salvage and buttressing works as they continue to fall apart, in some cases threatening public safety, reported Latvian Radio Monday.

These historic architectural remains mostly belong to local government councils, which allocate what they can from their limited budget resources for maintenance works, but cannot keep up with the much larger costs of restoration. A very few of the ruins are privately-owned, or held as state properties.

For example, the Zemgale town of Dobele sought a €12,800 grant from the state Culture Capital Foundation, however did not make the cut among the many projects competing for its monies this year. The Dobele castle fortress walls have been crumbling for more than 260 years already, while the Livonian Order’s site has been sitting empty since 1729.

Local resident Džonijs recalled how as a boy he and his friends would clamber over the dangerous piles of stone, dislodging the rocks under their feet. Now the tops of the stone walls are much more stable, he said.

However Marika, who mows the grass inside the fortress walls, points out that during strong windstorms, smaller stones and pebbles actually do fall out of the ruins and become a hazard to avoid. “Sometimes they fall on your head, when there’s a strong wind. One morning I arrived to find the whole field littered with the rocks,” she said.

For now more ambitious plans for installing a museum in the old chapel must remain on paper, said Dobele Council municipal properties department head Dainis Sirsons.

Likewise in Alūksne, where the local castle ruins have lain since 1702 without having hardly any preservation or restoration works done. City Council project leader Sanita Adlere pronounced the state of the ruins as “critical.” The local government has allocated enough money to conserve the state of one of the fortress walls and conduct some archeological research into the manor castle itself. Though otherwise open to the public, parts of the territory under the works are dangerous and have been cordoned off against any access.

The frequently visited Koknese castle ruins on the shore of the Daugava are regularly maintained to keep them safe and preserved against the damaging effects of the eroding force of the river. The local government requests funding every year from the State Culture Monument Protection Inspectorate (VKPAI) and claims the state of the ruins is currently no hazard to the public safety.

According to Sandra Zirne, who heads the state inspectorate’s department of archeology and history, of the 75 medieval castle ruins recognized by the VKPAI, there are those “in better or worse conditions, but as an archeologist I can say that the underground sections are usually in very good states of preservation. But they will fall apart over time, and some fragments will always be lost.”

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