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Conservation & Preservation

Slow progress on restoring war-torn Croatia

Work is underway, but worst hit town Vukovar still 'deserted'

Progress in restoring the historic monuments of war-damaged Croatia was outlined in an address which Sherban Cantacuzino gave to the International Trust for Croatian Monuments on 30 October. Speaking at the Royal Institute of British Architects, he pointed out that a special commission set up to assess the war damage of the early 1990s had found that 138 historic buildings had been totally destroyed, 273 nearly destroyed and 2,029 damaged (see The Art Newspaper, No. 86, November 1998, p. 24). Vukovar, which was occupied by Serbian forces until 1998, is the town which was worst hit. Fortunately, restoration work has nearly been completed on the most important site, the Eltz Palace. Before the recent war it had housed an art gallery, and it is hoped the pictures will soon be hung once again. Another Vukovar gallery, in an arcaded building in the town centre, suffered a worse fate; the Anton Bauer collection of Croatian art was removed by the Serbs to Belgrade and Novi Sad, and has still not been returned. Vukovar’s early 18th-century Franciscan monastery had been devastated by shells, but a full reconstruction is now underway. Nevertheless Mr Canacuzino reports that when he visited Vukovar last summer, it “still had the feel of a deserted town”. Dubrovnik was also badly damaged, although considerable restoration has now been completed. The International Trust for Croatian Monuments is currently supporting a project to restore the library of the ancient Franciscan monastery (other donors to the monastery include the World Monuments Fund, American Express and the Headley Trust). Historic sites elsewhere in Croatia were seriously damaged, including buildings in Osijek, Tristeno, Sibenik and Trogir, but again restoration work is well underway. Mr Cantacuzino concluded that “the huge potential for cultural tourism, and the money earned from this, could help considerably with the large amount of conservation work which will always be required where the architecture and heritage is so rich and plentiful.”