Thursday, March 22, 2007

Romania returns Carpathian castle to former king

Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:17AM EDT

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania returned a picturesque castle in the Carpathian mountains to its former king, who was chased out by the communist regime 60 years ago.

The Peles castle, now hosting a museum and an art collection, has become a popular tourist attraction since opening to the public after the execution of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

According to a memorandum signed by the representatives of the former monarch King Michael, the castle will be sold back to Romania if authorities agree to keep it as a museum.

"This is a historical moment, a symbolic one that marks Romania's return to the family of nations who recognize the sacredness of private property ... it backs national reconciliation," Andrew Popper, the king's representative said.

A lawyer for the royal house told Reuters the king will get as much as 30 million euros ($40 million) for the estate, in the mountain resort of Sinaia, but an exact sum will be set at a later date following an official evaluation.

Michael went into exile in Switzerland after the communists forced him to abdicate and stripped him of his citizenship in 1947, shortly after Romania joined the Soviet bloc.

When communism collapsed, he returned and claimed the castle which was built by his great uncle King Carol I and was used by Ceausescu to entertain heads of state and hold lavish shooting parties, sometimes bagging dozens of bears in a single day.

Peles, built by a German architect between 1875 to 1883 in a neo-Renaissance style with turrets and pointed towers, served as a summer residence for the royal house. It is near skiing areas and a 300-year-old monastery in a wooded alpine setting.

Last year, Romania returned a medieval fortress known as "Dracula's Castle" to the former royal family of Habsburg.

For thousands of Romanians who struggle to cut through red tape and complicated legislation to get back their properties seized by the Nazi and communist regimes in the 1940s and 50s, such handovers are a good sign.

Under current law, which was introduced by the two-year-old government, most former owners should win back their original properties, wherever possible, but only a fraction have succeeded so far.

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