Thursday, 18 July 2019

Malta Order Knights reconstructing their seats in Czechia

ČTK |
27 July 2018

Prague, July 26 (CTK) - The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has spent more than 80 million crowns on the reconstruction of the real estate returned to it within the church property restitution in the past five years, its Czech Grand Priory head Johannes Lobkowicz has said in an interview with CTK.

The order spent the so far highest investment of 50 million crowns in the Czech Republic on the reconstruction of the Convent Palace, which is part of its seat in Kampa in the Lesser Town of Prague. It has been leased as a hotel and restaurant, Lobkowicz said.

He distinguishes between "returnable and nonreturnable investments" in this respect, while the latter are based on the proper owner's duty, he said.

"We have huge buildings in Prague, some of them have roofs in a disastrous state and need investments... However, those are common worries of every owner of historical buildings," Lobkowiczs said, commenting on the maintenance of the buildings that the order was gradually returned after the 1989 fall of the communist regime.

The Order of Malta owns a palace in Velkoprevorske (Grand Priory) Square in the Lesser Town with a garden that is on one side fenced with the famous Lennon Wall, which has been covered with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles' songs as well as other inscriptions since the 1980s. The palace is connected with the Church of Our Lady beneath the Chain, dating back to the 12th century.

Its Gothic towers are now hidden under scaffolding during the reconstruction. Together with the other planned expenditures for next year, its costs are put at seven million crowns.

The repairs of the roofs of the Grand Priory buildings, which belong to the oldest in the Lesser Town, have been prepared for several years and the order plans to invest 34 million crowns in them.

Further investments in the palace worth hundreds of thousands of crowns are connected with repairs of the riding school where the Malta knights stable their horses. The order intends to lease it along with the Convent.

The income from the leasing will partially cover the basic operational costs of the Grand Priory maintenance that annually amounts to seven million crowns, Lobkowicz said.

The order either takes a bank loan for the reconstruction or the costs are paid by its tenants, which will be the case of the riding school and a garden that should open to the public.

The garden can boast about the oldest plane tree in Prague, which is allegedly some 250 years old. It is dubbed the Beethoven plane as the composer was allegedly sitting under this tree when he stayed in Prague. However, a legend says it was planted in the 12th century already when the Order of Malta settled in this locality.

The order has dozens of employees who primarily deal with its welfare projects. Seven people are in charge of the administration of its extensive property, Lobkowicz said.

Along with the Convent, the order is leasing its garden, a restaurant and a salla terrena that serves as a design glass shop now.

"We are leasing further premises for weddings and conferences," Lobkowicz said, showing large halls in the palace with original parquet floors, decorated fireplaces, stucco and paintings depicting significant events and representatives of the order with an 800-year history in the Czech lands.

The priory's underground premises hide not only Gothic, but also Romanesque architectonic elements. A small chapel for contemplation should be established there within a year, Lobkowicz added.

Like any other heritage owners, church organisations can seek state and municipal subsidies for reconstruction.

The City of Prague allocated two million crowns to the Malta Order for the repairs of windows in the Convent and the Culture Ministry was giving it a subsidy of 200,000 to 300,000 for several years in a row for the reconstruction of the church towers, which made up some 5 percent of the total price, Lobkowicz said.

The rent will not cover such immense expenditures. "Therefore we are selling our land, among others, to be able to pay off the bank loan," he added.

Under the restitution law from 2012, churches are returned land and real estate worth 75 billion, confiscated from them by the Communist regime, and given 59 billion crowns plus inflation in financial compensation for unreturned property during the following 30 years. Simultaneously, the state gradually ceases financing churches.

Daily Pravo has written recently that the Agriculture Ministry plans an audit of the property return to churches, which might also affect the Order of Malta that was returned almost 1,400 hectares of fields and forests in the Czech Republic in the restitution process.

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