Transylvania Trust

The Rimetea Heritage Conservation Project

Over the last ten years the Rimetea Heritage Conservation Project has encouraged the pro-active conservation of the area’s architectural heritage. This project was initiated by heritage professionals to stop the unsympathetic adaptation of Rimetea’s most valuable but greatly threatened historic buildings.

Following a recommendation by Dr. Andras Roman, (former ICOMOS vice president) in 1996 the City Council of Budapest’s District decided to financially support the architectural heritage of two Transylvanian villages. These villages were Rimetea and Inlaceni. The principal tool of this conservation program is the grant system co-ordinated by the Transylvania Trust Foundation.

Since 1996 a conservation grant (Grant A) has been offered annually to 130-140 of Rimetea’s historic building owners. All the parties involved in the conservation agreement sign the three conditions attached to the grant: The historic building owners assure that good conservation practice will be carried out on the property. The owners also agree not to change any of the valuable architectural features on the plot. Finally, in cases where changes and/or new development are proposed the owner will take the professional advice of the Transylvania Trust. A restoration grant (Grant B) for larger works can also be obtained through an application.

The Rimetea Heritage Conservation Program is based upon a successful partnership between the Local Authorities and historic buildings’ owners. The program’s strategy was established to protect the settlement’s character. There is no strong desire to restore the buildings to former periods nor to rigidly preserve them. The program’s principal objective is to promote sustainable heritage conservation and demonstrate how this has an important role in a community’s socio-economic development.

At the beginning, the program’s main objective was to stop unsympathetic changes. (Alterations to different parts of the settlement suggested a negative trend that could have severely harmed the architectural heritage’s integrity, likewise to the neighbouring Coltesti). In many cases the conservation grant helped avoid this threat. Furthermore, proposed conservation and maintenance works helped secure buildings. More importantly, the attitude of the building’s owners changed. Today, Rimetea’s inhabitants are no longer ashamed to live in historic buildings but actively work towards their preservation.

The first ten years of this grant scheme have produced promising results. The conditions of the conservation agreements were met in the case of 96% of the grant-aided properties, i.e. the appropriate maintenance works were carried out and the valuable architectural and street features were conserved. Generally, sums 100-150% greater than the grant were spent on maintenance and repairs. More than 70 buildings obtained restoration grants following a successful application process. (Inspired by the Europa Nostra Awards ceremony, 111 conservation works, among which 20 substantial façade restorations were completed just in one summer during 2000).

A wide variety of conservation works have been completed on more than 160 of Rimetea’s historic buildings. These works were generally carried out in phases. The conservation of a whole building was rarely possible due to considerably high costs. Most of the works comprised façade restoration, roof repairs, structural and/or emergency works. In order to improve the townscape, historic gates were repaired and modern metal gates were replaced with traditional timber ones. External works to more modern dwellings, mainly re-rendering, were also grant aided for the same reason. Over the last two years the cemetery has also become the focus of our activities. Matters concerning the public realm, i.e. squares and streets, were dealt with through design and consultation. However, in the future the Trust will also consider grant aiding the revitalisation of public wells.
Most works carried out under this program were initiated and sometimes even completed by the owners. Sometimes, the Trust suggested to the owner the type of work which was required. In the case of works assisted through the conservation grants (Grant A) the owners did not have to adhere to deadlines or prepare financial reports. However, there were more restrictions with the restoration grants (Grant B). The Committee annually received between 40-60 applications. Only 8-12 of the best applications were selected. These were based on criteria related to the importance and sustainability of the works; along with the architectural value of the buildings. The Trust supervised the implementation of the works but the owners also had a great deal of input. If any deadlines or requirements of the conservation agreement were not met then the historic buildings owners were legally forced to refund the grant.

Part of this program’s strategy is the protection of architectural heritage through ownership. The sponsor (the Vth District Municipality of Budapest), using the legal framework of the Transylvania Trust, purchased a Classicist-style house at the corner of the Main Square (Rimetea nr. 15) in 1998. This building was condemned for demolition but the sponsor’s action saved this structure that was both important architecturally and to the streetscape. The restoration and refurbishment of this building as a holiday home for the sponsors was complete in 2004.

Built in 1873-74, this house was used as a bank at the beginning of the 20th century was. It stands on the south-western corner of the Square. Its special features are the classicist façade decoration; the plasterwork on the ceilings; the traditional doors and windows; the wrought iron details; and the inlayed cupboards. The second building on the plot is a part stone, and part timber walled barn that was in the same state of disrepair as the main building. The house had been vacant since the death of the former owners. During this time the structure had deteriorated. Water off the road had penetrated the walls and reached the vaulted cellar ceiling. This had caused two arches to collapse and cracking in the remainder. The principal façade was heavily cracked and has also been threatened by collapse.

This investment was one of the most complex of its type in Rimetea. The structural solutions were determined by the extensive damage. The existing foundations were consolidated by the construction of new concrete foundations beneath them. This process also made it possible to vertically and horizontally isolate the walls from water. The main façade was demolished and rebuilt identically but from new materials. The doors and windows of the upper storey were all saved. They only required minor repairs and repainting. Some of the timber ceiling beams needed repair and the plaster just required whitewashing. The memorial plate was cleaned. The ground floor doors and windows were reconstructed as only the inscribed lintel from the courtyard entrance could have been saved. The porch was rebuilt as the original structure had been demolished a long time ago and replaced with a reinforced concrete platform. The platform was removed and the reinstatement of the porch followed the original design. Local craftsmen carried out the plaster decoration on the street elevation. The roof structure remained untouched but the roofing tiles had to be made good and the chimneys were rebuilt. Bathrooms and the necessary services were installed in the new building whilst there is only a toilet in the old section. The new part has a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor and an bedroom and two bathrooms on the first floor.

This plot is situated in “Gatyaulet” Street and is one Rimetea’s hidden treasures. Until 2001 two families used the plot. The plot’s owners have never been rich and this is evident by the quality and size of the ancillary buildings. An early 19th century agricultural building directly faces the street line. Behind this is the only 18th century serf house in the village that retains its original roof form. Both families owned baking houses, two small barns, two outhouses and a pigsty.

The first alterations were carried out in the second house, built in 1749. The badly damaged shingle roof was reconstructed in 1997.

Following restoration, the octogenarian owner, repaired the clay render and whitewashed the interior and exterior walls. Unfortunately, she died in 2000 following which the house was purchased by the Trust with support from the Hungarian ICOMOS Committee. A detailed ethnographic study of this house was completed. This research revealed new evidence regarding the traditional baking oven, two tiled fireplaces, the periods of the doors and windows and clarified some aspects of the house’s function.

The owner of the first building on the plot died in 2001. This house was purchased with the support of the IHBC (Great Britain). The conservation works started in 2002. Between 2004-05 the building’s street elevation was restored and the modern tri-partite window was replaced with two traditional ones. The original white colour scheme was also re-instated. New furniture allowed the building to be used as a guesthouse.
Between 2008-2010 three fire places were reconstructed in the house built in 1749 sponsored by the US Ambassadors Fund. The baking oven from the kitchen was demolished and moved from a ruined house in the neighboring Coltesti. The process of demolishing and reconstruction can be considered a great professional success. In the two rooms tiled fire places were built, the unglazed and white-blue glazed tiles were reconstructed based on originals from the local museum by a ceramic artist Karoly Laszlo. With this accasion the foundations and walls of the house were repaired.

This house is considered to be the earliest vernacular dwelling in the Carpathian Basin primarily because a date of 1668 is carved in one of its timber window frames. The building comprises a living room and a kitchen. Traces of fireplaces can be found in both rooms, (a baking oven in the kitchen and a tiled fireplace in the living room). Immediately below the kitchen there is a small vaulted cellar. The log walls of the house support a timber floor that contains a principal beam dating from 1735. The simple roof structure was covered with shingles, later with insulation paper. A detailed ethnographic study proves that the house has been repaired and altered several times throughout its life-time. The roof structure and external render date from the 19th century. A theory exists that this house was originally built on the Main Square and was moved to its present position, on a plot that was divided from an original long, narrow plot.

The building had not been used for decades and its structure had greatly deteriorated with more than 70% of its timber decayed. When the owner died in 1999, the house was placed on the market and it appeared that the site would be used for a new house. In order to rescue the building the Transylvania Trust purchased the house with the support of the Hungarian ICOMOS Committee. A detailed architectural survey along with biological and ethnographic research preceded the restoration. Following this, an international workshop with the participation of several ICOMOS members debated the theoretical and practical aspects of the restoration and the methodology.

The restoration of this building was made possible by funding from the NKA (Hungarian National Cultural Fund) in the framework of the Built Heritage Conservation Training program, jointly organised by the IHBC (Great Britain) and the Transylvania Trust. The works were co-ordinated by the IHBC and local experts. The restoration focused on several timber elements. Sole plates, wall beams and rafters were repaired one by one, the roof was shingled and the walls rendered with clay. The building was covered with a temporary roof during the repairs. The principle of minimum intervention and compatibility was applied and elements were repaired. This allowed the dwelling’s character to be successfully conserved.

The restoration was finalised thanks to a US Government grant: the Ambassadors Fund. The wall finishes, the outside clay layers, the doors, windows and ceilings were restored. In the kitchen a baking oven whereas in the room, based on careful research a tiled fire place was reconstructed.

Beside the short term motivation of the grant system, the foundation pointed on the long term benefits of historic preservation, showing to the villagers that a restored house can be used as tourist accommodation that could generate also profit. The visitor numbers in Rimetea were growing also thanks to the publicity created by the conservation program, and this generated the establishment of more than 50 guest houses. The foundation has supported all those historic property owners who wanted to open their houses to visitors, by preparing the necessary documentations. Tourism became the most important part of the local economy.

In the first years the locals were renting out rooms that the families were not using. At the end of the 1990’s a tourist agency and a tourist association was established in order to protect the interests of the owners and to fix the quality of the services. Unfortunately the quality of different services is still variable, and this is not always reflected in the level of the prices. In the last five years more and more buildings were built exclusively to accommodate bedrooms or dining rooms. It can be considered quite successful the conversion of some barns to tourist pensions.

Research, Planning, Implementation and Legal Framework:

The scientific foundation of the program is a database containing architectural and structural information on 160 buildings. This information is continually being updated with new research and survey work. An architectural survey of Rimetea’s buildings was carried out between 1996 and 1998. This survey work served as an important educational tool by familiarizing 41 students who participated in the surveys not only with surveying techniques but also with the general principles on vernacular architecture and historic building conservation.

The conservation work provided employment for local craftsmen and the possibility to learn traditional skills necessary for historic building conservation.

The results of the research of the rural architecture of Rimetea were published by Árpád Furu in several books and scientific articles.

The development of rural tourism generates an increasing demand for development, change to the existing dwellings and the construction of new houses. The Trust answered this challenge by partially grant-aiding new design and establishing a legal framework for protecting the area. A Conservation Urban Study of Rimetea, later included in the Urban Development Plan, was financed by the Foundation. This was followed by a request to the Ministry of Culture to designate Rimetea a protected area. As a result Rimetea was designated a Conservation Area in 2000. Consequently, all new development proposed in the village, or located in a large buffer zone around it, must be authorized by a Commission for the Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, this governmental body invited the Foundation to control all schemes proposed in the area. This way the Trust’s pro-active work could be complemented by the statutory development control measures. Unfortunately, enforcement of the legal framework is worryingly flexible in Rimetea.

Project Director: Furu Árpád