Chic in the head: torture jail turned into a five-star hotel
Developers are accused of wrecking historic WW2 fortress with a grim history to cash in on Adriatic holiday boom
Heritage campaigners in Montenegro have accused developers of wrecking a historic island fortress, where prisoners were once starved and tortured, by turning it into a five-star “haven for the rich”.
The island of Lastavica, on which the 19th-century Mamula fortress stands, is in an idyllic position off the coast of the tiny Balkan country, which is experiencing a tourism boom as investors move in on its beaches and bays. But the island has a dark past: during World War 2 it was used by the occupying Italians as a jail for about 2,000 political prisoners. Many were tortured and an estimated 130 were killed or starved to death.
In 2016, decades after it was abandoned, the Montenegrin government agreed to grant a 49-year lease on the island to a development company which has begun turning the fortress into a luxury resort, complete with a watersports club, restaurants and bars and three swimming pools. The boutique hotel will include a spa and 34 rooms.
The government says that without the €15m (R245m) investment by OHM Mamula Montenegro, a Swiss company, the fortress would fall further into ruin. But the relatives of prisoners who were held on the island by Mussolini’s fascist forces vociferously oppose the project, saying it is not in keeping with the site’s grim history.
Campaigners say the developers are “devastating” the fortress, a charge the company strongly denies. Its interior is being excavated to a depth of 10m to make way for swimming pools, and sections of stone wall have been demolished, according to the Bokobran Initiative, a heritage group. It has sent a letter of protest to the Montenegrin government as well as the country’s Unesco committee.
“We are witnessing the transformation of a former concentration camp into a boutique hotel,” the group said. It called for an investigation into the Montenegrin politicians who granted the company the lease over the fortress, which was completed in 1853 by an Austro-Hungarian admiral named Lazar Mamula.
Vuk Čvoro, an architect and a member of the heritage organisation, said he feared public access to the island would be limited or blocked altogether once the development was complete, as happened when the picturesque island of Sveti Stefan, on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, was turned into a resort where rooms in low season cost more than €800 a night.
“We feel that the development is inappropriate – people were tortured here,” he said. “It is being turned into an island haven for rich people. Like Sveti Stefan, it won’t belong to the people of Montenegro any more.”
The developers defended the project, saying they were acting strictly in accordance with heritage preservation laws and that there would be no sign of the building work once the resort was complete. “The development and renovation of Mamula has been carefully planned to preserve the structural integrity of the existing buildings, while restoring and renovating them into a world-class boutique hotel and spa,” said Dragana Beirovi, a company representative. She added that the suffering of prisoners held on the island during the war would be commemorated with a “memorial gallery” in the resort.
The developers say they are doing “absolutely everything to protect the fortress’s beauty and uniqueness” and that the island will remain open to the public year round.
– © The Daily Telegraph