NEWS

Culture Ministry explores contents of old royal estate

By John Hadoulis - Agence France-Presse

TATOI - Over 30 years since it abolished the monarchy, Greece seeks to find a viable use for Tatoi, a crumbling 19th century estate on the outskirts of Athens that for decades was the home of the Greek royal family. Located some 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Athens, Tatoi in its heyday welcomed the cream of European royalty, from Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to King Edward VII of England and Empress Elisabeth (Sissy) of Austria-Hungary. Today, the rustic 4,700-hectare (11,610-acre) estate lies largely abandoned. Its 37 romantic-style buildings are in various degrees of disrepair - some barely standing - with the Greek royal crest prominent only on barrels that once contained the estate's vintage wine. Rotting carriages are parked in a former cowshed, a nearby warehouse conceals a dust-covered Rolls-Royce, and a pyramid of carton boxes clutters the estate's disused stables. Their precise contents are unknown, even to overseeing Culture Ministry staff who have only just begun to pry them open for clues. «We can say nothing until a full inventory is complete,» Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis said during a media tour of the site on Monday. In a container erected next to the decrepit main lodge, a ministry restoration team carefully labored on a small trove of items: a woman's glove and parasol, old coins and uniforms, the estate visitors' log and a childhood portrait of the last occupant - Greece's king Constantine II, pictured next to his sister, the present-day Queen Sofia of Spain. An inventory compiled on orders from Constantine's late mother Queen Frederika reportedly also includes 39 ancient art objects and 51 religious icons, ministry officials said. But the same officials admit they do not know what is still present on the site, as the former royal family was in 1991 permitted to remove a number of items inside 10 containers. Initially intended as the Greek royal family's summer residence, Tatoi became the king's official home after World War II but fell onto hard times when its last owners abandoned it in 1967, shortly after a group of army putschists took control of government. The estate was seized by the junta regime in 1973 along with other properties, sparking a legal grudge that was only resolved in 2002 when the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Greek state to pay 13.2 million euros (15.4 million dollars) to the former royal family. Originally purchased in 1872 by King George I of Greece, a scion of Denmark's ruling house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gluecksburg, Tatoi expanded over the years to include guest houses, a dairy farm, a winery, an olive press, a greenhouse, a church and the Greek royal family cemetery. Tatoulis on Monday said that creating a museum and a park «are part of the ministry's interests» for the estate. But the minister gave no cost or deadline estimate for the project. «This is not something that can be achieved from one moment to the next, the site had been abandoned for years,» he said, adding that the Greek government is hoping to enlist European Union funds for Tatoi's restoration. The Greeks voted to abolish the monarchy in 1974, in a referendum held shortly after the army junta collapsed and democracy was restored in the country.

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