What use are the laws protecting historical monuments (4) : the chateau of Hombourg-Budange in Lorraine

1. Château d’Hombourg-Budange
July 2010
Photo : Didier Rykner

The purpose of this series of articles is to prove, illustrating specific cases, that for the most part, and despite recent Parliamentary threats, French law provides satisfactory protection of our heritage if only those in charge of applying it really did their job.

Any legal structure is based on the premise that public officials are devoted and conscientious. Yet, it has rarely been less true than today. We have thus already discussed (the case of the chateau d’Ancenis) a listed building which will soon see the construction of a mediocre administrative structure, with a totally opposed architecture, placed directly next to it. However, protecting the immediate surroundings of a historical monument is also an essential aspect of heritage laws. Another example is that of the amphitheatre in Frejus : a Roman vestige listed in the 19th century, which thus cannot be vandalized by law…unless the administration in charge of protecting it gives its permission, and also adds the needed funds for its completion. The third case is that of the chateau of Prince Charles (also known as La Favorite) in Luneville (in French). This building is only registered, a category which is obviously not enough to ensure its protection. And yet, the administration in question has the necessary means at its disposal to save it : application for listing, then automatic listing and the execution, if needed, of a procedure for carrying out the repairs, again automatically. The historical and artistic importance of this chateau has been established. The spirit of the law is thus being flouted.

2. Château d’Hombourg-Budange
We can see the holes on the roof
July 2010
Photo : Didier Rykner

This article highlights the case of another chateau in Lorraine. Just like with La Favorite in Luneville, we asked the Directeur Regional des Affaires Culturelles for an explanation. Our readers may recall that it had washed its hands of any comment with this admirable response : “The DRAC does not care to answer for the moment.” We have no idea when the DRAC will care to answer, perhaps after the monument has been permanently damaged ?
In this case, we have a beautiful Renaissance chateau : that of Hombourg-Budange [1] (ill. 1). We learned of the scandal thanks to the journal, Vieilles Maisons Francaises which mentioned it in its May 2010 issue [2]. The information was taken from a very informed blog on Lorraine heritage, written by Anthony Koenig, La Lorraine se devoile, which we recommend reading.
We visited the site to better observe what is clearly apparent in the photographs : in 2011, a major chateau, listed as a historical monument, and is private property, can be entirely abandoned, the roof left with a gaping hole (ill. 2), a condition which we know from previous experience inevitably leads to complete and speedy ruin. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the monument. No wonder, after all we can easily understand that the owner, Count Charles-Louis de Rochechouart de Mortemart [3] is in no hurry to display the result of his incompetence. We should remember that ownership of a listed historical monument implies certain rights, but it also imposes a number of obligations, above all that of preserving it so as to ensure its safekeeping. If the owner of the chateau cannot afford to do so (according to our sources, this one does), he should sell the property to someone who can.

Once again, the question is : what use are the laws protecting historical monuments ? What use is the Ministry of Culture ? The law itself is very clear : a historical monument should be saved because it is “in the public interest”. And this notion of public interest applies as well of course to private buildings.
The law [4] provides the following : “when the preservation of a building listed as a historical monument is seriously compromised due to the non-execution of repairs or maintenance, administrative authorities may, after consulting with the Commission nationale des monuments historiques, order the owner to proceed with said repairs, and set a deadline for their completion stipulating the share of expenses funded by the government, which must be at least 50%. The order will detail the manner in which the payments will be made by the government.” If the owner does not carry out the works despite the injunction, “the administrative authorities may either execute the needed repairs automatically, or else expropriate the building in the name of the government.” Article L621-15 goes even further since it states that : “To ensure the execution of urgent repairs needed to consolidate buildings listed as historical monuments, or to carry out repairs or maintenance without which the preservation of the buildings would be compromised, the administrative authorities, if no agreement is reached with the owner, may, if necessary, authorize the temporary occupation of the buildings or others in the vicinity.”

The Ministry of Culture thus has all the necessary legal means at its disposal to save the chateau of Hombourg-Budange. We do not understand why it does not implement them. Is it the fear of having to disburse at least 50% of the cost ? Here also, we must remember that a listing as a historical monument implies certain responsibilities on the part of the owner, but these apply to the government as well. Since the monument is listed, it cannot shirk its duties, or by doing so clearly fail in its appointed mission. In fact, we were recently told that heritage allocations had been generously supplemented thanks to the new “relaunch” policy. Cannot they not go towards the chateau in Lorraine ? A ministry which spends 4 million euros to vandalize a Roman amphitheatre should be able to find the money needed to save a Renaissance chateau. If it needs to expropriate the defaulting owner, it should do so, then restore the monument and sell it. There is nothing to prevent the government from taking such action.

We could spend hours wondering why the Ministry of Culture is not doing anything. It always uses the September “heritage weekend” to give itself a pat on the back. The French respond in large numbers every year by rushing to visit these monuments demonstrating their enthusiasm and attachment but, thanks to an astutely managed communications campaign and a festival of events completely disconnected from the reality of the situation, receive the misleading impression that these treasures are in no way threatened. In fact, they are and in many different ways. Once again, and we must not forget that doing so is often useful despite the odds, we invite our readers to sign the petitionposted by Anthony Koenig on his blog. Only a strong showing of support will save the chateau Hombourg-Budange.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 25 août 2010


[1] A first castle built in the 13th or 14th century (with some remaining vestiges), was restored and fortified from 1536 to 1551, burn in 1552 and three wings rebuilt in 1558, with a fourth one dating from the 18th century. This historical information appears on the entry in the Inventaire general, available online on the Merimee database.

[2] Number 232. This short text also mentioned another chateau which is in very serious danger, Saluxures-sur-Moselotte, from the 19th century, which we will discuss in an upcoming article.

[3] His name can be found on the entry in the Inventaire general. When we were in the village, we left a note in his mailbox requesting an interview but are still awaiting a reply.

[4] Heritage code, articles L621-12, L621-13, L621-14.

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