Investor Pledges to Guard Mamula Fort Heritage

A plan to turn an Austro-Hungarian prison camp into a five-star hotel has angered many in Montenegro, but the investor and the state claim they will persevere the site's heritage.
Mamula Fort | Photo: Facebook.

The Swiss-Egyptian investor in the controversial plans to turn former prison camp into a hotel, has insisted it will preserve the camp’s hertage.

Orascom company pledged that the 15 million euro project to convert the Mamula fort into a luxury resort will fully respect the history of the now largely-abandoned site.

In a rare public response after being accused of planning to “ruin every memory” and of planning to close the site to locals, the company said that the luxury hotel will contain “a unit that can reflect the history of the island during both World Wars.

“Orascom’s vision is to renew the Mamula fort… while preserving its cultural heritage and promoting its historic character,” Dragana Becirovic, a representative of the investor, Swiss-Egyptian Orascom, told BIRN.

The fort on Lastavica island, located at the entrance of the Bay of Kotor, near the coastal resort of Herceg Novi, was built by Austria-Hungary in the 19th century and used mainly as a prison during both World Wars.

Montenegro’s parliament in December approved a contract to lease the site to Orascom for 49 years, which includes an obligation by Orascom to invest 15 million euros over the next few years. The government has said that 200 local people may get work.

The project has divided opinions in Montenegro, with some claiming it is an inappropriate adaptation of a site where people were starved or killed.

The plan has especially angered relatives of people who were imprisoned there while the island was occupied by Mussolini’s Fascists.

But Becirovic pledged that the luxury hotel at Mamula will contain “one unit that can reflect the history of the island during both World Wars.

“Our plans go further – the hotel lobby will also serve as part of the museum where [historic] documents and objects will be exhibited,” she explained.

Becirovic said more detailed project documentation will be developed in collaboration with Montenegro’s Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, UZKD.

On their part, UZKD officials told BIRN that the project must be realised in a way “not to harm the cultural and historic character of the site nor the natural environment”.

Recalling that they issued a set of conservation conditions for Mamula adaptation in July 2014 on the request of the Tourism Ministry, the directorate said the project needs to include an appropriate presentation of the memorial collection connected to the imprisonment of Boka Kotorska residents in the fort during WWI and WWII.

“Our conditions also include a requirement to conduct research of the historic documentation from written and other sources, before developing the final project for Mamula,” the directorate said in a written response sent to BIRN.

“It is very important to conserve the spirit of the place, which is not only made of physical, material remains but also of memories, stories, history,” it said.

The plans to transform the former camp at Mamula into a luxury resort hit headlines after several major world media outlets published stories quoting BIRN’s article.  

Meanwhile, the website mamulaisland.com, which featured computer generated images of Mamula in a party atmosphere, has become unavailable to the general public, as it now requires a password to access.

“The website is currently unavailable because this is a preliminary concept which was created with the intent of presenting the Orascom vision during the tender procedure and the negotiations that proceeded after signing the long-term lease contract with the Government,” Becirovic said.

Nela Lazarevic