Torture prison reinvented . . . as a five-star resort

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”. 15 March 2019
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”. 15 March 2019
Image: Google Maps.

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 water sports club, restaurants and bars and three swimming pools.

The government says without the £13m (R249m) investment by OHM Mamula Montenegro, a Swiss company, the fortress will fall further into ruin.

But the relatives of prisoners who were held on the island by Benito 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.

It called for an investigation into the Montenegrin politicians who granted the company the lease over the fortress, which was completed in 1853.

The developers say they are doing everything to protect the fortress’s beauty and uniqueness.

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