Castles of Serbia

Castle Baba Pusta

in Aleksa Šantić

The appearance of the castle before the First World War

Baba Pusta (Baba Puszta), the castle owned by the nobleman Károly Fernbach, is situated 9 kilometres from the village of Aleksa Šantić (Šari), only a short distance from the border between Serbia and Hungary. Of all the castles in Vojvodina, Baba Pusta is perhaps most reminiscent of the castles in Transylvania. It was built in 1907 per design project by Rezső Hikisch, Hungarian architect and practitioner of Art Nouveau style. Károly Fernbach, as well as the entire Fernbach family, was very rich, and he was also the prefect of Bačko-Bodroški based in Sombor. His brothers also built castles: Joseph had a castle in Apatin, Balint in Sonta and Krivaja, and Antal in Temerin.

However, the construction of the castle was mostly influenced by German Jungendstil style, rather than Hungaryan  folklore which defined Hungarian Secession  – the style recognised in Hungary at the time. The castle features some very specific architectural elements typical of Darmstadt school of Jugendstil.

The appearance of the castle before the First World War

The castle is a representative family building of classical square plan, with portico entrance and terraces on the opposite side of the edifice. It consists of a tower with helical staircase. The entrance facade with portico is especially emphasised. The rear facade is dominated by a semi-circular terrace for family gatherings, with an outdoor staircase which connects it with the park. The park contains a significant number of rare and ornamental trees: yews, thujas, firs, pine trees, pedunculate oaks, ginkgos and others. Carefully designed park is not saved to its original state, though it is less damaged than the building. Dora Fernbach made a large number of birdhouses and artificial nests in the park, making it a bird sanctuary, and she was the first woman in the world to mark birds with rings on their legs, which is a common procedure today.

On the ground floor there is a large room that serves as a central hall with staircase leading up to the first floor and gallery. The interior was dominated by decor elements which haven’t been fully preserved – wood detailings, marble, glass, chandeliers and fireplace.

Baba Pusta was the second most impressive castle in Vojvodina – the first one being the castle of Fantast. After World War II it was the headquarter of Agro-business company “Aleksa Šantić”( after nationalisation); afterwards it was reused for other purposes. Anyway the building has been properly maintained and preserved in its original, impressive appearance.

During the 90s the company building was completely abandoned and left to fall into decay. It has become a hang-out for drug addicts, overgrown with shrubs. In reportages made in 2009 and 2011. the castle was captured without the roof, but with still clearly visible façade. Today it can’t be seen through the thick shrubs that have covered it completely. The family chapel with semi-circular apse and frescoes has been destroyed. Frescoes were scratched and the marble altar was broken in two by some hooligans who were told that there was gold hidden under it. Of course there was no gold. The narrow corridor leading to the chapel is decorated with murals depicting Via Dolorosa scenes. The chapel was also adorned with reliefs, stained-glass windows and rosettes – with plant and animal themes. Relief portraits and wall personifications, made in stucco technique are very ruined which is no surprise, considering rather fragile plaster texture.

Today it looks like a set for Indiana Jones film. For ten years the plants have engulfed the castle. The scene is more reminiscent of Angkor Watt or Palenque. The castle is in horrible condition. There is no roof and the staircase is crushing down. All the interior items were taken away. Only the mighty walls are still standing.

There are a few people living nearby. Thorough and extensive renovation should be carried out on the property. The recommendation for the castle is to be turned into an exclusive castle hotel with faithfully reconstructed details using original materials – wrought iron, plaster, stained glass. Reconstruction would also include frescoes, tiled stoves and carpentry.

Recently, a visualisation of the restoration of the Baba Puszta castle appeared on the YouTube website, with a proposal to restore the old glory to this magnificent building.

This project was supported by the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia.