We know Estonia as a progressive and tech savvy country. Skype, #estonianmafia, favourable tax policy for startups, electronic ID, and internet declared as human right. What other tech news could possibly make us wonder? Well, there’s a 600 years old castle in North Estonia called Malla Manor that is set up to become a Bitcoin innovation centre, according to Finnish silver investor and Bitcoin entrepreneur Risto Pietilä.
Risto is known for its Estonia-based investment silver enterprise SilverBank.net and using its proceeds to invest in Bitcoin. He is also an active member of Bitcoin community - his nick on Bitcointalk is rpietila. Rpietila is, for one, the person behind the calculations estimating the inequality in Bitcoin world to be ten times higher than in real world.
Last year Risto announced his intentions to buy the Estonian castle on Finnish radio. He stated that he had made 2 million EUR from his Bitcoin activities and now intends to use half of that money to buy the castle. The transaction took place on February 28, 2014. Helsinki Times estimated that this may have been the world’s most valuable virtual currency contract to date.
‘Bitcoin is the essence of technology,’ Pietilä explains to Helsinki Times. He believes that it can sometime displace the current monetary system. But he also views the castle as a way to diversify his investments.
‘I bought the castle with the money that I earned from bitcoins at the end of last year. Their value had just increased ten-fold,’ Pietilä continues. ’I wanted something that would be the opposite of Bitcoin. And I thought that it would certainly be a castle. If bitcoin continues to rise, I can end next year up to ten times richer than I am now. If it collapses completely, I still have the castle.’
The castle has been first mentioned in historical records in 1443. Since then it has been rebuilt and destroyed in wars several times. The current main building of Malla Manor features a unique hard-to-define historicist style and has been completed in the 1880s. According to Pietilä, currently the castle is under renovation and hosts only use the dining rooms. The 13 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms are located in the outbuildings, renovated in the 2000s.
Even though the idea of establishing centres for Bitcoin activity around the world is not new, this case differs from the usual practice. As opposed to establishing a hub in the heart of a vibrant city, Malla Manor is located far away from business and commerce centres. According to Business Forum Journal, the image and atmosphere there resonates more with that of a philosophical philanthropic institution.
However, it does not seem a straightforward task to attract customers to a high-class conference venue in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, Pietilä remains optimistic.
‘I have already held several meetings there, and the reality is that currently the customer base is indeed very small. This is intentional and will change dramatically when Bitcoin makes its next rise to about 5000-10000 dollars. Then everybody will want to come. And only then will I have the funds to proceed with the renovations, so the demand and supply will go neatly hand-in-hand,’ he explains.
Pietilä has plans to commemorate the founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, with naming the most prestigious suite after him. The construction will commence after Bitcoin's next rise and is expected to cost upwards of 1 million dollars. The suite may be up to 450 square meters.
Behind the scenes, many things are happening. David Latapie, known as the core team member of the nascent cryptocurrency Monero, is moving his residence to the castle next month, to be better able to concentrate on development. Pietilä has also made similar offers to other developers of different cryptos and intends to build a Bitcoin incubator in the manor. ‘I believe next year Malla will be an important permanent site for cryptocurrency development, as well as a conference venue for short-term visitors,’ he says.
We will have to follow the news on Bitcoin price to see whether these plans come true. What is sure, though, is that Malla Manor is set out to enrich the list of geek tourism destinations in the region.
Marija Odineca is passionate about Baltic startup scene, visiting interesting Baltic startups and gathering their stories. She also coordinates the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Latvia.