How Mt. Triglav Became a Slovenian National Symbol. Part Two.

By , 28 Jan 2019, 19:00 PM Lifestyle
Aljaž Tower, 1895 Aljaž Tower, 1895

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January 28, 2019

Read part one here.

If the first mountaineering successes took place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the second half of the latter saw the emergence of mountaineering organisations, which built mountain huts, marked and maintained trails, and brought mountaineering closer to the broader public.

Friends of Triglav

On Triglav, the first mountain hut (called Triglav Temple) was built in 1869 by Jože Škantar at the initiative of the local chaplain, Ivan Žan. The hut was part of the plan to establish the first Slovenian mountaineering organisation by some of the locals of Bohinj, who also sought to register the first Slovenian alpinist club, Friends of Triglav, in 1872. Unfortunately, just as the authorities returned the papers, demanding a change in the place of registration from ‘Bohinj’ to one of the villages in the area, Ivan Žan was transferred from Bohinj to Škofja Loka, and the six-day deadline to fix the problem was missed.

The aforementioned Triglav temple, a simple wooden hut, standing at the elevation of 2,401 metres, managed to defy the devastating forces of nature for about five years. Then, in 1877, Jože Škantar together with his son erected another, much stronger building, which was taken over by the merged German and Austrian climbing clubs (Deutscher und Österreichischer Alpenverein, DÖAV), and therefore also carried a German name, that is, Triglav Hütte. In 1911 Triglav Hütte became a property of the Austrian Tourist Club, which changed its name to Maria Theresien Haus and enlarged into its current size. The building changed its name again in between the World Wars, when it was called the Alexander hut. Only after the Second World War did the hut finally got its currently neutral name, Dom Planika (Edelweiss hut).

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Dom Planika, Photo: Aleš Glavnik, Mountaineering Association of Slovenia  
 

Pipe club and the Slovenian Mountaineering Society

Two decades passed before another attempt at a Slovenian mountaineering society (Slovensko planinsko društvo, SPD), which was finally formed in 1893. Meanwhile, trails and huts in the mountains were built and maintained by German and Austrian clubs for German and Austrian mountaineers.  

In 1892, six Slovenian mountaineers from Ljubljana met at the Rožnik restaurant at the top of the Ljubljana hill with the same name, where they founded an informal club called Pipa (Pipe), since one of the many rules, most of them hardly to be taken seriously, was that all of its members had to be equipped with pipes, tobacco and matches, along the rule that members had to visit one of Slovenia’s mountains every Sunday, or at least walk to the top of Rožnik.  They also put together a single copy of one issue of a newspaper with jokes and mountaineering stories, which was kept at the Rožnik restaurant for its members to read free of charge, while other visitors had to pay in order to do so.

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Pipa club trip to Triglav, 1894
 

On one of their trips, Pipa members discussed the problem of German domination of their activity in the Slovenian mountains, which eventually resulted in the Slovenian mountaineering society, or Slovensko Planinsko Društvo (SPD hereafter), which was formally established in 1893 in Ljubljana. Numerous branches of this society emerged in other parts of the country in the years to follow, including its Radovljica branch in 1895, where one of the constitutive members was also a local priest – Jakob Aljaž, a name that still lives on the summit.

Jakob Aljaž

SPD begun marking the mountain trails and building its own huts, which Germans called huts of defiance, since they were often built just a few metres away from the German ones. From this defiance came the idea of Jakob Aljaž to purchase the top of Triglav and decorate it with a tower which would eventually bear the first writing in the Slovenian language in the entire Triglav massif area: Aljažev stolp.

The tower was designed by Aljaž himself, and manufactured by his friend, tinsmith Anton Belec from Šentvid (Ljubljana) in 1895. The tower was a metal cylinder with a metal flag bearing the year of its construction stuck to the top.

Parts were taken by train to Mojstrana and carried to the top of Triglav by a group of six strong men over a span of one week. It was then to be put together by Aljaž, Belec and three assistants. On the night of their final climb to the mountain the five rested in Deschmannhaus, one of the three huts on Triglav at the time, all run by the Carniolan section of the DÖAV, which fought against any bilingual signs on the mountain and also prioritised German climbers over Slovenian ones when they were looking for shelter in their mountain huts.

However, foggy weather cleared the mountain, which meant that the group could work at the top without being disturbed by potentially outraged bystanders. The fog, however, also meant that Aljaž decided not to climb to the summit but rather to “supervise” the construction from below by listening to the sounds of the hammers hitting brass. The tower was standing after about five hours of such work.

Once the tower was discovered the DÖAV was enraged and demanded its removal in a legal battle that was based on a claim that Aljaž had destroyed a triangulation point, which allegedly stood at the tower’s location. Aljaž on the other hand claimed that no such trig point was ever in the tower’s location, apart from a wooden pyramid which had been placed at the top 40 years earlier and destroyed by weather long before the tower was erected. His claims were eventually confirmed by a key witness, Captain Schwartz, who later asked Aljaž to allow a trig point’s information pergament to be placed under the tower, carrying information about its coordinates and the elevation point of its top, which effectively brought the tower under the Emperor’s protection. Later on Aljaž donated the tower to the SDP.

With the tower also came a song, which became the SDP’s official anthem. In 1894 a poem Slavin, written by  Matija Zemljič, caught Jakob Aljaž’s eye, so he wrote music for it after which it became known as Oj, Triglav, moj dom. It has since been adopted as the official anthem of the Slovenian Mountaineering Association, and also serves as a basis for the fanfares starting and ending the Ski Jumping FIS Finals in Planica.

 

With the tower at the top Triglav thus became the main symbol of the Slovenian national identity.   

Meanwhile, a struggle of another kind had emerged. SDP and its touristic culture of walking to the top of a mountain became too small to accommodate the emerging new culture of alpinism within one group. The peak of Triglav may have been conquered, but the battle for domination now opened at the mountain’s northern face, also known as Triglav’s northern wall.

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Vrata Valley with Triglav’s Northern Wall, Photo: Javier Sanchez Portero, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0
 

Read part three here

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