Ljubljana related

27 Feb 2019, 12:50 PM

STA, 25 February 2019 - Following President Borut Pahor's recent assessment that the work of the government commission for mass graves has "become not only socially acceptable but also socially accepted", substantial progress in the field has also been confirmed by the commission's vice-president Mitja Ferenc.

So far 233 mass graves and post-WWII execution sites have been confirmed and registered in Slovenia. Full or partial reburial was performed at 129, while the the existence of body remains has been confirmed for the remaining 104, Ferenc told the weekly paper Reporter.

The historian attributes major importance to the 2015 act on concealed mass graves and the burial of victims, adopted under a centre-left coalition at the initiatives of the centre-right opposition New Slovenia (NSi).

In the last three years, 162 summary execution sites were marked and tended to. The remains of at least 2,532 bodies were discovered in them and 1,615 were buried, he said.

Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map

The commission's main project presently is the Larch Hill mass grave in the south-east of the country, where he hopes exhumation will already start in the spring.

Expecting to discover around 1,500 victims, Ferenc said "the objects found near the pit indicate that Slovenian victims lie inside".

While asserting that the EUR 480,000 allocated to the commission by the state annually suffice for its tasks, Ferenc is not happy with the attitude of the Economy Ministry.

He said legislation tasked the commission with a large number of tasks that are demanding and require assistance. A key issue are delays in tenders and unreasonable deadlines, which for instance give the commission six weeks for reburial on demanding terrain and winter conditions.

Meanwhile, Ferenc said that concealed mass graves are not the only problem in Slovenia: "We have a neglectful attitude to all grave sites, including those of the Partisan forces. They are not looked after, the registry is not systematic, there are also sites that do not really contain any victims."

Ferenc, who said it was time to stop looking away, announced an initiative to establish an institute for war graves, to be presented on the occasion of the nearing tenth anniversary of the entry into Huda Jama, a site which contained 1,416 victims.

Related: Post-War Massacres in Slovenia (Video)

10 Feb 2019, 13:43 PM

February 10, 2019

Read part one here and part two here.

The main task of the Slovenian Mountaineering Society (Slovensko Planinsko Društvo, SDP), established in 1893, was to build, take care and then walk along the secured mountain trails. One of the first important improvements on Triglav was securing some of the most problematic parts of the route leading to the summit. In the early 1870s, a local guide, Šest, and his son eased the trail from Triglav temple to Little Triglav, cut some very much needed steps into the rock, and secured the ridge between both peaks with iron poles with loops that carried a rope fence, which now allowed even more climbers to reach the summit.

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Ridge between Little and Big Triglav before and after

In the years that followed, more trails were built and secured, allowing the ascent to the summit from several huts in various directions, including from the north. This is a route which used to cross the shrinking glacier, but today leads to Kredarica, the most popular starting point to reach the summit since Jakob Aljaž found a great spot for a hut which was built there in 1896.  

However, the Slovenian Mountaineering Society did little for a small group of daring young climbers, who were more interested in new routes than tourist walks on known and secured trails. On Triglav, this meant climbing the Northern Wall, one of the largest of its kind in the Eastern Alps. It's 1300m high (following the German route) and 3500m wide, with several shelves and ravines forming independent walls within the big one. Triglav’s Northern Wall is also home to several of the hardest climbing routes in the Slovenian Alps. 

Triglav Northern Wall. Photo: https://www.kranjska-gora.si

Triglav Northern Wall

Although the first climbers of the Northern Wall were shepherds and hunters, who mostly followed the paths of animals, sports climbing was based on a different kind of logic from that which found a path that was shown to a “gentleman” by a hunter, as the so-called Slovenian route across the Northern Wall was shown by a guide (Komac) to Henrik Tuma in 1910. If the new route for the older generation meant an easier path across a newly climbed slope, the new view on alpinism involved climbing a new, more difficult route without cleared paths and instead with the help of pitons and ropes.

Triglav’s Northern Wall was considered one of the three main problems of the Eastern Alps before it was even climbed, and as such was the focus of German, Austrian and Czech climbers. After the walls of Watzmann (1888) and Hochstadl (1905), the wall of Triglav was finally climbed by three Austrian Germans, Karl Domenigg, Felix Koenig and Hans Reinl, in 1906. The route has become known as the German route, and their success was immediately followed by several failed attempts, some even fatal ones.

Dren Society

In 1908 the Dren society was established, a group of students interested in Alpinism, skiing, caving and photography, novel activities outside the usually promoted Alpine tourism of the Slovenian Mountaineering Society, whose members considered them as “neck-breakers”.

Slovenian Alpinism before World War One was still way behind the developments in other parts of the Alps. The first use of a piton by a Dren member, Pavel Kunaver, is only recorded in 1911, which is also the last year of attempts at the Northern Wall until after the war.  

Although Dren members did introduce some novelty into Slovenian climbing, such as winter ascents (sometimes accompanied by skiing) and other more adventurous climbs, their equipment and technique at the time only allowed them to climb routes of the third level of difficulty, and their predecessor and colleague Henrik Tuma hadn’t climbed anything beyond that level either.

This situation can be seen in the fact that the abovementioned German route on the Triglav Northern Wall, which had the climbing difficulty of level IV, was the most difficult route in Slovenian mountains at the time. Hans Reinly, one of the three first climbers described the achievement with the following words: “Triglav rises its triple head angrily. Let it be called Slovenian highest mountain, but this time it was the German force that conquered its most terrifying hip and fought through dark fogs which driven by a storm descent into the depth from the grey ice at the edge of the wall.” Worth mentioning is that in those days there was no meteorological report, and the day and a half climb took place in rain and bad weather.

The guiding ideas of the Dren were to conquer Slovenian mountains before the German mountaineers, try to prevent the Germanisation of Slovenian mountain names, and to climb without mountain guides, which was the main mountaineering style of the time. Lack of manpower and resources prevented these goals being fully achieved, although the ideas persisted throughout the interwar period and became perhaps the main reason behind the increasing Slovenian obsession with Alpinism, which eventually produced some of the best climbers in the world and continues to do so, regardless of the small the size of the place and its population.

Triglav in the Interwar period

After the war, and let’s not forget that one of the bloodiest WWI fronts took place right at Triglav National Park’s eastern border across the banks of the River Soča (the Battle of Isonzo), the main concern of the Slovenian Mountaineering Society was mostly fixing what had been damaged or destroyed.   

Furthermore, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart and Slovenia joined the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. It turned out, however, that in 1915 the Triple Entente had signed a secret agreement with Italy, promising it large chunks of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in case of victory. With the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo Italy managed to claim most of the lands promised to her by the United Kingdom, Russia and France, which set the Italian-Yugoslav border at the peak of Triglav, a couple of metres away from Aljaž Tower.

Originally, the entire peak of Triglav was to belong to the Kingdom of South Slaves, however, Italy pushed very hard to get the land under its jurisdiction. The dispute was even more meaningful given that it was part of an attempt to extend poor conditions the Slovenes on the other side of the border had to endure in the face of the rising Italian fascism. The negotiations lasted for four years, and while waiting for the final decision certain incidents took place at the top of Triglav, in the summer of 1923 in particular. These are often referred to as “painting battles” but did in fact involve a more serious weapons beside the paintbrushes, which were used to paint Aljaž Tower with slogans and flag colours. Luckily, nobody got hurt, Aljaž Tower was eventually repainted to its original grey, and the final decision on the border in 1924 set the boundary marker 2.55m west from the Aljaž Tower, rendering the summit it effectively Slovenian.

Italian soldiers at the top of Triglav;    Photo: Slovenian Alpine Museum 
Slovenian Matica Mountain Society with Yugoslav border police.


Tourist Club Skala

Within the Slovenian Mountaineering Society (SPD) friction between the moderates and those advocating for “steep tourism” continued into the interwar period. Since the majority of members would not allow sports climbing to be recognised within the SDP, young mountaineers splintered off into a Tourist Club Rock (Turistovski klub Skala, TK Skala) in the winter of 1921.

Rock’s main goal was to continue the development in sports climbing started by Henrik Tuma and evolved by the Dren Society. Among the important climbing achievements of TK Skala are the first Slovenian level V difficulty route climbed by a female climber, Mira Marko Debelak, in 1926 (at the north face of Špik), and the first fully successful winter climb of Triglav’s northern wall in 1939 by Beno Anderwald, Mirko Slapar, Bogdan Jordan and Cene Malovrh, who since 1934, when the SPD finally took alpinism under its wing, had also been members of this organisation.

Foremost, however, Skala’s important achievements also extended into the field of art and culture. Like Dren, TK Skala promoted mountain photography and established a special photography department in charge of postcard production and other images for propaganda purposes. But above all, they were responsible for the first Slovenian feature film, the 1931 V kraljestvu Zlatoroga (In the Kingdom of the Goldhorn) and partially also for the second one a year later, Triglavske Strmine (The Slopes of Triglav). The first movie was produced by Skala and directed by one of their members, Janko Ravnik, while the second was produced by an independent film studio, although it featured several mountaineers/actors from the first film, including Miha Potočnik and Jože Čop.

07 Feb 2019, 16:32 PM

February 7, 2019

In 1942 the underground anti-fascist Radio Kričač (Radio Screamer) broadcast its longest and also the only cultural show of this kind in Europe.

On the eve of Prešeren's death, which is celebrated every February 8th as a day for culture and national holiday in the Republic of Slovenia, Radio Kričač broadcast a show that took about a month to prepare and involved recitals, music, speeches and other messages. Its usual programme would otherwise last 15 minutes three times a week.

Radio Screamer, established by members of the Liberation Front (OF – Osvobodilna fronta) operated from various secret locations in Ljubljana between November 1941 until April 1942, when it lost its audience following the Italian order for all the radio antennas to be removed from the city.

04 Feb 2019, 18:19 PM

Fanny Susan Copeland was a remarkable person whose life serves as a curiosity and inspiration. A British woman who was born in Ireland in 1872, grew up in Scotland, and moved to Slovenia in 1921, where she spent most of the rest of her life, dying at 98 in 1970, and buried at the foot of Mount Triglav.

Although she wrote an autobiography it was never published and will remain in copyright limbo until 2020. One person who’s seen this memoir is Eric Percival, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Fred Holloway, knew Fanny’s father, Ralph Copeland, once the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, with the two men meeting near Manchester in the early 1860's. Percival put together the original post that sparked my interest in Ms Copeland, and also kindly supplied some of the pictures that accompany this story. Unless otherwise stated, the facts set out below are also drawn from his account of her life, as based on her own and other reports.

Fanny Copeland 1.jpg

Although British by birth, Fanny was a thoroughly European woman, learning French and German as a child and being educated in Berlin shortly after turning 13. She also learned Latin, Italian, Danish, Norwegian and – due to her father’s interest in the Balkans – Slovenian. This connection with the country would be enough to get our attention, but Ms Copeland holds it because she bucks the standard narrative in terms of when and how one can make a new life for oneself. A brief outline of that life is as follows.

Fanny got married in 1894, at the age of 22, to escape her mother, but her husband was a 36-year old man who she never really liked. The couple had three children and then separated in 1908, finally divorcing in 1912, when Fanny was 40.

She developed a stronger connection with what would eventually become Yugoslavia soon after this, during the First World War, when she supported herself by doing translating for London-based South Slavic organisations. As part of this she translated Bogumil Vošnjak’s Bulwark against Germany: The fight of the Slovenes, the western branch of the Jugoslavs, for national existence, as well as serving as translator for the South Slavic delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.

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In "traditional costume"

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With Oton Župančič at the Congress of Dubrovnik in 1933

Ms Copeland then moved to Ljubljana in 1921, aged 49, when the city was part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. She was hired as a lecturer in English at the University (which itself only opened in July 1919), a post she held until 1941, when the Germans invaded. At this point, aged 69, she was arrested by the Gestapo and handed to the Italians, who moved her to Trieste, then to Arezzo and finally Bibbiena (in Etruria), where she spent the rest of the war “in open confinement”.

In 1953, aged 81, she finally moved back to Ljubljana. The death of her brother meant that she now had some savings, and thus Fanny Copeland lived in Hotel Slon for the rest of her life, continuing to work as a writer and translator.


Ms Copeland, right, in the Hotel Slon, late 1960s

A pioneer of mountaineering tourism in Slovenia

But Fanny Copeland isn’t just a fine example of a person who didn’t let their gender or age dictate what they should be doing and when, or of someone who managed to successfully integrate themselves into a new country, as she also played a key role in the development of Alpinism as a local tourist offering, and in the promotion of Slovenia as a tourist destination. This section thus draws from an article by Janet Ashton called “Buried at his feet”: Fanny Susan Copeland, Triglav and Slovenia, and from another, Fanny Copeland and the geographical imagination, by Richard Clarke and Marija Anteric, both of which are recommended for more detail.



Ms Copeland felt a great attraction for the Julian Alps, and Slovenia the Slovenes in general, claiming they were the most Scottish of the Yugoslav communities, perhaps because of the mountains, long dominance by other powers, and characteristics of pragmatism and frugality.

She first climbed Triglav in the 1920s, not having taken up serious climbing until her 40s, and did so for the last time in 1958, just before her 87th birthday. She also wrote two books on the Julian Alps, Beautiful Mountains: In the Jugoslav Alps (1931), and A short guide to the Slovene Alps (Jugoslavia) for British and American tourists (1936). As she said in 1957, this was done in the “hope of attracting to Slovenia tourists of all types, from summer visitors in search of little-known beautiful and inexpensive Alpine resorts to Alpinists in search of accessible mountain ranges not yet wholly exploited or explored”.


"Ambassador for the beauty of our mountains". www.gore-ljudje.net

Such efforts to reveal what in those days was still a very hidden gem were not without their obvious dangers, as she noted in a much earlier letter from 1923 when commenting on one of her many trips up Triglav: “It is an interesting walk, but as an expedition it is badly spoilt by the path having been made fool-proof. Result, every holiday is made hideous by hundreds of trippers, and the average person has to wait for a holiday to go up.”

Slovenski planinski muzej - Fanny S. Copeland, levo ob njej Fedor Košir, predsednik PZS.JPG

Slovenski planinski muzej:- Fedor Košir, president of the Alpine Association of Slovenia and Fanny Copeland. 

As mark of respect for her work to promote the Julian Alps, and to establish Triglav National Park, when Fanny Copeland died her funeral was organised by the Mountaineering Union of Slovenia. She was buried in the cemetery of the village church in Dovje, where you can still see her simple grave, as shown below.

Wikipedia - Miran Hladnik CC-by-2.5 Grob_Fanny_S._Copeland_na_Dovjem.jpg

Wikipedia - Miran Hladnik CC-by-2.5


As Copeland wrote in 1931:

By fixed custom those that perish on Triglav are buried at his feet. In the pretty village church of Dovje, opposite the entrance of the stately Valley of the Gate (Vrata– truly a gate to be called Beautiful) they lie side by side. I think they would have it so. The long shadows of the regal avenue of peaks, down which they passed to their last adventure, sweep over their graves as the days and the years roll by; on All Souls’ day the mountaineers bring them pious offerings of prayer and lights, and from their tombstones their names cry greeting and warning to the hosts that go up year by year to visit the mountains, - greeting to the many who go up by the blazed trail where every danger spot is made safe with iron bolt and wire rope, to protect the unwary and put heart into the timid, - greeting to the few who seek, like themselves, to win the goal without guidance save the love of the heights, and no company except the extreme mysteries of life and death – greeting to the cragsman and the lover, to schoolboy and hunter, to smuggler and spy, and the ski-shod friend of the snows….

So if you find yourself in Hotel Slon, on Mount Triglav or by the village of Dovje, spare a thought for the remarkable Fanny Copeland, a woman who not only did as much as anyone else working in English to make the case for a separate Slovenian identity, one distinct from land’s association with the Habsburgs, Slavs and Serbo-Croatians, but also did much to bring the beauty of the land to a wider audience, and to share the best of her adoptive home with the world.


As to what life was really like under Tito for a woman born to the academic elite under Queen Victoria, Copeland addresses this at the end of her autobiography, with a postscript to the reader:

But have you really found good reasons to go and live in a ‘communist’ state? This was a question I was often asked soon after my return to Ljubljana. Well - for one thing it depends on what you mean by 'Communism'. If you mean a totalitarian regime then my reply is that no Yugoslav would put up with such a system… The Yugoslavs are stout individualists, but they appreciate law and order. Ask any British tourist who has visited Yugoslavia in recent years.

All our stories on mountaineering in Slovenia can be found here

04 Feb 2019, 17:00 PM

STA, 4 February 2019 - Slovenska Matica, the nation's oldest cultural and scientific society, is celebrating its 155th anniversary with an open house on Monday. A number of lectures, debates and presentations are taking place. President Borut Pahor addressed the main ceremony.


Slovenia is confronted with the question of how to build its national character without it turning to national arrogance or nationalism, Pahor said in his address, adding that this was a sensitive and tough intellectual and political issue.

At the same time, Slovenians need to ask themselves "how can we build stable pillars of sovereignty without creating the impression that we started to doubt the European idea and were getting ready for its downfall".

He pointed to the important role Slovenska Matica played in this context and noted that these issues needed to be addressed with great sensitivity, especially by politicians.

Slovenska Matica president Aleš Gabrič said in his address that the society wanted to continue to do the work it set out to do 155 years ago: "to bring into the treasure trove of the national cultural wealth that what makes the nation its best".

The society was established in Ljubljana with donations of academics, tradesmen and entrepreneurs with the objective to print academic and scientific books in Slovenian.

Slovenian was not a language of academia, as Slovenian lands were a part of the Austrian Empire up until its dissolution following World War I.

When it was established, the society's mission was to raise the level of education across the nation and create Slovenian vocabulary in a variety of fields.

The society's heyday was in the early 20th century, when the books it published reached high circulation and the society nurtured frequent contacts with universities and academic societies from London to St Petersburg.

Today, Slovenska Matica is the second oldest Slovenian publisher after Mohorjeva Družba. It organises science meetings and conferences addressing issues faced by the Slovenian culture and society. It is fully funded by the state.

30 Jan 2019, 14:07 PM

January 30, 2019

In 1810 the French army seized and then executed a group of bandits called rokovnjači, who had previously attacked them in Črni Graben.

The first wave of this organised banditry in central Europe occurred during and after the 30-year War (1618-1648). The rokovnjači problem in what is today Slovenia was particularly pressing between the years 1808 – 1813 during the French occupation of these territories, when the bandits were even assisted by the Austrian court, and then after Austria regained its territories from Napoleon’s army the problem turned on her in an ever stronger fashion between the years 1825-1853. Rokovnjači were most numerous in Upper Carniola and in the Kamnik area, but could also be found in the Littoral.

The main causes of the phenomenon lay in the 1770 Maria Theresa decree which replaced her army of mercenaries with a 30-year period of military service for everyone poor and uneducated enough not to be able to avoid it, and the 1785 Joseph II abolition of serfdom, which freed the serfs not only from their masters but also from their land. These young deserters who were later joined by a variety of other social outcasts joined the ranks of rokovnjači, and lived lives revolved around hiding in the remote places of dark forests and their night hikes to towns and villages, where they begged, robbed, and terrorised the population.

The name Rokovnjači, sometimes also rokomavhi, comes from the folk belief that these bandits carried an arm (roka) of an unborn baby in their bags (mavha) which would then give them some magic powers such as make them invisible when in trouble or giving them a light in the dark that only them could see. It was believed that rokovnjači would cut babies out of pregnant ladies, chop their arms off and then dry them over a juniper berry wood fire, which is why no pregnant woman was allowed to wander around on her own. Belief in the magic of a child’s arm was not only present in the area of present-day Slovenia but, just like rokovnjači themselves, across Southern Germany and Austria as well. Jakob Grimm – the elder of the two famous brothers – describes in his book on German mythology (Deutsche Mithologie, 1835) the magic properties of the fingers of a pre-born baby; if they are set on fire the resulting flame would put everyone in a house to sleep, preventing them from waking up.

It was not against the interests of rokovnjači to be feared among the locals, who preferred to cooperate and support them in goods and information than to risk violent repercussions. On the other hand, they also tended to be helpful in poor farmers’ fights against the various forms of exploitation coming from the church, landowners and forceful conscriptions. Rokovnjači were well organised, which included a sort of a proto-Marxist ethics – that theft was justified by the ideas of equality and the right to survival. They also had their own secret language, which was a mix of various European ones, including German, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian and Slovenian. For example, “Ti lobov kumer'č, d'tej prefak upetov!” stood for Ti slab človek, da ti je duhovnik ubežal!” (You bad man, let the priest escape you!).

In 1810 rokovnjači attacked and robbed a group of French soldiers in the Črni graben valley, which was a reason for the French army to retaliate. Not all of them were caught, but those that were were hung on today’s date in 1810. On February 12, Napoleon decided to establish gendarmerie stations in the most affected areas, known by the locals as “ravbarkomanda”.

In the third wave of banditry between the years 1825 and 1853, rokovnjači multiplied to the point the skirmishes began even among their own ranks. The affected population began to beg the authorities to do something about it. In 1850 the long awaited hunt of Austrian gendarme for the out-of-control bandits began. The new imperial decree, which reduced the military service to eight years in 1845 and again to six years in 1850, helped to reduce their ranks as well. No more was heard about rokovnjači after 1853.

A novel Rokovnjači (1881), written by Josip Jurčič and Janko Kersnik, continues to serve as an inspiration for various stage adaptations, one of them, a coproduction of the National Theatre of Nova Gorica and Prešeren Theatre Kranj, is embedded in the video below.

22 Jan 2019, 18:00 PM

January 22, 2019 

It is said that every true Slovene should climb to the top of Triglav, the highest Slovenian mountain, at least once in their lifetime.

However, recent reports of heavy traffic at the top of the mountain along with the trash trail that follows it are evidence that such an expression of national pride doesn’t come without the cost these days. Calls to drop the ‘everyone on Triglav’ idea and replace it with practices that are focused on preservation of nature rather than the defence of territory by repeated conquests of inhabitable lands have been becoming louder in the last two decades. Such a paradigm change is even more pressing since the struggle for independence ended with the final acquisition of the Slovenian statehood in 1991.

This article, however is not about what should be done about mass tourism at the top of Slovenia’s highest peak, but rather how it has all begun. How and why did Triglav and mountaineering in general become so tightly knitted into the fabric of the Slovenian national identity.

The start of an obsession

“To conquer the summit” is in fact a literal translation of a Slovenian expression for reaching the summit (osvojiti vrh), while the very idea of climbing to the top of a mountain instead of worshipping it from the bottom originates in the ideas of the Enlightenment.

One of the most important places which allowed for the enlightenment to spread among the 18th century Slovenes was, perhaps surprising for some, a secluded mining town called Idrija, the location of the world’s second largest mercury mine. As such, Idrija attracted some of the Europe’s finest natural scientists of the time, in particular Giovanni Antonio Scopoli and Balthasar Hacquet. And both men played an important role in the series of events that lead to the first reaching of Triglav’s summit in 1778, which took place eight years before Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, was climbed.

Idrija-Valvasor 1679.jpg
Idrija, Janez Vajkard Valvasor, 1679
scopoli and hacquet.jpg

Now, Triglav at the time was not Triglav today, equipped with ropes, iron fences and widened trails, and even though the peak lies below three thousand metres, it was quite a difficult mountain to climb, not something one could do on the first attempt. So how did the two enlightened thinkers influence the idea to get to the top?

Scopoli, born in the Southern Tirol (today’s Italy) of the Hapsburg Empire, served in Idrija as the first mine physician between 1754 and 1769, a job which included extensive research on the surrounding botany (no antibiotics in those days), including the Julian Alps, the location of the Triglav massive. This is why Scopoli ended as the first man at the top of Storžič (2,132m) in 1758 and Grintavec (2,558m) in 1759. In 1760 Scopoli published a book on his findings called Flora Carniolica and kept a regular correspondence with no other but the father of contemporary taxonomy, Carl von Linné (aka Carl Linnaeus) in Sweden. The two communicated in Latin.

Apart from his inventory of over 1,100 plants from the Slovenian Northwest, Scopoli also founded an education programme in metallurgy and chemistry in Idrija, which he eventually left for professor’s position at several respectable universities in central Europe.

In Idrija, Scopoli was joined and then replaced by a French surgeon and natural scientist Balthasar Hacquet, who, intrigued by Scopoli’s work, came to Idrija in 1766. Hacquet, also credited with the first description of mercury poisoning symptoms, followed in Scopoli’s steps and attempted his first ascent to Triglav in 1777, but only reached one of the mountain’s lower peaks, Mali Triglav.

The natural sciences and Žiga Zois

At the time Hacquet was also in correspondence with Žiga Zois (Sigmund Zois), a natural science enthusiast, geologist and at the time the richest Slovene, who had just purchased an ironworks facility (fužina) at the foot of the mountain in Bohinj.

žiga zois.jpg
Zois in a wheelchair he designed himself

Why Sigismund (Žiga) Zois decided to sponsor the first expedition to the top of Triglav in 1778 is not entirely clear, as the so-called Bohinj papers in which expedition details were discussed have been lost. According to one theory, the predominant reasons were to send someone on the lookout for possible new ore deposits. Another theory is that Zois got inspired by the failed attempt of his geologist pen-pal Hacquet. Either way, Žiga Zois presumably promised a financial award to anyone reaching the top and also organised an expedition, which eventually successfully reached the summit for the first time in 1778.

The expedition was led by Zois’ ironworks facility physician and Hacquet’s student Lawrence Willomitzer, who was to be accompanied by three local guides: Luka Korošec and Matevž Kos, both miners and a hunter Štefan Rožič. Although there is some debate about wether or not all of the men really reached the top, in 1978 the Mountaineering Association decided to depict all four men in a statue in Ribčev Laz, Bohinj, as “more first ascents are better than less”.

Vodnik makes it to the top of Slovenia

Besides researchers and the nobility (Žiga Zois was a baron), another group of people was interested in mountaineering in those early days: priests.

The first one to mention is Valentin Vodnik from Šiška (Ljubljana), who went to Triglav in 1795 in another of the expeditions financed by Zois. The main goal was to prove the neptunist theory on the sea origin of Julian rocks, and thereby refute the plutonist claims of the rock’s volcanic origin, a dispute Zois found himself in with an acquaintance from Transylvania, Johann Ehrenreich von Fichtel, whose claims on the upper parts of the mountain to be of volcanic origin were based on a simple assumption. To prove Fichtel wrong Zois needed a specimen from the top of the mountain that would show some sediment, which was eventually provided by Vodnik.

Photo: Neža Loštrek

Valentin Vodnik, however, didn’t stay priest much longer after meeting Zois in 1792. He switched to teaching position at Ljubljana grammar school six years later. As such, both Vodnik and his patron Zois are part of the group responsible for the early experimentations with Slovenian nationalism, which in the case of Valentin Vodnik meant the use of what was then considered vulgar peasant language in poetry. Indeed, Vodnik’s 1794 ascent of Kredarica and then a year later of Triglav inspired one of his better poems, Vršac.

With Austria’s defeat by the Napoleon’s army, life changed significantly for Vodnik in 1809, when the newly established Illyrian province with its capital set in Ljubljana allowed him to teach in the Slovenian language. He became a principal of Ljubljana grammar school and a supervisor of vocational and handicraft schools.  Vodnik marked this French move in support of local ethnic empowerment with an ode called “Illyria reborn” (published in 1811), for which he had to pay a price once the Austrians took their territory back in 1813 – he was banned from ever teaching again in 1815.

Alpinism evolves

In this circle of early priest alpinists we can also count the Dežman brothers, who also reached the top of Triglav in the years of 1808 and 1809. Among Slovenia’s most notable alpine climbers at the time, however, Valentin Stanič stands out as the first proper alpinist in a contemporary sense of the word. His ascents were often unique and daring, since he regularly climbed solo without a guide and even in winter time. He climbed various European mountains, including Grossglockner in 1800. In 1808 he and his guide Anton Kos reached the top of Triglav, where Stanič measured its altitude with a barometric device and only missed the exact figure by 7 metres, an admirable result for an amateur surveyor. Although it seems that his climbing initially served his scientific interests, Stanič later developed a much more sporting interest in trying to climb as many mountains as possible, to be the first one to reach unconquered summits, and on the way overcome hardships and experience happiness and excitement, attitudes that were very unusual and forward-thinking for the era he climbed in.

Valentin Stanič, 1846

Despite this, most researchers, noblemen and priests would not head into dangerous mountain conditions without local guides, with this latter group less concerned with getting to the top of the mountain than they were with the opportunity to make some money for themselves and their families.

Enter the Slavs

In the middle of the 19th century several ideological attitudes developed in the mountaineering communities of Europe.

The sporty style of the British nobility on Europe’s most prominent mountains came into being with the help of local French and Swiss guides. This elitist style of climbing by a leisure class who could afford to travel abroad and mount expeditions was contrasted by the style of the Germans, who were climbing at home and thus needed less money to do so, and for whom mountaineering was less associated with class, prestige and conquest. Well, until the Slavs enter the picture.

For most of the Slavs, and especially the Slovenes, mountaineering was closely associated with a defence against language- and class-related Germanising influences, as seen, for example, in the use of new German names for mountains and other places that were originally in Slovenian, a process that increased with the growing number of well-organised German climbing groups who were visiting the Julian Alps at the time. On top of this, Napoleon’s short-lived Illyrian province, which planted the seed of nationalistic sentiment in the minds of the Slovenian masses, strengthened the assimilating pressures of the Austrian empire, which in turn generated much greater resistance. Mountaineering thus became part of the Slovenian national project, and Triglav as the highest peak in the Julian Alps was its symbol.

Read part two here

16 Jan 2019, 15:00 PM

January 16, 2019

In 1895 a decree of the City of Vienna limited the permitted worktime on Sundays to six hours, sparking protest from Slovenian chestnut sellers.

One of the oldest forms of seasonal work migration among Slovenes is that of selling chestnuts, with people moving at the beginning of winter to Vienna to roast chestnuts in the streets of the empire's capital.

In the 1850s there were about one thousand registered chestnut sellers in Vienna, out of which almost one half were from Slovenia, mostly from the areas of Velike Lašče, Ribnica and Kočevje. Chestnut huts were not known in those days, and kostanjarji would roast their chestnuts in the streets and markets from morning to night, no matter the weather.

On today's date in 1895 the City of Vienna limited all forms of work to six hours on Sunday to enforce observation of the Sabbath as a day reserved for rest and religious activity. This brought complaints from the chestnut sellers, as sales were best on Sundays. The authorities, however, insisted on the shortened hours and only allowed for extensions on the last Sunday before Christmas and in Prater, a large public park in Vienna.

At the end of the season Slovenian kostanjarji mostly returned to their homes, while some remained in the city. The latter were mostly from the Ribnica region, who established handicraft shops In Vienna and would continue their business selling their woodcraft items, also called suha roba (lit. ‘dry goods’) in the streets and markets of Vienna for the rest of the year.

Suha robatoday.  Photo: Stan Dalone, Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0
08 Jan 2019, 18:00 PM

"What are you doing?"

Kate was wondering why I was staring at the sidewalk as we sipped wine at Zvezda on Congress Square.

"That strawberry," I told her, likely slipped off someone's dessert at the cafe. I said I was calculating how long it would be before it was stepped on in the summertime, near-constant pedestrian stream. Given fastidious and careful-stepping Slovenes, I figured it stood a good chance of remaining intact.

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The berry in question

The strawberry scene unfolded during our most recent Ljubljana sojourn, an intermittent story that began in 1991. Tank traps, troops and tension we saw back then at Congress Square, across from Zvezda, are long gone, replaced by the EU, the Euro and stability.


Tank traps in Congress Square, 1991 (Kongresni trg)

Slovenia, mostly unknown then, is now a world destination, attracting ever-growing numbers of visitors, to Bled, Ljubljana, and a slice of the Adriatic. But we worried on this trip, perhaps even facing the dismal prospect of being overwhelmed.

In 1997, I returned to study Slovene, and saw some early changes. In my notebook, I fretted then whether Slovenia could "survive the onslaught of western 'civilization,'" EU membership, and maintain historic links to the Balkans, and their once-fellow Yugoslav citizens. The "fragile beauty and rhythm of the 'club'," which I felt strongly in cozy Ljubljana, could be easily shattered, I wrote, two decades ago.

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A time before "I feel Slovenia" - "Why should the Europeans have this terrific little secet all to themselves?"

Now, with Slovenia on the map, that seductive "I Feel Slovenia" slogan has worked all too well, no need to be lured. (It came as little surprise that as I finished writing this, Slovenia announced record tourist visits in 2018.) But what is the breaking point? Does a Venice or Amsterdam loom for Ljubljana, and maybe Slovenia, inundated by tourist waves, upending what they had come to experience?

This year, we came in June for three months, my first time as a citizen of Slovenia. Citizenship in the "old country" had always seemed like a crazy pipe dream. But in 2014 I applied, assembling roots records, my multiple newspaper accounts about our repeated visits, and assisted by a Ljubljana friend, a retired lawyer.

All four of my grandparents — John Puc and Johanna Starman, and John Krze and Frances Lustick — migrated a century-plus ago to Rock Springs, an unlikely multi-ethnic, coal-mining town in the high, cold desert of southern Wyoming USA, where I grew up in a sort-of Slovenian enclave. My mother made potica, we bought kisla repa from another family, and kranjska klobasa made by a Slovenian guy who also operated a highway motel. We never missed the yearly "grape festival" at the Slovenski Dom, and one fall Sunday everyone in the family joined my blacksmith grandfather in his basement to grind grapes, shipped to local Slovenes from California.


Slovenski Dom, Rock Springs, Wyoming,  in 2011. Photo: Yurivict, GNU Free Documentation License

I wrote in my application that I considered citizenship to be fulfilling the dream of one of my grandmothers, who never learned English, always feeling, or so I thought, that one day she'd return to her beloved green Slovenia, leaving that dusty Wyoming desert behind.

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Travel documents from 1991

Back in early 1991, when we had planned our first visit, it was still Yugoslavia. But when we arrived in September, although border guards were handing out SFRY (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) "certificates" for travel, almost overnight it had become Slovenia. Despite independence, there was uneasiness. Our friend Stanislav Fortuna stashed gas masks under the couch, at the ready. By the Triple Bridge, currency sellers hawked newly minted Slovenian tolars, beneath Prešeren's statue. The old-line department store, Centromerkur, was still in business (that's where we purchased material Kate only recently used to make kitchen curtains in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we now reside in the USA). Titova Cesta, the main drag, was virtually empty late nights.

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Currency sellers in Prešeren, 1991

That's all a distant memory. Centromerkur has vanished, replaced by the trendy Galerija Emporium. No longer is curtain material made in Slovenia, — no, our seller told us this year — all textiles are from Italy.

On the streets of Ljubljana, meanwhile, a more significant change: Increasingly more, and swifter, cars. Vehicle swarms unnerve bicyclists on narrow roadway bike lanes, so they opt for sidewalks. I call it "outsourcing danger," squeezing hapless pedestrians, forced to watch for oncoming and approaching bikes (and even motorcycles!) on what were sidewalks supposedly reserved for walkers. POZOR! That became our byword as pedestrians, which we are because we prefer foot, bus or train.

Bicyclists have also become more aggressive. They no longer "behave normally," Stanislav says. He's been riding bikes for nearly seven decades, he says, but now feels uncomfortable on the increasingly fast-paced streets.


Postcard of Town Square, 1969. Wikimedia, public domain


Postcard of Congress Square, 1969. Wikimedia, public domain

Also, less cars! It's a delight to walk the Triple Bridge, passed Prešeren, without dodging smoking autos and lumbering buses, the way we saw it in 1991. Tito's name has been scratched, and now Slovenska Cesta is off-limits to cars (mostly), for buses and walkers only. Now that's a refreshing change, promoting pedestrianism.

But bigger, better, faster — an unsavory USA import — has, alas, afflicted Ljubljana. Thankfully, pedestrian markings on streets still stop cars, though it's smart to glance left and right, just to be sure.

Surprisingly, there was little mention of Melania Trump, the Slovenian-born export to the USA, who left for bigger things and bright New York lights. The one-page In Your Pocket Guide writeup on Sevnica, her birthplace, doesn't even mention her. The only signs of Melania we saw were "first lady" products, tagged to fend off lawsuits she's filed to protect her name.

On the housing front, other changes. When I arrived in 1997 for language study, only three private rooms were for rent, one on Friskovec, where I stayed until relocating to a student dorm near Bezigrad. Now, hostels, hotels and Airbnbs abound, even in Mestni Trg, all of this giving neighborhoods a less-permanent feel.


It was when I was at Friskovec that I found Metelkova, in its early raw stages, a time of honest energy and creativity. One late night I heard drums, and wondered what was up behind the walls on the street. The next night, I found out, through a newly opened hole, and happened upon Channel Zero, and a punk band passing through — Scared of Chaka, coincidentally, from Albuquerque, USA. I'm from Wyoming, I told a shocked Dave Hernandez, the band's frontman, who later formed a more widely popular USA band, The Shins.

A 2018 whirl through Metelkova left us feeling differently. Recent fires, a spat of sleazy characters milling about and police wandering around offered a different vibe. At Celica — an abandoned prison in 1997 — cordialness lingered, though one worker lamented that with the takeover by the company managing the Castle, a more mainstream and profit-oriented operation loomed.

Related: Celica - Former Prison, Hostel, & Full Artistic Experience in Ljubljana’s Metelkova

Down by Prešeren, other changes. By August, swelling tourist crowds intent on discovering "Europe's best-kept secret" noticeably thickened, at Trubarjeva, the Triple Bridge and the dragons. The crowded frenzy, unlike the 1990s and even latter-years Ljubljana, was amplified by street performers — a non-local mishmash of maddening, out-of-place bongos, incessant mandolins and disruptive break dancers. We longed for the Romani band that frequented the bridges, in 2014 and 2015, to feel that real Balkan beat, and felt sorry for the drowned-out, lone Slovenian accordionists cast into the sonic shadows.

To experience old-country spirit and heart, we left Ljubljana, for the out-of-the-way. By pure chance, we had met Sonja Bezjak at Carlos Pascual's "Pocket Teater." Even more fortunately, her home was near the Mura River in little-touristed northeast Slovenia, a region Kate by coincidence was reading about in Feri Lainscek's novel, Murisa.

Related: Slovenia's Foreign Entrepreneurs: Carlos Pascual, Working Writer

We drove with her to Ljutomer, where Slovenian language blossomed. Then, to Trate, her home, near an aging castle that housed mental patients where she and other volunteers established a "museum of madness," to focus on perceptions of mental health. We floated the Mura, and met stalwart river-protectors fending off misguided hydropower developers, an effort that's succeeded in getting UNESCO status for the river ecosystem.

Sonja's parents prepared a garden-fresh vegetable dinner, evoking that Slovenia past now receding all too quickly. It was all like a dream, I told them, recalling my grandparents' kitchen table in Rock Springs, my grandmother making lunch for my grandfather who walked from his blacksmith shop.

We returned, and lingered a bit longer in Ljubljana, lamenting our impending departure. One of our last stops was at Zvezda, and my strawberry watch. Alas, fate finally intervened. I glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back, the berry was smashed on the sidewalk.

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I recalled my sort-of life mantra — nothing, no matter how delicious and wonderful, lasts forever. Likewise, it may be, to our dismay, and my grandmother's dream genes, the way of Ljubljana, and Slovenia. Perhaps I'm wrong, and anyway we're still coming back, to savor ambiance of the "club," deep friendships, and drink from that well of wonderfulness, while we can. But I think I'll just stop telling folks what a swell place it is, lest they may actually all come, eroding our pleasantness.

If there’s a story you’d like to share about Slovenia, then please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

26 Dec 2018, 01:00 AM

On December 23, 1990, Slovenia held a plebiscite on whether to move towards independence from Yugoslavia. The question asked was: "Should the Republic of Slovenia become an independent and sovereign state?" (Ali naj Republika Slovenija postane samostojna in neodvisna država?).

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The paper used in the plebiscite. Wikimedia

As reported in the New York Times the following day, some politicians worried that a vote for independence would lead to trouble in the other, more ethnically mixed Yugoslav republics. As Mile Šetinc, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, is quoted in warning against a yes vote: "There are lot of Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and there are lots of Serbs in Croatia, so every involvement with those groups risks real civil war."

The official results were announced on December 26, with 94.8% of those who voted supporting independence, thus beginning a six-month countdown to independence being formally declared. This eventually took place on June 26, 1991, precipitating what would come to be known as the Ten-day War (desetdnevna vojna), lasting from June 27 to July 7, which, while securing Slovenia’s independence, also started the beginning of the much longer, and bloodier, Yugoslav wars.

Until 2005 the national holiday was known as Independence Day (dan samostojnosti), but in September of that year it was changed to Independence and Unity Day (Dan samostojnosti in enotnosti).

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