the Slovenian
glasilo magazine
radio glas
info centre
who we are

Goldhorn’s Kingdom in the Julian Alps
by Marjeta Keršic-Svetel
Translated by Manja Maksimovic

"I cannot take leave of the Alps without some reference to the Julians. … The small scale and fine sculpturing of these limestone mountains combine with the extreme complexity of the topography to make every excursion seem full of surprises. … The country is full of folk-lore and tales of fairies. … Higher up are beechwoods splashed with yellow of the wild laburnum, and, still higher, dense cover of stone pines. Unforgettable are the Christmas roses in June, the early flowers pale pink, then white, then palest green. There are very many chamois, and bears are extinct only within living memory. … Most wonderful of all, rivers gush full-fledged from the limestone cliffs of the mountain sides. From meadow to tiny glacier the span of variety is greater than in the western Alps, and the flowers are different. The smallness of the scale is an advantage; the month's approach in the Himalaya is magically traversed in a day."
(Tom Longstaff: This My Voyage, 1950)

This is how famous English traveller and explorer of mountains worldwide, Dr. Thomas Longstaff, described the Julian Alps which, in a letter to Julius Kugy, he proclaimed, for him, "the most desirable of all mountains". In his short description he summed up the main features of the mountains and valleys which today belong to the Triglav National Park (TNP). We Slovenes, have got used to the value of this environment to such a degree that it is often taken for granted and that it needs to be seen through the eyes of a foreigner to appreciate the true worth of our national heritage. Longstaff frequented the Julian Alps in the first decades of the 20th century. In the meantime, there have been many changes in the Julians: new mountain huts have been erected, ski resorts and new roads have been built; in the valleys several new hotels have appeared, and the settlements have grown – mainly due to the building of holiday homes with no regards to the national park boundaries, so that they have often emerged in places where they were not supposed to be. A number of valley pastures have grown desolate in the process, almost all humped grasslands have disappeared … while a great many more people visit the mountains than they used to in Longstaff’s time. But the key characteristics of the Julian Alps, which so enchanted the world traveller, remain to this day: a great variety of natural habitats and wildlife in a small space, the beautiful mountainous landscape, areas of untouched nature barely influenced by mankind, accompanied by valleys and mountain regions moulded by man during his millennia of careful and wise symbiosis with nature.

The natural as well as cultural heritage of the Julians is well preserved, unlike that of some other Alpine regions where severe intervention in tourism and intensive farming has utterly transformed the original appearance of the Alpine landscape, impoverished its animate and inanimate nature, and turned entire regions into urbanised amusement parks. That ours is a case of extraordinary heritage with significance not only for Slovenia but also on an international scale has been acknowledged by several foreign experts: the Julian Alps have been included in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme (MAB), the Bohinj mountains meet the criteria for the UNESCO World Heritage List, while Triglav National Park has been awarded the European Diploma of Protected Areas. The entire Julian Alps region is also very important for the Natura 2000 network of European nature conservation sites.

Concern for Heritage

The awareness that the Julians carry extraordinary natural significance is an old one – the only national park in Slovenia has a venerable history. It probably is no coincidence that in the valleys beneath Triglav, an old tale is still told about the mountain goat with the horns of gold which used to defend natural resources from human greed in the name of forces of nature. First, it was the initiative of Albin Belar, then the Museum Association issued a memorandum in 1920, which was followed by the foundation of the first protected area in the Valley of Triglav Lakes, and finally the park as we know it today was established.

The law on Triglav National Park, which has been in existence for more than twenty years, is obsolete and there is a dire need for a new one – a bill is being discussed in Parliament as we speak. It raises several dilemmas. How to protect valuable natural, spiritual and cultural heritage of the Julian Alps and ensure that the treasures will still be available to future generations? Members of Parliament thus face a tremendously demanding and responsible task – to adopt such legislation as to ensure permanent preservation as well as research and interpretation of all the treasures which abound in Goldhorn’s kingdom.

If decades ago the opinion prevailed that only perfectly untouched nature is in need of protection, today it is clear that the civilised countryside in the Julians with its millennia-long human influence on nature is no less valuable. The population in the Julian Alps is changing, which makes it similar to the rest of the Alps: one part of the autochthonous population is leaving (especially the young), while new more or less permanent residents are moving in from the cities, bringing with them completely new values and life-styles (pensioners settle in holiday homes, free-lancers choose to dwell in mountain villages on account of the better quality of life closer to nature…). The type of visitors to the park is changing, too. Mountaineering is accompanied by numerous other free-time activities – from paragliding, kayaking and mountain-biking to canyoning and even such activities as hill-climbing motocross. Mountaineering itself is going through some changes as well – it has turned into a mass sport, there are a great many inexperienced people climbing the mountains with no time to spare and a need to drive their cars as near to the peak as possible. The valleys and mountain roads are saturated with cars. Market demands have dictated more intensive farming with meliorations and the use of fertilisers and pharmaceuticals. Apart from all that, there have been noticeable climate changes recently. Not only will the TNP have to do without its Triglav glacier in the near future, but the climate changes will also influence ski tourism and the natural processes in the park, for instance the forest line. The dynamics call for a careful definition of the values of our only national park, an analysis of each potential danger, and management which will assure permanent preservation of the park’s treasures.

Mountains in general are extremely important as reservoirs of drinking water, and this is why the Julian Alps are vital for the bulk of Slovenia’s population. Anything that might worsen the quality of the water flowing from the mountains will have to be renounced – be it mountain hut waste water or chemicals in artificial snow – so that the quality of the water lower down is not jeopardised.

The most important task of a protected area is of course to guarantee the preservation of the variety of species and their habitats, paying particular attention to endangered or endemic species. In the Triglav National Park area there is a variety of habitats: from different kinds of forests to wetlands, from meadows to subterranean caves, from lakes to rocky mountainsides. Mountain pastures are an extremely important part of natural and cultural heritage in the Julian Alps. It is not just biological variety and the exterior of the landscape which need to be preserved, but also abundant traditional practices derived from the observation of nature and the symbiosis with it during the last several hundred years. In the Julians there are two autochthonous breeds linked with mountain pasturing: Bohinj cika cattle on the Gorenjska side of the Julians, and Bovec sheep on the Primorska side. There are also many species among wildlife and plants which are endemic or endangered throughout Europe. The preservation of this heritage will be an important, but also very demanding task.

What Else Is There

One of the great treasures of the Julians is a well-preserved mountain environment with minimal, or at least imperceptible, human intervention. On one side there is a well-kept network of marked and secured mountain routes which enable access to this intact natural environment, and on the other there are parts where the mountains are still very wild, without any marked trails or beaten tracks, where apart from a few small bivouacs there is no sign of human presence. Mountain wilderness is extremely rare in Europe and certainly belongs among those valuables which need to be carefully preserved.

The mountains are one of the few environments where modern man can still come upon wilderness, silence, starry night sky, solitude, real adventure, and where he can test himself face to face with the forces of nature. The value of this aspect of mountain heritage should by no means be reduced by tourist urbanisation wherever it is felt necessary.
There are tendencies to relinquish some border areas of the Triglav National Park – even the shores of Lake Bohinj and the best preserved glacier valleys – to urbanisation and the development of those branches of tourism which require major intervention in the natural environment. There are more than enough opportunities for that outside the park limits, though, and the visitors to the valleys and the more accessible regions of the TNP should be given the chance to enjoy nature as well-preserved as possible.
The Julian Alps region is also rich in cultural heritage, not only that of shepherd culture but there are also numerous archaeological remains (some of which are probably yet to be discovered): old transport trails, remains of ancient iron-smelting and charcoal-burning activities, technical railway heritage, as well as building and memorial heritage of World War I. Another important heritage of the TNP is the legacy of Slovene mountaineering history. It was closely linked to the history of science and the history of the Slovene national movement, and to this day mountaineering is much more than just a sport – it is a very important element of Slovene life-style. The bulk of this heritage still needs to be thoroughly studied, documented and recorded. Several elements of this abundant cultural and spiritual heritage deserve to be preserved and reconstructed as well as given a presentation and interpretation. However, this will require a great amount of expertise and resources.
The ancient tale of Goldhorn teaches us about well-being which arises from sensible management of natural resources, and also about the damnation of an avid and greedy attitude to nature. Our national park is so special also on the grounds of its symbolic meaning. This symbolic role has its source in the attitude of all of us towards the park, inhabitants as well as visitors.

(Content abstracted from "Slovenija.svet June 2004" published by
Slovenska izseljenska matica.)