the Slovenian
glasilo magazine
radio glas
info centre
who we are

Lucid Daughter of the Mountains
by Blaž Komac

Your ears would be filled with noise. Fear and excitement would let you open your eyes no sooner than a few long seconds, once your body got accustomed to the new circumstances. You are now flying, the ground approaching with abrupt speed. Above you is the dark blue of the sky, beneath you spreads a labyrinth of valleys fading out into a large basin. A broad band winds from there to the blinding orange glow of the Adriatic Sea. Eventually you get to distinguish its colour, which fades from silver to green-blue ... Before you know it takes your breath, and almost at the same time, the sky of your parachute unfolds over your head in a violent clap. Time starts ticking again with the usual speed, and in the middle of the plain you recognize your family, who are waiting for you. You have landed in Bovec, a town of 1,600 inhabitants in western Slovenia, in the heart of the Julian Alps. The place is a popular winter (Mount Kanin) and summer (river Soca) sports resort, and an excellent starting point for a trip in the mountains.

Passing through Bovec are the main roads that connect the neighbouring plains and valleys. They were carved into the core of the Julian Alps by three sisters, whose story is narrated in a Slovenian tale: the rivers Sava, Drava and Soca. In ancient times, the road running through Bovec used to connect the Roman town of Aquilea and the northern province of Noricum, while today it connects the western part of Slovenia and two neighbouring countries. Who would imagine that Bovec is not much farther from Venice, which on a clear sunny day can be seen from the mountain tops of the Julian Alps, than it is from Ljubljana, nor any farther from Austria's Klagenfurt (Celovec) than it is from Nova Gorica and Italy's Udine (Videm).

The Bovec area is part of the picturesque region of Zgornje Posocje (Upper Soca Valley), where, unlike the northern part of the Julian Alps along the river Sava, the valleys are deeply carved inside limestone mountain chains. Due to the vicinity of the sea, the waters flowing in this region have great erosive power. Over millions of years, the limestone mountains, which have gradually swept down like giant stairs to the Adriatic Sea from Mount Triglav, through Krn and Kanin, Matajur and Stol, and over the woods of Trnovski gozd and the Karst, have been formed mighty tectonic forces. Their intensity could be felt in the region of Posocje in the years 1976, 1998 and 2004 as severe earthquakes caused several rockfalls in the area. The highest mountains are nevertheless still standing strong. Their hollowed depths are only explored by cavers. Descents on Mount Kanin that can be easily compared to Himalaya slopes led to the discovery of the world's deepest subterranean vertical slope (Vrtoglavica, i. e. Vertigo - 643 m) and the world's 12th deepest cave (Cehi II - 1,533 m). Karstic caves lead water from the rocky mountain tops to the valleys, where it appears forming the picturesque springs of the rivers Soca, Tolminka, and Koritnica, and the brook Mrzlek near Nova Gorica. They are sustained by heavy autumn rainfalls and by melting snow from the mountain tops.

Stirring History
Apparently, man already settled this untouched mountain world in ancient times. In the Bovec mountains typical sheep's milk cheese is still being produced. The mountains used to provide mineral resources that were then used in Rabelj (Raibl, Cave del Predil) and in the Soca Valley. In the search for food, people with the emperor's permission would peddle throughout the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, although illicit hunting was also very frequent. Still, it was the local shepherds and poachers as perfect mountain guides and experts of the region who contributed, through the writings of Kugy, Tuma and others, to raise people's awareness about this land's significance, which has only recently managed to spread beyond a strictly local level. Some 90 years ago the land between the steep mountains along the river Soca and the Karst was the stage of one of the major battles in history. Recounting this dark period in the local history is the rich collection of the world-famous Soca Front museum in Kobarid. Poet Simon Gregorcic, who was born in Vrsno, foresaw the horrors of the First World War back in the second half of the 19th century in his poem Soci (To the Soca): "...Cold steel shall slash over your land as you run red with blood unmanned."?

Natural and Cultural Diversity
Due to the great significance of its natural resources, of the wonderful natural and culturally diverse landscape - overgrown due to lack of use and cultivation, as well as to ever more people leaving the land - this 82 sq. kilometre large region of the Julian Alps is protected by the act on the Triglav national park. The information centre of the park, as well as its museum, which features the park's natural sights and socially important characteristics, are located in the narrow and picturesque glacier valley of Trenta. The recent history of the valley, its people, its bridges and nature are immortalized in the photographs of Jaka Cop.

The valley narrows down just below Bovec. Here, in fact, the river So?a unites with the Boka, the spring of which soon turns into a vivid 114-metre-long waterfall that can be admired from the main road. The valley near Žaga makes an abrupt turn toward the town of Kobarid. The town with 1,250 inhabitants lies on the watershed between the rivers Soca and Nadiža, the latter having made its way to the Adriatic Sea through the mountains overlooking Italy's town of Cividale. The Soca, on the other hand, chose a longer route toward the sea. Overlooking Kobarid are the mighty walls of the 2,245-metre high Mount Krn, with neat pathways leading to numerous sights in the surrounding area. You can admire the Kozjak waterfall and the remains of the Tonovcov grad, an important early Christian settlement from the period between the 4th and 6th centuries.

The village of Drežnica, similarly to Cerkno and Cerknica, is famous for its Carnival festivities, an exclusive domain of unmarried men. Every man creates his own mask out of a chop of nut tree or lime tree wood. On Shrove Saturday a parade of masks featuring "the ugly man", "the handsome man", "the old pair", "the man from Rezija", "the lottery", "the Carnival croaker", "the devil", "the cock man", and "the fat man" march through the village. Meanwhile, "the handsome" visit the local houses, and "the ugly" fool around and chase the children of the village. The masks gather round at the evening's final parade, with merrymaking marking the end of Carnival. Carnival is judged on Shrove Tuesday and is condemned for all the accidents, misfortune and trouble of the past year. After killing it, the locals watch over it in the tavern as it lies on a catafalque, and at midnight the last procession takes Carnival to a final spot where it is burnt to ashes.

Towards the town of Tolmin, the river Soca has formed a large valley between the mountains of Krn and Mount Kolovrat on the border with Italy. Interestingly, only the left bank of the river Soca is populated in this track of land, as the right riverbank only used to be important for haymaking and pasturing due to its shady position at the feet of Kolovrat. With 3,700 inhabitants, Tolmin is an administrative, judicial and industrial centre of the upper Posocje region. The town lies at the confluence of the rivers Tolminka and Soca. The confluences of the rivers Baca and Idrijca, and of Idrijca and Soca are also in the vicinity, which makes the area a particularly important transport route.

Extremely important is the valley of the river Tolminka. Narrow and deep gorges which are very frequent in the upper Posocje region, mark the margins of the Tolmin valley. They are also very frequent on the land along the rivers Soca, Nadiža and Koritnica.

Overlooking the Tolminka valley on Mount Javorca lies the beautiful Church of the Holy Spirit, which is open to visitors in the summer. The church was erected in 1916 by the soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and was dedicated to the people who had died in the nearby mountains. Its interior is decorated with magnificent ornaments, although the church is most famous for its wooden plates representing the pages of a book. The names of 2,808 deceased soldiers are branded onto the plates. On the way along the river, typical Tolmin cow's cheese can be bought on the nearby Mount Polog, where visitors can admire the spring of the river Tolminka and observe the natural consequences of the 1998 earthquake. The power of survival can be felt since centuries in the village of Cadrg, whose people a few years ago welcomed Don Pierino's community, placing the building of an abandoned old school at the disposal of its recovering drug addicts. The gesture literally rejuvenated the mountain people, whose lives gained new vigour.

Soca's water is first gathered below Tolmin in the artificial lake of the electric power plant Doblar. Down its route, the Soca also actuates the turbines of the electric power plants Plave and Solkan. With the exception of Solkan, these facilities, which have been recently renovated, are a heritage of the Italian regime between the two world wars. An obligatory lap on our journey is Most na Soci, which is most known today for the emerald lake that can be crossed aboard a small boat named St. Lucy. The significance of the confluence of the rivers Idrijca and Soca is highlighted by the remains of Roman settlement. The area was very important during the Urnfield culture around 1,000 BC. The nearby village Slap ob Idrijci was the birthplace of Ciril Kosmac, one of Slovenia's most significant writers from the first half of the 20th century. Below Tolmin, the So?a loses some of its liveliness, as does the landscape around it. We have left the high mountain tops and are now travelling among up to 1,000 metre high hills. Limestone now only covers the highest hilltops, the rest of the landscape being characterised by the less resistant flysch. The vineyards, which often extend in latticework along the houses, point to a mild Mediterranean climate that is only chilled by strong north winds in the winter.

Toward the Adriatic Sea
Soon we reach the town of Kanal, known for its annual jumping event. In the nearby Anhovo is Slovenia's major cement plant. Below Anhovo, the Soca makes its way once again through limestone between Banjšice and Sabotin, until it reaches the Friulian lowland near Solkan, where the closeness of the Adriatic Sea can already be felt. The Bohinj railway, which joined us in Most na Soci, runs through some tunnels to see the brightest light in Solkan, where a magnificent stone bridge was constructed a hundred years ago. The bridge crosses the Soca in a majestic, one-piece arc, whose 85 metres of length make it the biggest in the world.

As if the bridge had predicted the course of history, it actually adopted the cultures, languages and peoples from the left and the right riverbanks ages before the formation of the European Union. It certainly is no coincidence that the main event marking Slovenia's accession to the European Union on 1 May 2004, which was attended by the then President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, was held in the border city of Nova Gorica. A famous industrial and financial centre, also popular for its casino, Nova Gorica originated after the Second World War, after the neighbouring city of Gorizia (also known as Stara Gorica, i.e. Old Gorica) had fallen under Italy's domain. The two cities are now once again merging into one. On the edge of the ethnic Slovenian land, a place of pilgrimage originated on Skalnica, also known as Sveta gora (Holy Mountain), similarly to Višarje and Ptujska gora. The site is administered by Franciscan priests, and is regularly visited by Furlanese, Italian and Slovenian pilgrims. From Sveta gora, we can admire the southern hillsides of the Julian Alps that we have just left behind. If the sky is clear enough, the site offers a breathtaking view over the Soca valley and the Gorica plain, the Goriška Brda hills, the Friuli lowland, and the Adriatic Sea. In the far distance, the Soca thus concludes its 140-kilometre course, gently flowing intro the Adriatic Sea.

It was winter. I was walking along the coast somewhere near Piran. The lapping sound of the sea waves was slogging through the cold air. I kneeled down and reached for the pure water in which the sun had been watching itself. For a moment, the whiteness of the snow shone in it. As I rose, the water slipped between my fingers and dropped onto the ground, my eye fumbled for bright light. On the other side of the sea, far away yet almost within the reach of my hand, were bathing the mountain tops. Meandering among them was the blue-green line of one of the most beautiful rivers the world had ever seen. "... Beneath a vine I'm living now, in a land of heavenly grace, but my heart longs to return up high, back to my mountain paradise…" (S. Gregorcic, Nazaj v planinski raj)?.

Article abstracted from Sinfo.