the Slovenian
glasilo magazine
radio glas
info centre
who we are

A Walk Through Veneto and Resia
by Anja Lorenzetti

Many of us enjoy travelling to far-away countries, excited by the different cultural heritages. This is why, sometimes, we seldom become aware of the variety awaiting us just around the corner. When I began writing this article, I realised that, even though I knew something about the areas where Italian Slovenes live, for they are in my vicinity and I visit them often - I know much too little. This is a pity because the beautiful nature, lovely people and rich culture, in whom we can take pride because of their national feeling of being Slovene, all characterise the region beyond the state border where the descendants of Slovenes live. I have visited Veneto and Resia, two regions which have, in many aspects, marked the history of the Slovenian nation.

Slavia Veneta, or simply Benecija, designates the eastern-most part of the Slovenian ethnic territory in the Italian Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It extends from the Idrija River valley and the valleys of the Nadiža River in the southeast, over the hillsides, which close off the Friuli plain in the north, extending up to the Alpi Carniche and the upper Torre Valley (Val Torre) in the northeast. Today, the Nadiža River valleys with their centre of Špetr, known historically as "San Pietro degli Slavi" - St. Peter of Slavs, have taken over the role of uniting Venetian Slovenes. The historic town of Cedad (Cividale del Friuli) was founded by Julius Caesar himself. The entrance to the city is adorned by the Devil's Bridge which takes visitors towards the architecturally elaborate square (the Piazza del Duomo). Cividale del Friuli holds a place of special importance in Slovenian history. In the museum of the cathedral, there is an altar from the period of Duke Rathis (between 737 and 744). A Latin inscription runs around the altar and it is presumed to end in Slovenian words: "IDE BOH ODKRIT" (God goes with sincerity). These are presumably the first written Slovenian words.

The valleys of Nadiža are the heartland of Veneto. In my opinion, the best view of Veneto is offered from the Stara gora church (the Church of Santa Maria in Monte). This is an ancient pilgrimage centre - one of three in the area at hand - where religious people from Friuli and Slovenia have been, and are still coming. There is another Cedad period historically important to Slovenes. The Patriarchate of Aquileia, which also wielded secular power between 1077 and 1419 united the Roman, Germanic and Slavic peoples. It was on the Cedad throne that the investiture of the Patriarchs of Aquileia took place. Each year, the inhabitants still remember this event with the three-kings' mass with a sword.

Cividale del Friuli Is a Town Proudly Underscoring Its Historic Importance
It is home to an extremely proud line of Slovenes, corroborated by the numerous headquarters of Slovenian organisations being located there. One of the best known and active is the Ivan Trinko Cultural Society founded in 1955. It got its name from the Slovenian poet, who strove for the awakening of the people, and who loved all that was Slovenian. His poems reflect the love of the Slovenian land and language. He is one of the most meritorious people for the preservation of the Slovene language in this region. The events regarded as most important for Venetian Slovenes in the Ivan Trinko Cultural Society and which are also attended by people from all over Slovenia, are the annual Dan emigranta (The Emigrant's Day) and the Mittelfest international theatre festival. Novi Matajur, a Slovenian newspaper with a massive following with regard for the Slovenian written language, is issued in Cividale del Friuli. The spoken word is a curiosity arousing of interest in all of these places. Walking through the town, one can find a sort of mixture of the Friuli, Italian and Slovenian languages. Saturdays are especially lively as the market is full of people from both sides of the border. As in the old days, Friulians and the inhabitants of the Nadiža, Tolmin and Brda regions attend the fair. This is a time when friends and relatives meet to speak to each other in their colourful languages. Despite the Friuli and Slovenian nationalities being so close to each other, they have, nevertheless, both preserved their customs and their language. Today, the Slovene language spoken in Italy is quite different from the Slovene literary language as the former has predominantly been passed down in oral tradition and was thus, subject to changes in the development of individual languages.

In addition to the numerous historical landmarks testifying to the strong Slovene national awareness in this region, many chapels are scattered all over Veneto (Bene?ija). These pearls of Slovenian rural gothic architecture from around 1470 are the work of a master of the Škofja Loka School. The best known and the best preserved is the Andrew's Chapel in the Landarska Cave from 1477. These chapels were built in caves which the inhabitants used as hideouts in the past. Inscriptions in the Slovene language can be found in them.

On the route to Veneto, there is an abundance of charming villages - each with its own distinctive features - striving to preserve their customs. They organise festivals, various gatherings, fairs and anything that comes to mind which might induce the Slovene word to flow.

Even today, villagers in some villages gather in the square with a well on a mount, telling stories - usually from the past. Listening to the old folk, it is hard for me to imagine the hard times that Slovenes have had to endure. The fear and the humiliation of Slovenian people was told in the poem entitled "Slovenija in njena h?erka na Beneškem" (Slovenia and her daughter in Veneto) by the priest and first poet of the Veneto Republic, Peter Podreka. The priests are largely responsible for the preservation of the Slovene language. In the 1930s, despite the oppression of the Slovenian identity, they followed the person responsible for national awakening, Trinko, secretly giving masses in the Slovene language. This secretive cooperation between priests was beautifully described by the author, France Bevk, in his novel "Kaplan Martin Cedermac" (Vicar Martin Cedermac). The strong feeling of belonging and an immense desire for the preservation of Slovenian culture are retained to this day.

There is a myriad of stories about Slovenes being passed down by elders to their grandchildren. Among others, the story of the inhabitants of ?rni Vrh is an interesting one. Once an important village, it is home to only a handful of people today. Its inhabitants, as it was written in 1898 by Musoni, are "of tall stature, with hairy chests, which they do not hide in winter, predominantly with light and chestnut colour hair, blue or grey eyes and thick beards". It is considered, even today, that Crnjanci (inhabitants of Crni Vrh) are the most similar to the original Slavic type of man.

The Resia (Rezija) territory is made up of the Resia Valley, the upper part of the Ucja Valley up to the border with Slovenia, and a small part of the Beli potok gorge. The highest peak is Kanin with an elevation of 2587 metres. The inhabitants of Resia believe that with its mightiness, the mountain is invested with a symbolic value, protecting and uniting them. Resia is an interesting object for debate for experts around the world because of its ethnographic and lingual peculiarities. Even though the Resian language belongs to the Primorska (Littoral) group of Slovenian dialects, it exhibits peculiarities within Slavic languages. Unfortunately, Italian prevails today, especially among the young people, which is why experts are arguing in favour of the preservation of the Resian language. The first Resian grammar is nearing completion, the language only being preserved in devotional poems.

Resia has preserved its link to the past, exhibited in the rich oral tradition, probably due to its isolation. Song and dance play an especially important role in the confirmation of the Resian identity. Instrumental music is performed by Resians playing the violin, citira (zither) and the familiar cello with three strings called the bunkolo. The shepherd's whistle, the duda, was also used in the past. To preserve the distinctive dancing style, a Resian folklore group was established which is arousing interest around the world today. The Resians consider 1838, the year when the group appeared before Ferdinand I, to be the beginning of the activities of the folklore group. In addition to the group, the Monte Kanin men's choir and the Rože Majave women's choir are quite active.

The village's celebration on the consecration of their church, the segra, is among the best-known events in the region. The processions through all of the villages of Resia featured the image of St. George, decorated with ribbons and flowers, carried around the villages. During the parade, the villagers offered food and drink to all who participated in the procession. The celebration was accompanied by singing and dancing. In the evening, the procession, having passed through numerous villages, returned to the home village by torchlight. There, a feast with fully laden tables continued throughout the night. This custom connected the entire Resian Valley in a ritual manner. The šmarna miša (the Assumption Mass) is an important feast even today, and is celebrated on 15 August in Ravanci. The religious rituals, the mass and the procession with the statue of Mary are followed by a secular celebration with fair stands, music and dance. This used to be the second of three fairs where people bought necessities. At the recent fair, the roženvenski sejem (Rosary Fair), that took place at the end of October, cattle were sold. The three fairs are still organised today, but have unfortunately lost their original characteristics.

The feast of conscripts - koškritov - is an important winter feast. These days, it is also intended for girls turning twenty. The youth of the village gather in one of the village houses, celebrating with music, dancing and singing Resian songs for several consecutive evenings. They gather gifts from houses which are then used to prepare the food and the final communal dinner for the conscripts. On the morning of 1 January, all the conscripts from the valley attend holy mass. They can be recognised by the characteristic flower pinned in their buttonhole. This is followed by a Resian lunch with a dance.

In addition to the customs already mentioned, celebrations also include the lighting of bonfires on the summer solstice, the kirst, which has almost been forgotten. Finally, we must also mention the heartfelt Resian Carnival. Today, it takes place in Bila and lasts from Shrove Thursday to Ash Wednesday when the Carnival mascot is burnt. The pinnacles of the celebrations take place on Saturday evening and at the Sunday noon dance in the square called ta-na Gorici (the one on the hill). The characteristic mask is dressed in white, wearing a high head cover with flowers, colourful ribbons and bells. These are the beautiful masks. There are also the ugly masks, the babaci, whose faces are covered in black and who visit homesteads at night, scaring children. These masks represent the spirit of the dead, to whom the members of the community present gifts in the shape of food, thus ensuring fertility and a good harvest for themselves. In modern times, after the burning of the Carnival mascot, the celebrations move to the premises of the primary school where the people dance well into the night.

The church authorities have sadly, strongly impeded the folk traditions, seeing them as the remains of paganism, namely, something that was in contravention of their religious principles. Despite the oppression, many customs have been preserved as the rituals were of primary importance for the poor rural population. The harsh everyday labour was broken up by rare festive moments. All that is being expressed by the Slovenian community on the Italian side of the border is, despite the opposing policy and considerable limitations, the fruit of the commitment to their roots and a firm perseverance in using their own language. This is truly the pride of the Slovenian nation.

As has already been stressed at the beginning, Slovenian people explore the immediate vicinity of their homes too little. There are so many natural and cultural landmarks and so many lovely people willing to share their priceless life experiences through the stories they tell. I hope that by writing about the two beautiful regions, I have awakened an interest in some of you to visit them. This certainly holds true for me.

Summarised according to the books:
Ljudsko izrocilo Slovencev v Italiji v letih 1965-1974 (Le tradizioni popolari degli Sloveni in Italia raccolte negli anni 1965-1974); Pavle Merku;; Trieste 1976
Beneška Slovenija, Slavia Veneta; Milan Grego; Družina; Ljubljana 1998
Resia, Rezija; Milan Grego and Roberto Dapit; NUK; Ljubljana 2001
Od Timave do Idrije; Erika Jazbar and Zdenko Vogric; Transmedia; Gorica 2005
Gorica, po sledovih naše prisotnosti; Erika Jazbar and Zdenko Vogric; Transmedia; Gorica 2005
Iz kmeckih korenin sem pognal; pricevanja o preteklosti Štandreža; Prosvetno društvo "Štandrež", President Dr. Damjan Paulin; Štandrež 1993 According to the stories by the journalist and researcher Erika Jazbar from Gorica, Nadia from Oslavje, Dean from Trieste, Ms Pavla from Robidišce, Mr Alojz from Cividale del Friuli and several other Slovenes from behind the border and cultural workers from the Kinoatelje Society from the Italian Gorica (Gorizia).
The Cathedral in Cividale del Friuli (Cedad).

Article abstracted from Sinfo.