Counting Castles

By Jheri St. James

A Map of 16 Slovenian Castles

The shape of the Republic of Slovenia is cloudlike, and much of Slovenia’s history reads as a fairy tale.  In the Middle Ages, Slovenia’s history was marked most by the Counts of Celji (or Counts of Cilli), a well-known noble family and the only true counts of Slovene ethnicity.  They began their glory in a small castle in Zovnek, Braslovee, but in a short period of time, they owned more than 20 castles all over Slovenia and beyond through the marriages of their daughters.  The most famous Counts of Celje were: Ulrich I (d.1312), the first Count of Celje; Frederick; Ulrik II; William of Celje, father of Anna, Queen of Poland and Luthuania; Hermann II; Barbara of Celje, Holy Roman Empress; Frederick II; Ulrich III and Margaret of Celje (d. 1480)

            The remains of the Zovnek castle stand on a dominant point on a hill above the old town of Braslovce.  Originally owned by the Vovbre and later Žovnek yeomen, the counts took it over after 1333, followed by the dukes.  After the murder of the last of the line of Celje Counts in 1456, it became part of the country’s princely property.  The maintenance and repair of the walls of Celje Castle is the oldest continuous renovation project in Slovenia.

Overview of Celje Castle

But Celje’s castle is not the only one in Slovenia.  Slovenia has a number of buildings of historical and architectural interest. Examples are Bled Castle, Predjama Castle, Ptuj Castle and the medieval towns of Izola, Koper and Piran. Many buildings, like those in Ptuj are protected national monuments.  Ljubljana Castle, built on a hill, has a commanding view of the surrounding area. Because of its strategic position, the site has been occupied since prehistoric times.  Ljubljana knights had their seat in the castle before 1144.  In the Middle Ages, the castle was used as a fortress and later it served various purposes—defense post, prison and apartment building. The present castle dates back to the 15th century and has seen the town below expand to become the capital city of Slovenia.  In the 20th century Ljubljana was enhanced by the designs of the architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957), who was influenced by classical architecture, but fused it with contemporary design.  The picturesque capital city of independent Slovenia lies in a green plain surrounded by hills, and could be a film set for an Austro-Hungarian period epic. Ljublijana has managed to preserve many relics from its past:  the original town center, squares, baroque facades, narrow streets and uneven roofs, the Franciskanska cerkev (Franciscan church) from 1646, the town hall (Rotov), Robba Fountain, Ljubjiana Cathedral, and Ljubjiana Castle and museum.

            All of Slovenia has many fine modern structures, design and technology benefiting from government support.  Some of Slovenia’s other most popular towns and cities include:

A View of Celje from the Castle

Celje – is situated at the confluence of the Savinja and Voglajna rivers in central Slovenia.  The only permanent art gallery in Slovenia is located here and is dedicated to the work of artists up to the age of 20, holding a private international competition for art works of these young people, one of the 15 biggest competitions in the world.  Its collection of 45,000 art works will be listed in the Guinness Book of Recors this year, as the biggest collection of its sort.  In the gallery archives are displayed more than 100,000 art works from 70 countries.  More than 12,000 people visit the gallery each year, and foreign visitors are very proud when they see an artwork from their country.  Mihailo Lišanin is the founder of the gallery, the competition, and the “World of Art” magazine; he has received many awards for his concept from Russian Ministry of Culture, Argentina, Turkey and a bronze coat of arms from Celje itself.

A Gallery of Young People's Artwork in Celje

Piran - An ancient peninsular town with a number of old churches; the cathedral on a hill, which has fine view of the bay of Trieste; and a bronze statue of Tartini. There is a picturesque harbor and well-preserved old town.

Bled - The most famous Slovenian mountain resort is situated some five kilometers from the nearby Austrian border and features the shimmering Trout Lake, spa, walking center and a rich base for skiing.   Bled has been a scenic resort since well before 20th century. Special features are Bled's castle on the Rocky Mount above the lake and a church on the small island. 

Bohinjsko Jezeri (Lake) - Beautiful wooded valley in the national park Triglav, about 30 km. from Bled, with a clean, blue glacial lake surrounded by adjacent mountains. Sightseeing includes the nearby Savica waterfalls, and Hudicev Bridge on the River Mostrica and climbing by the cable car station on mount Vogel. There are a number of the ski resorts around the village of Bohijni.

Postojnska Jama (Postojna Caves) - Some of the world's most beautiful underground caverns run for 27 kilometers surrounded by their magnificent galleries. Parts of the caves are toured by electric railway, which takes in illuminated halls, abysses, fantastic stalactites and stalagmites, and underground steam fissures.  Postojna caves are open all year round. 

Prejkamski Grad (Castle of Predjama) - Their impressive castle hangs dramatically in the middle of a 125-meter cliff, is eight kilometers from Postojnska caves. There is an interesting permanent exhibition, which includes old weapons and furniture. It does not take much imagination to see how Predjama castle would be the ideal stronghold for a willful, rebellious knight - and indeed just such a romantic legend survives : the story of the robber baron Erazem, who is today commemorated by the by the recently - opened Erazem's Passage.

Ptuj – The oldest town in Slovenia, and an important site of the Kurentovanje Festival, the pre-Lenten carnival at which the demonic Kurents rule, scaring away the spirit of winter and ushering in spring and bountiful crops.  Kurent was the mythic Slovenian god of hedonism, revelry and high spirits.  Some think the festival evolved from Greek and Roman rituals, others from ancient Slavic tradition.  Costumed celebrants attend a costume ball, held in a carnival tent.  Heralded by a chorus of cowbells, the Kurants carry large jezevkas (wooden staffs) and feature feathers and colorful streamers sprouting from the tops of their sheepskin headdresses.  Wearing leather masks with comic noses, painted red eyeholes, white beans inside the mouth holes, and long red tongues hanging over their sheepskin chests, the Kurents go door to door to bring luck and vanquish winter.  This festive celebration actually originated in Bukovci, a nearby town.  The museum in Ptuj features a hall dedicated to Kurentovanje and the Kurents.

The wine country extends from Ptuj to the border with Croatia.  Winemaking in this region dates to Roman times and was revived in the Middle Ages by monks who established monasteries that still stand.  A Slovenian legends tells of a man saving himself from raging floodwaters by clinging to a grapevine, much to the delight of the deity Kurent, which caused the waters to recede in return for the man’s promise that he and his descendants would always cultivate grapes for wine and buckwheat for beer.

Slovenian Castles - Slovenia is a paradise for "Castle lovers". There are hundreds of different medieval castles and fortifications here. The most famous of them are : Ptuj Castle, Podsreda Castle, Brezice, Ljublijana castle, Bled castle, Velenije Castle and many others.  Here are pictures of 40 Slovenian castles:

Blejski grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum, panoramic vista to countryside


Castle is open for a visit, museum


Chapel, panoramic vista to countryside


Brdo pri Lukovici


Castle is open for a visit, museum



 Castle is open for a visit, museum


Castle is open for a visit, museum


Falski grad


Renovated ruins, panoramic vista to countryside


 Renovated in parts


Kamen pri Begunjah
 Renovated ruins


 Renovated ruins, panoramic vista to countryside


Castle is open for visit, museum


taborski stolp - Lokev

Lokev  taborski stolp
he defense tower


Mariborski grad
Castle is open for visit, museum


Metliški grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum




Murski grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum


Lendavski grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum


Ljubljanski grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum, panoramic vista to countryside


Samostanski grad Olimje


Otocec - The Otocec Castle

The Otočec Castle



Grad Podčetrtek


Castle is open for a visit, museum


Polhograjska graščina

Polhograjska graščina


Predjamski grad
 Castle is open for a visit, museum


Ptujski grad
Castle is open for a visit, museum, panoramic vista to countryside


Educational centre, stables




Sevniski grad  - The Castle Of Sevnica

Sevniški grad
The Castle of Sevnica
Castle is open for a visit, museum


Castle is open for a visit, museum


Castle is open for a visit,, panoramic vista to countryside


Stari grad (Celje)
Castle is open for a visit,, panoramic vista to countryside


Visnjegorski grad

Stari grad (Višnja Gora)
ruins - vista


Stari grad (Slovenske Konjice)
 Renovated in a parts


Dvorec Strmol v Rogatcu

Dvorec Strmol v Rogatcu
Strmol manor house


Castle is open for a visit


Velenjski grad
Castle is open for a visit, museum


Zaprice (Kamnik)
 Castle is open for a visit, museum


Dvorec Zemono


*     *    *

The Slovene lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria until 1918, when the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, renamed Yugoslavia in 1929.  After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed Yugoslavia which, though Communist, distanced itself from Moscow’s rule.  Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war.  Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia’s transformation to a modern state.  Slovenia, which shares borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.

            The capital, Ljubljana, site of the Common Ground 191 soil collection in Slovenia, is full of cafes lining the Ljubljanica River that meanders through town.  There is live music on the street corners and piazzas and a bustling medieval center.  Families and young lovers stroll the riverbanks in the evening.  During the day, farmers peddle flowers and vegetables in a large open-air market across the river.

            Slovenia, with its historical ties to Western Europe, enjoys a GDP per capital substantially higher than that of the other transitioning economies of Central Europe.  In March 2004, Slovenia became the first transition country to graduate from borrower status to donor partner at the World Bank.  Privatization of the economy proceeded at an accelerated pace in 2002-2005.  Despite lackluster performance in Europe in 2001-2005, Slovenia maintained moderate growth.  Structural reforms to improve the business environment have allowed for greater foreign participation in Slovenia’s economy and have helped to lower unemployment.  In mid-2004, Slovenia agreed to adopt the euro by 2007, and therefore, must keep its debt levels, budget deficits, interest rates, and inflation levels within the EU’s Maastrict criteria.

Republic of SloveniaThe flag of the Republic of Slovenia consists of the generic Slovenian tricolor and the Slovenian coat of arms in the upper left.  The Slovenian tricolor dates back to the “springtime of nations” of 1848 and is based on the flag of the Ducky of Carniola (Kranjska), then the “very notion of Slovenedom”.   Extraordinary historical circumstances influenced the national insignia, the coat of arms of the Republic of Slovenia.  In the form of a shield, the image of Mt. Triglav is represented in white on a blue background, with two undulating blue lines below and three six-pointed golden stars, arranged in an inverted triangle, above it.  The shield has a red border.  This is an heraldic composite, combining elements from the coats of arms of the Counts of Celje (golden stars), the Duchy of Carniola (colors), and the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (Mt. Triglav).

Mt. Triglav, the Highest Mountain in Slovenia  

Taya Albolena Lila was the soil collector for Common Ground 191 in Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia, another of the referrals we so gratefully received from Doreen Virtue’s Angel Therapy international online newsletter.  In Slovenian, we would say hvala, or thank you.  The word for peace here is mir.  And, as Slovenia’s history has been largely peaceful, this soil brings that element to the Common Ground 191 project—mir.          There are approximately 600 castles with at least walls standing in Slovenia, but who’s counting?  The Counts are beyond the clouds.

Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Was that not a tasty dish
To set before a king?

The King was in his counting house
Counting out his money
The Queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey

The Maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes
When down came a blackbird
And snapped off her nose!

Slovenian Lipica Horses

A Slovenian Vineyard - Art on the vine



All images and text © Copyright 2018 Common Ground 191 - All rights reserved