Slovenia And Croatia – History Enhanced By Nature

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Slovenia and Croatia in 2010. These are two countries in which historical monuments mingle and compete with spectacular landscape.

A good example of the interplay of history and nature is Predjama castle, a 16th century fortress built partly inside a huge cave in a 123 metre high cliff. Behind and above it are the remains of a 12th century structure, built entirely inside the enormous cave.

Our guide told us that this older castle had been the home of a robber baron who preyed on the traffic in the valley below. His overlord tried to arrest him but the cave-keep proved to be impregnable – or so it seemed. Its weakness was an overhanging long drop loo. One night, when the robber baron used it, his servant, who had been bribed, placed a candle in a window to indicate his master was ensconced on the toilet. The lord’s men aimed a mortar up the toilet shaft and blew the robber off his perch, killing him. Moral: don’t use an overhanging long drop in a castle under siege!

A feature of the Dalmatian coast is the many charming islands, some of them, like Hvar and Corcula with quaint medieval towns . We visited Mljet, the island which, according to some scholars, was the island on which the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked. Paul calls it ‘Melita’ and tradition has it that it was Malta. Both islands have a bay named after the apostle and both lay claim to having been his refuge.

On beautiful Mljet we visited an island within an island. A lake on the island (actually it is an almost landlocked bay), contains a tiny island which is the site of the 12th century monastery of Saint Mary. Again, history enhanced by nature.

We walked around the perimeter of this islet in a bit under half an hour. Half-way around we visited a minuscule funerary chapel used for the burial of the commoners who served the monks. The cemetery associated with the funerary chapel is also tiny. This is not because there were few deaths over the centuries. Unlike the monks, who rest supine in the monastery’s church, the commoners were buried standing up – to save precious space!