Lake Bled, located in northwest Slovenia, is one of the most photographed places in the world known for the church standing on the small island surrounded by the lake. Bled Island, in the middle of the Lake Bled, houses several buildings with the main one being the Church of the Assumption of Mary built in the 17th century. On the steep cliff overlooking Lake Bled sits the medieval Gothic Bled Castle dating back to 1011 and is the oldest castle in Slovenia. Looking up at it, it reminded me of the Greek Orthodox churches of Meteora perched atop the steep rocky cliffs. There are a few places for an aerial view of Lake Bled. One of the more popular ones is Mala Osojnica accessed by hiking up a small trail. It is quite steep in places and there is a long staircase in the end before you get to the main viewpoint. Instead, my fellow photographer and guide, Piotr, took me to another spot that can be accessed by car and we were the only ones there at 5am setting up our tripods and filters and waiting for the sky to light up and the sun to rise.
It was believed that the Church of the Assumption of Mary on Bled Island was built on the ground where the temple of the ancient Slavic goddess Ziva once stood. The church has both Gothic and Baroque styles due to being destroyed and rebuilt after two earthquakes. Transportation to the island is by traditional wooden boat called a pletna. It is like a gondola and holds up to 20 people. I was told that since 1740, only 22 families were granted the right to navigate these waters and take religious pilgrims to the island. Even till today, the oarsmen descend from these 22 families. The pletnas will dock right at the 99 steps leading up to the Church of the Assumption of Mary. You will hear the church bell ringing as it is believed that whoever rings this bell will have their wish come true.
Another popular sight in Slovenia is Predjama Castle located about an hour southwest of Ljubljana. It is the largest cave castle in the world built directly into the cave mouth on the cliffside. This impregnable castle stands in the middle of a 123 meter high cliff for more than 800 years. The castle used to be home to 15th century knight Erazem Lugeger who was the son of the imperial governor of Trieste and a renowned robber baron, like a local Robin Hood. There is a network of secret tunnels and caves behind the castle including a narrow passage later called Erazem’s Passage that leads out to the top of the cliff. This shaft was important as it allowed the castle to be supplied during a siege as well as allowing Erazem to conitnue with his plundering expeditions. There is also a hiding place at the top of the castle called Erazem’s Nook. During the Austrian-Hungarian War, Erazem supported the Hungarians and fought against the Austrians by attacking Hasburg estates and towns. He retreated to the family fortress that is Predjama Castle and after a long siege was allegedly killed by a shot from a cannon while he was using the lavatory. The castle we see now was rebuilt in the 16th century in the Renaissance style after the siege and later an earthquake that destroyed the original castle.
About 40 minutes further south from Predjama Castle is Skocjan Cave created by the Reka River over millions of years. The Reka River disappears underground at the rocky wall of Big Collapse Doline into Skocjan caves and resurfaces as the Timavo River to the Adriatic Sea. The immense underground canyon with the Reka River flowing through it is unlike anything I have imagined. Skocjan cave feels very mystical like something from the set of Lord of the Rings! This is what makes Skocjan Cave different than other caves and was entered into UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites in 1986. The explored length of caves is 6 km long making it one of the longest karst underground wetlands in Europe with its own microcosm. The cave system has these huge underground chambers with the largest being Martel’s Chamber which is also the largest one in Europe. Skocjan Cave can only be visited by guided tour where you walk through a tunnel to arrive at the Silent Cave with the first section called Paradise which is filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and the second section called Calvary which used to be riverbed. At the end of the Silent Cave is the Great Hall with large stalagmites called the Giants and the Pipe Organ. Then it is the Murmuring Cave with walls 100 meters tall with a suspension Cerkevnik Bridge 50 meters above the Reka River. Then it is Schmidl Hall and the Velika Dolina or Big Valley and Tominc Cave where there was once a prehistoric settlement. Between April and October, you can also enter the cave through its natural entrance below the village of Skocjan and then follow the path of the Reka River. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the cave but I couldn’t resist sneaking in a few photos. In any case, the cave was too dark for good photos without a tripod.
The next post will showcase some of the landscape photos I took in Slovenia in collaboration with landscape photographer Piotr Skrzypiec. Stayed tuned!
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