"Oh, Triglav, my home"

A short history of the symbol of Slovenehood

The climbing scene from the Triglav North Face by TK SkalaNational and University Library of Slovenia

Local guides were necessary companions in the mountains until the end of the 19th century.

»And if you have entrusted yourself to guides, you need to follow them and never attempt to be smarter; for most of the time it turns out all your knowledge is just nonsense... If you get lost in the mountains, it can cost you your life,« warns Hacquet. 

Path from Bohinj to Triglav (1909)National and University Library of Slovenia

How life-saving this advice really is, can be seen from the expedition of surveyor Antonio von Bosio, who had to carry out some measurements from the top of Triglav in 1822. It is believed to be the first known accident in the Slovene mountains. 

A postcard of Triglav from around 1900 (1902)National and University Library of Slovenia

When caught in a storm, Bosio decided to spend the night at the top, despite guides’ warnings. Five companions escaped from the top in time, and in the terrible night that followed, the guide Anton Korošec, who remained with Bosio, lost his life due to the  lightning strike.

“My only thought was a certain death

It was impossible for me to be spared from countless lightning strikes,” recalls Bosio, who miraculously survived the night with his assistant. In the morning, the other members of the expedition returned to the  top, they ensured a safe return of the surveyor, equipment and his unfortunate comrade back to the valley.

»I was so brave, let this letter stays here at the top, don't take it, my greatest joy is in the mountains!«

A mountaneer climbing the north face of MojstrovkaNational and University Library of Slovenia

Pastor Janez Dežman wrote this honest message and left it in a bottle on the top of Triglav in 1809 - probably one of the first amateur visitors to our highest mountain. But with the exception of guides and porters, his message was not read by many Slovenian climbers in the  in the following decades.

Postcard of Triglav with a stamp of the Dežman hut (1899) by UnknownNational and University Library of Slovenia

Rare, mostly German tourists became more frequent only in the second half of the 19th century, when Austrian and German mountaineering associations developed.

The Dežman Hut, opened in 1887National and University Library of Slovenia

The associations were involved in the promotion of mountain tourism among the German population, in maintaining and marking of paths (in German) and the construction of mountain huts (in which German tourists had priority).

»And you, mighty Triglav, protect our German land with your hand!«

Statements such as the one above from the conclusion speech of Dr Karel Dežman at the opening of Dežman's hut below Triglav in 1887 (today's Valentin Stanič Dom), and the absence of the local language in the Slovenian mountains deeply upset Slovenian patriots. The same year the Slovenec newspaper writes:

»You are free to use and write in German in our mountains; however, remember that the world you walk through is Slovenian, and that the guide who leads you is of Slovenian descent. Give the Slovene language a space on its own soil,«

Triglav Temple

The first hut under the top of Triglav (near today's Planika) was built in 1869 by a local hunter and guide Jože Škantar - Šest and his son on the initiative of local mountain lovers. Because of the view, the modest shelter was given the name Triglav Temple; but due to the lack of funds for maintenance, it did not defy the weather for long.

Vodnik Lodge, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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A year later, his daughter Rozalija Škantar, when she was only twenty years old, became the first woman to reach the top of Triglav, Rosalija was later the caretaker of the Vodnik Lodge for many years, where she was known to mountaineers as a "mountain guide in a skirt ". Next to the hut, there is a plate in her memory.

In the middle of the 19th century, the national consciousness and the first calls for the unification of all Slovenes, and their equality within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy began to evolve in the Slovenian lands. Associations and organizations are beginning to appear in all areas of society; their goal is also, and above all, to awaken the nation, and to care of the presence of the Slovenian language.

Triglav glacier in 1917, 1917, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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It is not uncommon that the highest mountain played a special role in this national struggle for supremacy in the Slovenian mountains - although in those days it had not such a symbolic place in the identity of the nation as we attribute it today. Nevertheless, it is almost unbelievable, that a large part of the credit that Triglav almost overnight became one of the fundamental symbols of Slovenia, goes to a single exceptional man - and the game of fate that followed.

Jakob Aljaž, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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To decide once for all whose is the highest peak, Jakob Aljaž, parish priest of Dovje, great lover of mountains and a patriot, bought the Triglav peak for 1 florin (the price of 10 litres of milk or a few dozen eggs) from the municipality of Dovje in 1895.

On top of TriglavNational and University Library of Slovenia

He built a shelter on it - a two-meter-high galvanized metal tower, which he designed and financed himself. He put in it three chairs, stamps and a book of remembrance with a message: “Hello, traveller! Bless you, write in this book your name and a very dear thought if you wish.” In 11 years, it has collected more than 3,000 comments.

While building the tower, Aljaž had an unpleasant experience in the Dežman hut below Triglav, where the caretaker reminded him that German tourists had priority.

»At that moment, I decided to build the Triglav hut… if I can't find a place in another place and no one helps me, I will place my hut next to Dežman's hut 10 steps from it… my national pride was so offended.«

The opening of the Triglav Lodge on August 10th 1896 (1896-08-10)National and University Library of Slovenia

A few days later, he bought more land below the top of Kredarica, and took care of the construction of the hut, which was ceremoniously opened in August 1896.

“We were all excited. There were also many guides and porters; together more than a hundred people."  

Triglav Lodge on Kredarica with a view on TriglavNational and University Library of Slovenia

»Although our hut is Slovenian, it will be arranged in such a way that it will suit tourists of every nation. Everyone will be equally kindly received, this requires Slovenian hospitality,« said Aljaž in his opening speech.

Aljaž chalet in Vrata Valley (1899)National and University Library of Slovenia

During the construction of the tower and hut on Kredarica, Aljaž also financed building of a hut in the Vrata valley, the carving out of a shelter in the rocks just below the top of Triglav and the protection of top ridge of the mountain.

Mountaineers on Little Triglav (1935)National and University Library of Slovenia

Determined to bring Triglav closer to all Slovenes, he arranged construction of accessible paths so that everyone could reach the top. At the most dangerous point - the ridge from Mali to Veliki Triglav - he placed 130 meters of strong rope on 36 iron rods.

Triglav Lodge on Kredarica (1909)National and University Library of Slovenia

The construction of the tower and the hut provoked a sharp reaction of German organizations, which started a series of lawsuits against Aljaž - all together as many as six. All of them were finally decided in favour of the parish priest of Triglav.

» It was critical! But thank God: when I get to the top of Kredarica on Saturday afternoon, I find a commission and geometers right at the top, congratulating me: Mr. Pastor, you won!«

Panoramic view from Kredarica, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Mountaineers at the Aljaž TowerNational and University Library of Slovenia

On the other hand, Aljaž's achievements, stirred a wide enthusiasm among Slovenian patriots.

Mountaineers at the Aljaž TowerNational and University Library of Slovenia

With the construction of the tower, Triglav became a Slovenian symbol and a pilgrimage site, visited by more pilgrims each year.  

Aljaž correctly writes in his memoirs:

»It is mostly my merit that Triglav remained Slovenian.«

Mountaineers on Triglav ridgeNational and University Library of Slovenia

The next milestones in Triglav's history are linked with overcoming its famous north face, the pride of Slovenian alpinism. Ivan Berginc, a hunter from Trenta, was the first to climb it in 1890 , followed by a German team in 1906.

The Triglav North Face from the Tominšek Route by Fran PavlinNational and University Library of Slovenia

Mountaineering struggles for the conquest of Triglav moved to inaccessible corners of the north face, while the Aljaž Tower at the top of the mountain, due to its symbolic significance, often became a scene and a victim of political confrontations and disagreements.

A group of mountaineers on top of a mountainNational and University Library of Slovenia

After the First World War, the Treaty of Rapallo delineated the border between Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes right across the summit of Triglav, which again became the subject of dispute between the two national sides.

With changes in the history, the Aljaž tower at the top also changed its image. In 1908, it was painted white, between the two wars it had Slovenian and Italian national colours, and after the Second World War it was painted red, with a star instead of the date, which was installed by Aljaž. In 1984, the tower finally recovered its original, metallic appearance.

Mountaineers at the Aljaž Tower, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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A child with a typewriter at the Aljaž Tower, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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The period of the World War II further strengthened Triglav in the collective consciousness of the Slovenian nation. Its three-headed silhouette, as a symbol of the Liberation Front (authors Marjan Tepina and Edo Ravnikar), passed around from hand to hand on newsletters, leaflets, posters and brochures, which members of the Front secretly spread around the country.

Propaganda leaflet from the Second World War, Unknown, 1941/1944, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Propaganda leaflet from Second World War, Unknown, 1941/1944, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Propaganda leaflet from Second World War, Unknown, 1941/1944, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Propaganda leaflet from the Second World War, Unknown, 1941/1944, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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As early as in 1934, the architect Jože Plečnik was the first to use the image of Triglav as a symbol of the Slovenes on Šverljuga's Marija sign in Bled, and later also above the entrance to the National and University Library.

Plečnik's emblem above the entrance to The National and University Library, Maj Blatnik, 2020, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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In Yugoslavia, Triglav officially gets its place in the coat of arms of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. With Slovenian independence in 1991, Triglav is placed in the coat of arms and flag, thus becoming the main state symbol of the independent Republic of Slovenia.

The images of the Slovenian flag, which fluttered at the top of Triglav for the first time during the celebration of declaration of independence, are impressed in the heart of every Slovene.

Coat of arms of the Republic of Slovenija, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Peak of Mount Triglav (After 1849) by Marko PernhartNational Museum of Slovenia

»There is his throne, there he sits, mighty, proud, victorious, greater and more glorious than everything that is round him, rousing fear and respect in the midst of all splendour and majesty of his picturesque Julian kingdom. From  thousands of enthusiastic, grateful hearts and from the depths of happy memories, in the blazing hope of saying goodbye, a whooping call resonates towards him: 'Triglav!'«

The view from the top of Triglav. Photo: Tomo B

Credits: Story

The featured documents are from the collections of The National and University Library.
Exhibition: Žiga Cerkvenik
Translation: Janja Korošec
Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica, 2021

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Kugy, Julius (ur.): Pet stoletij Triglava, Maribor 1973
Mikša, Peter: Triglav in Jakob Aljaž, Ljubljana 2017
Mikša, Peter in Ajlec, Kornelija: Slovensko planinstvo / Slovene Mountaineering, Ljubljana 2011
Mikša, Peter in Golob, Urban: Zgodovina slovenskega alpinizma, Ljubljana 2013
Zorn, Matija et al.: Triglav 240, Ljubljana 2018
Kunaver, Dušica in Lipovšek, Brigita: Triglav - prvi pristopi. Ljubljana 2019
Viduka, Marko in Vilman Proje, Jana: Višje ne gre / Only For The Brave, Bohinj 2018

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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