"Oh, Triglav, My Home"

A short history of the symbol of Slovenehood

By National and University Library of Slovenia

Peak of Mount Triglav (After 1849) by Marko PernhartNational Museum of Slovenia

Triglav is more than a mountain.

Not only due to its height which elevates it above all nearby neighbours. It is special because of its role in the imagination and self-awareness of people who have, over the millenia, lived under its wing.

During its long and turbulent history, Triglav embodied a divinity, an object of research and artistic admiration, an inspiration and a test of physical strength, a pilgrimage goal and so much more.

Mount Triglav from BohinjNational and University Library of Slovenia

Today, it is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Slovenian nation - a holy mountain of the Slovenes, visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. 

It seems the story of our highest mountain reflects the story of the nation that lives at its foot. 

Mountaineers below Triglav (1925)National and University Library of Slovenia

»There stands Triglav,

right now it appears from the dark, mystical blaze of ancient centuries and grows into the bright light of our times. It springs high into the blue heights, its serious head crowned by the clouds of heaven, and on its broad rocky forehead shines the radiance of the ruler.

Fairy tales are hidden in deep folds of its rocky robe,« writes Julius Kugy, one of its most loyal and famous admirers.

Aljaž Tower by Fran PavlinNational and University Library of Slovenia

Today, the number of visitors who climb to its summit is measured in thousands. However, long centuries had to pass before this, perhaps the most Slovenian piece of land, became familiar. 

Town Begunje (1842) by Joseph WagnerNational and University Library of Slovenia

The story of Triglav begins long before its first visitors.

For most of human history, mountains were the realm of legends, mythological creatures, and wild, unpredictable nature, where only the most brave dared venture. 

The legend of the Goldhorn, preserved in the folk memory, speaks of a mythological mountain goat, the guardian of the Triglav mountains. Its blood had miraculous healing powers and its golden horns were the key to the treasures under the mountains.

In a desire to obtain the treasure and win the heart of his unrequited love, a young hunter shot the Goldhorn. From the drops of blood of the wounded animal grew the miraculous Triglav flowers.

The goat ate them and healed, then rushed into the hunter, who fell into an abyss, blinded by the glow of the Capricorn’s horns.

Triglav with Lake Bohinj in Carniola (1880/1890) by J. J. KirchnerNational and University Library of Slovenia

The ancient three-headed god Triglav (Troglav, Terglou, Trimužjat idr.), the master of land, underworld and skies, can be found in many Old-Slavic peoples that inhabited the wider region in the first millenium.

It is still uncertain whether Triglav got its name from the three-headed deity, or from the shape of its form – which, truth be told, is not very obvious. 

Even Kugy himself wrote: »I never managed to see the three heads, although I have tried since I was young.«

For centuries, the only visitors who came to its vicinity were individual hunters, shepherds, and herbalists. In the second half of the 18th century, during the development of modern science and the spread of Enlightenment ideas, Triglav became an important site of early research and mountaineering expeditions to the Slovenian mountains.

A group of hunters in Krma Valley, Benedikt Legetporer, 1884/1893, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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A herd of sheep on Golica, Fran Pavlin, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Hunters and shepherds - early visitors of Slovenian mountains.

Map Ducatus Carnioliae Tabula Chorographica (1744) by Janez Dizma FlorjančičNational and University Library of Slovenia

The excellent map of Carniola by Janez Dizma Florjančič de Grienfeld from 1744 is the first to list Triglav as the highest mountain of the region.

Map Ducatus Carnioliae Tabula Chorographica (1744) by Janez Dizma FlorjančičNational and University Library of Slovenia

Besides its old name Terglou, the author added his measurement of its heigth - 1399 Parisian fathoms or 2740 meters. 

The first explorers of Triglav were mineralogists and in particular botanists, who, together with local guides –hunters and shepherds– searched for undiscovered treasures. The most important among them was Balthasar Hacquet, who succeeded the famous natural historian Scopoli as a doctor in the Idrija mine in 1766. Hacquet shared an interest in botany and exploration of the mountain world with his predecessor. In 1777, during one of his many tours to the mountains, he attempted the first documented ascent to the peak of Mount Triglav.

Oryctography of Carniola (1778/1789) by Balthasar HacquetNational and University Library of Slovenia

»I was climbing upwards over the rocks. For about two hours there was no major obstacle in my path due to the gravel and snow.

But soon I realised my people were telling the truth when they claimed that few or none have climbed this far – at least none of the botanists, for I have found plants that neither Scopoli nor any other noticed, and which I shall desrcibe some other time.     

I wanted to attempt the mountain from the other side the next day along with my company, but the weather would not allow it. I had to content myself with studying the mountain components. But I hope to climb it some other time..

Two years later, Hacquet tried again, and in 1782 he finally managed to climb to the top – but this time not as the first. During these expeditions, the earliest preserved depiction of our highest mountain was created. According to Hacquet its height was of 1549 Parisian fathoms, or about 3035 meters.

»Plants that neither Scopoli nor any other noticed,« Hacquet described in his book Carniolan Alpine Plants in 1782. Among twelve yet undiscovered plants, he named four after the highest mountain where he had found them: Triglav Hawk's Beard, Triglav gentian, Arctic Alpine Forget-me-not and the mythologicalTriglav flower.

Hacquet's illustration of the Triglav Hawk's Beard, Balthasar Hacquet, 1782, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Hacquet's illustration of the Triglav Gentian, Balthasar Hacquet, 1782, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Hacquet's illustration of the Arctic Alpine Forget-me-not, Balthasar Hacquet, 1782, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Hacquet's illustration of the Triglav flower or Shining Cinquefoil, Balthasar Hacquet, 1782, From the collection of: National and University Library of Slovenia
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Hacquet's four flowers of Triglav

Hacquet was not the only one interested in Triglav. The conquest of the highest peak brought honour to the one who stepped on the top first, as well as a man’s symbolic victory over the most remote corners of nature.

Žiga Zois (Late 18th century) by Andrej Janez HerrleinNational Museum of Slovenia

Žiga Zois, a famous Carniolan nobleman, businessman, collector and patron who helped Hacquet's expeditions, even announced a money prize to the one who would be the first proven to climb to the top, and for this purpose he organized and financially supported several expeditions.

Lake Bohinj (1843) by Joseph WagnerNational and University Library of Slovenia

Only a year after Hacquet's first attempt, Zois encouraged Lovernc Willomitzer, a doctor from Stara Fužina, to gather some local guides and try to climb the elusive peak.

The monument of four couragoeus men in Bohinj (2015) by Nea CulpaNational and University Library of Slovenia

The four brave men from Bohinj

Miners Luka Korošec and Matevž Kos, hunter Štefan Rožič and Lovrenc Willomitzer reached the top of Triglav on 26th August 1778, after a three-day climb.

Hacquet writes that Luka Korošec was »the first to reach the top since the existence of the world«. But in the end it doesn't really matter.

Much more important for the pride and self-confidence of the nation was the fact that the first men to climb to the top were locals - modest, ordinary people, the likes of which were usually just anonymous, silent companions of the first mountaneers, even though they carried on their shoulders a good part of the credit for many first ascents.

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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