A Very Special Plateau

Velika planina - Big Pasture Plateau rises in the heart of Slovenia, where many primordial elements of the rich pastoral culture have been preserved over the millennia

By National and University Library of Slovenia

Lithological and Hydrological Map of the Slavic Nations (1778) by Balthasar HacquetNational and University Library of Slovenia

Velika planina is a karstic highland plateau in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, dotted with characteristic sinkholes. Sparse spruce forest with dwarf pine surrounds 5.8 square kilometres of land at an average altitude of 1500 meters. <br>

Map of Slovenia, published in Hacquet's "Oryctographia Carniolica" shows the territory of high mountain pastures with the Slovenian name "Kamelska planina" drawn. 

Chairlift on the Grand Pasture Plateau (2017) by Žiga CerkvenikNational and University Library of Slovenia

The highest point is Gradišče (Njivice, 1666 m) with the upper station of the ski chairlift. The largest high mountain pasture in Slovenia consists of Velika, Mala and Gojška planina.

For their needs, shepherds built more than a hundred uniquely shaped huts in several shepherd's settlements.

Views from the Grand Pasture Plateau (2017) by Žiga CerkvenikNational and University Library of Slovenia

In these surroundings, life is tough, as the alpine soil is not particularly fertile and suitable for agriculture. Farmers make a living primarily from livestock farming.

Planjava and Ojstrica from the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

In the valley there is not enough space for pastures and grazing land, so Velika planina was probably used for pasturing in prehistoric times already. This is evidenced by the findings of bronze axes and pottery. 

A winter scene from the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

At first, only hunters, shepherds, herb pickers and mineral seekers exploited the unfriendly and frightening mountains for practical purposes.

Shepherds' settlement on the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

Their rights remained from the old tribal system. They were transmitted by oral tradition, and farmers refer to them even today.

Shepherds' settlement on the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

Ever since the early Middle Ages Velika planina has been owned by the emperor, but the pastures were used by farmers from the vicinity of Kamnik. 

Planjava and Brana from the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

The rights that are inherited together with the estate determine the number of head of livestock that may be taken to pasture.

Shepherd's hut on the Grand Pasture Plateau by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

Each shepherd was allowed to set up a wooden hut with fence for cattle. Before the First World War, huts were built only in oval shape that resists the wind perfectly. Today, they also of rectangular shape, so they are easier to cover. A shingled roof reaches to the ground and offers to animals shelter from the sun and rain.

Shepherdess manufacturing cheese by Jošt GantarNational and University Library of Slovenia

The interior is now adapted for tourists who rent huts in the winter, while in the past they were very modest. A humble shepherd's bed was lined with hay.

The open fireplace wrapped the whole room in smoke. In a windowless room, they also soured milk and made butter and cheese.

Shepherd's hut by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

Unfortunately, just before the end of World War II, the Germans burned all shepherd's huts. After the war, only a few were restored to their traditional oval shape. Only the Preskar cottage, which now houses the shepherd's museum, has preserved its original appearance.

The Chapel of Mary of the Snows by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

The wooden chapel of Marija Snežna was renovated in 1988 according to the design of architect Vlasto Kopač.

The Chapel of Mary of the Snows by Ivan TavčarNational and University Library of Slovenia

The original wooden building, inspired by pastoral constructions, was built in 1939 according to the plans of master Plečnik. Before building of the chapel, shepherds prayed together in the open air in the evenings, and on Sundays they gathered at the Zeleni rob (Green Edge) and from there listened to the bells from the valley. 

Cows on the Grand Pasture Plateau (2017) by Žiga CerkvenikNational and University Library of Slovenia

In spite of the inevitable changes, life on the mountain is still continuing in the ancient tradition. The mountain is run by a pastoral community led by a president who takes care of order, records the number of livestock and organizes joint maintenance work.

Livestock have always been driven to the mountain at the end of June in the early morning. At the head of the herd is a cow with a big bell. Livestock remain on pasture as long as the weather allows, returning to the valley in late August or early September.

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

A special feature of highland shepherds are wooden clogs braided with larch ribbons and a raincoat made of lime liber.

The traditional pastoral costume was already shown by Hacquet in the first depiction of Triglav in 1789. 

Shepherd on Velika planina, Kamnik-Savinja Alps by Jošt GantarNational and University Library of Slovenia

Shepherds used to make most of the humble objects they needed on the mountain themselves: wooden pot, spoon, tools for making cheese and butter, shoes and clothes.

Due to the lack of water on the mountain, they also carried snow in baskets, that was taken from to the karst cave Velika vetrnica - in which the snow remains throughout the summer. A shepherd carried everything he needed to live on the mountain in a basket.

Shepherds' settlement in SpringNational and University Library of Slovenia

Today, the life on Velika planina has changed substantially. It is important to preserve the disappearing cultural heritage, which includes many tales that describe alleged encounters of shepherds with mythological creatures: wild people, dwarves, white women, wizards and evil spirits.

Shepherd France narrated:

»It was a beautiful night. The moon shone brightly. The cattle were at the shepherd's hut. I fall asleep without worry. Suddenly, a loud whistle, as if someone was whistling on fingers, waked me from sleep. I got up quickly, stepped out of the hut, I whistled and asked who was there. 

No response! I also heard my bells from down of the Dovja griča. I also heard my bells from down of the Dovja griča. I quickly go after the cattle, catch up with it, and turn it back to the hut. The cattle are frightened, with ears upright, agitated, like being savage. 

With difficulty I push it to the hut. It was the dwarf that drove away the cattle. Well, now I am also causing troubles to the dwarf every night so he can't hurt me anymore. Before I shut the cattle, I step in front of the hut door and with shepherd's staff make a cross over the cattle. I have peace ever since.«

A group of friends in front of a shepherd's hut on Velika planina (1925)National and University Library of Slovenia

In addition to sour milk, cream, butter, cottage cheese and cheese, shepherds also make a special type of smoke-dried mountain cheese called "trnič".

A boy would give a couple of beautifully decorated pieces of trnič to his beloved girl as a promise of love and fidelity.

Trnič from Velika planina - cheese of love (2016) by David LotričNational and University Library of Slovenia

They decorated them with wooden carved boards called prints, with which they stamped beautiful patterns into the cheese.

Kamnik Alps by KunaverNational and University Library of Slovenia

In the middle of the 18th century, an interest in the mountain world develops, which was not motivated exclusively by profit.

During the Enlightenment, mountains became the inspiration of painters and an exploration subject of intellectuals. 

Velika planina in winter by Iztok MedjaNational and University Library of Slovenia

Fear of the mountain world disappears, expeditions take on a symbolic meaning.

A hut on Velika planinaNational and University Library of Slovenia

In the 19th century, tourism began to develop and with it mountaineering, people are going to the mountains to enjoy the beauty and peace of nature. In 1910, a hut of the Slovenian Mountaineering Association was opened at the shepherd's settlement; it was rearranged from a former hunting lodge. 

A skier in front of a hut (1914)National and University Library of Slovenia

At first, Velika planina was visited only in summer, but with the arrival of skiing in our area, it becomes interesting even in winter. 

A postcard sent to Rudolf BadjuraNational and University Library of Slovenia

Among the first skiiers was Rudolf Badjura - an athlete, a tourist worker and a publicist.

Grand Pasture Plateau in winter by PukeljNational and University Library of Slovenia

Rudolf Badjura was a founding member of the informal association Dren (1908), the first organized Slovenian mountaineering association; he was the first Slovenian ski teacher. 

Shepherds' settlement on the Grand Pasture Plateau in winter (1917)National and University Library of Slovenia

The former hunting lodge soon became too small for a growing number of skiers. In 1930, Rajko Gregorc from Kamnik was the first to come up with a solution:

»People looked at me in astonishment and shook heads when in the autumn of 1930, I carried in my rucksack to Planina a small iron stove called “gašperček” and flues. The mountain hut was so crowded! Janez Hautež from Sidraž was willing to rent me the hut for 200 dinars in mid-September, when he took the cattle off the mountain.

Hautež’s hut was one of the few that had a window. With my brother Slavko, we stocked with fire wood in the fall, we dried moss and grass to have a more comfortable bed, and nailed planks, paperboard and paper to the walls of the room. It was a colourful but very cosy room… «

Two skiers returning home from the Grand Pasture Plateau by PukeljNational and University Library of Slovenia

Skiers on the snowy slopes of Grand Pasture Plateau by ČatarNational and University Library of Slovenia

In a few years, all the shepherd's huts around the mountain lodge were rented, and Bajtarji, as the tenants of the huts are called, are still a singularity of Velika, Mala and Gojška planina. 

The Cable car (1965)National and University Library of Slovenia

In 1960, Planina got a connection from the valley with the cable way, which paved the way for the expansion of tourism.

Settlement Na Jamah in winter (1964)National and University Library of Slovenia

In the following years, several holiday hamlets were built, based on the pastoral tradition and taking into account the traditional building elements. 

Domžale Lodge in winter (1957)National and University Library of Slovenia

A hotel and several mountain huts are also available to visitors. 

Credits: Story

The featured materials are from the collections of the National and University Library. 
Selection and text: Mia Sivec 
Translation: Janja Korošec 
National and University Library, 2021

SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL READING
Cevc, Tone: Velika planina: življenje, delo in izročilo pastirjev, Ljubljana 1993

Nagy, Ivan: Velika planina, Ljubljana 2008 Rifel, Vilko: Velika planina v odsevu časa, Kamnik 2010

Velika planina (01.09.1931). Slovenski gospodar, letnik 65, številka 36. URN:NBN:SI:DOC-B5W6MMJP from http://www.dlib.si 

Peče, Milena (1990). Božična noč na Veliki planini. Planinski vestnik, letnik 90, številka 12, 90, št. 12 (1990), str. 560a ovoj. URN:NBN:SI:DOC-EEB4NY77 from http://www.dlib.si

Cevc, Tone (1996). Nova spoznanja o planšarstvu na Veliki Planini v Kamniških Alpah. Traditiones (Ljubljana), številka 25, str. 69-77. URN:NBN:SI:DOC-OR84F10C from http://www.dlib.si

Kopač, Vlasto (1996). Velikoplaninska pastirska bajta in nekaj njenih značilnosti. Traditiones (Ljubljana), številka 25, str. 91-102. URN:NBN:SI:DOC-YOQUFRMY from http://www.dlib.si

Čatar, Kocjančič, Karlo, Kunaver, Jože, Pavlin, Franz, Ravnik, Janko, Tavčar, Ivan (1920/1940). Velika planina. URN:NBN:SI:IMG-NPVGVXVQ from http://www.dlib.si  

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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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