Tuesday 26 June 2018

Predjama Castle

The view from the tournament field.
Without a car of our own yet (see the administrative office saga), we´ve been mini-tourists on the couple of weekends we rented a vehicle. When we were last here, we visited almost every place nearby that has a whiff of a tourist attraction, so it´s a case of debating what we want to see again after ten years. After an evening of agonising with an old travel guide in one hand and a laptop in front of me, we opted for Predjama Grad (grad means castle). Last time we visited Predjama (pronounced pred-yahma), it was pretty spartan - we tramped around empty rooms with a small brochure in hand. Still, it was impressive - how can a castle built into the cliff face not be awesome?

In the last several years, though, the experience has been jazzed up. Most of the rooms have some sort of recreation of a scene of life in the castle back in its medieval heyday, and audio guides are on offer in 17 languages. Plus, the cave system beneath the castle has been opened up for tours. When we were there before, all we could do was peer into the entrance.

(Note: The photos of inside the castle are sort of randomly arranged to break up the paragraphs, or I´d have to dump them all at the end.)

To get there, you have to leave the main road to wind (literally) through several small, picturesque villages up to the castle. At least, they were picturesque to me, who was not negotiating the hairpin bends and cliff edge. (Every time I go through these beautiful places, I have an urge to move out to the hills, quickly tempered by the obvious reflection that we would never be Slovene enough to fit in.)

The cave tour, as we knew before we went, was only for those six and up, so I had already elected to play outside with the three year-old. We threw a ball around the area used for the annual medieval tournament, complete with a viewing box for the lords and ladies that made for much climbing fun. This weekend, there was a break from the relentless heatwave, so playing outside in the afternoon for a whole hour was extra appreciated. We had only just retired to get coffee and ice cream when husband and teenager emerged from the cave.

According to them, the cave experience was pretty interesting because it was unlit except by their headlamps. It is also warmer than normal, meaning that stalactites and stalagmites grow more slowly. Oddly, it also has the record for the greatest number of bat species in Europe (15) - it´s closed in the winter to allow them to hibernate in peace. They pronounced it well worth the admission.

So, fuelled with our now traditional family refreshments of coffee, wine and ice cream, we made for the castle entrance. The castle is most famous for the knight whose name is linked to it: Erasmus (Erazem). Legend has it that he became an outlaw after killing a relative of the Holy Roman Emperor while helping avenge a friend. He fled to Predjama castle, from which base he lived the life of a robber baron (perhaps he would have approved of the two strategically placed shops within the castle designed to rob you of your euros.) Eventually, the Emperor sent the governor of Trieste to besiege the place. However, what the besiegers didn´t know was that there were secret passages leading out of the castle, which allowed those within to get supplies from the village. Things came to an end with an ignominious betrayal - a servant let the enemy know where and when Erasmus went to the toilet each morning (I suppose he was a man of habit) and he was killed by a cannon shot in the loo. I guess I should nix any cannon ball jokes right now.

The view from the main lookout point.
Visiting the castle is an adventure that has you winding uphill through rooms that are often part cave, until you reach the top (as far as is open to tourists, anyway), a cave chamber nearly at the head of the cliff. The recurring theme of the presentation was how life here was damp, cold and tough. Probably the warmest place to be was the torture chamber :) And it was chilly for us, even on a warm summer day. Water runs down the cave walls, collected ingeniously in channels carved into the rock and fed into wells and containers. Apparently there was another reason for this strategy: the spring that naturally supplied the area could be poisoned, but the water dripping down comes from a safe river source.

By the end of our visit, I was wondering two things. One: why does everything we do here involve slogging uphill (I pulled a leg muscle on one of the ginormous steps)? Two: how did any medieval mother keep her small sons alive - because, by the end of the adventure, our toddler was so psyched he was trying to jump down stone staircases and push his way through all the apertures to death below (look at the photos to see what I mean). Oh, and of course, we were almost at the top when he decided he had to pee. He and I were all for doing it authentically out of the window - what better way to give him a real understanding of siege tactics? Alas, we had to bow to modern convention and let him go in his pull-up. So much for potty training and historical re-enactment.

Yes, he did try to move those stones.

As we slowly made our way back to the car park, we stopped for a peek through the barred entrance to the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, which dates back to at least the mid 1500s, consecrated by the Bishop of Trieste, later Pope Pius II. Unfortunately it was closed to the public - I would have loved to get a close-up look at the beautiful blue and silver altar.

All told, picnicking and coffee break included, we spent over four hours there, and it cost around $55 euros (counting coffee, wine and ice cream). We thought it was definitely worth the revisit.

Touristy stuff: the website for the castle is part of the same complex that also includes the most touristy cave in Slovenia, Postojna. If you are really fit and keen, you can book a serious, four-hour cave tour at Predjama that takes you beyond the tourist part, for about 150 euros, equipment included.


  1. Looks like a great afternoon. What sort of rock is the cave/walls of the castle? It looks tough as granite.

    What a great adventure you and your family are having. Love it that you include us in it via the blog. Thanks so much.

    1. That is a good question - this whole area of Slovenia is called the Karst, a vast limestone strata, so I am guessing the cliff is limestone. I have often thought the place needs to be the setting for a historical novel :)