Trieste – Ljubljana:

A path between caves and castles



Easter Season is a time for travelling according to the weather.
Now it is nice and warm; the ideal climate for a trip with friends. Thanks to those favourable conditions I decided to go abroad even if not to far from my region because in April the weather is often changeable. My friends and I opted for Slovenia.
I went by coach from the town where I live.
The trip to Slovenija was easy and comfortable. The first stop was Padua, where I had time to visit the Basilica of St Anthony and appreciate once again its double rows of columns and the apse at its end. Not to mention Giotto’s frescos and the Saint’s stone tomb. The early hour and the burning of the many candles made the mystic and entrancing atmosphere. The next stops were Aquileia, Grado and Trieste. My first visit was to the Basilica of San Giusto whose façade is elegantly enriched by a tracery of a Gothic rose window, which stands out in the Romanesque stones. Inside the Basilica, many elements attracted my attention: suffice it to mention the 12th and 13th century absidal mosaic of the Assumption and San Giusto, the work of artists from the Veneto.
The photo on the right represents Miramar Castle, snow-white standing up in a wonderful blue surrounding. I took the photo just at the moment when sea waves were breaking against the rock of the basement. There, I thought of the unfortunate story of the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, who came from the Austrian Family of Haupsburg and who spent his life at Miramar before leaving for Mexico.
On the outskirts of Trieste there stands a large complex of buildings making up the factory that was used for rice-husking long ago. I eagerly wanted to visit it not just because of its old industrial architecture but because it is a place whose memory is deeply rooted in the history of the Second World War. In fact, the place was first used by German forces of occupation as a temporary prison camp for the detention of Italian servicemen captured after September 8th 1943. This date is relevant because it marks the division of the Italian army between the forces that remained allied with the Germans and the forces that flanked the British and American troops that had come to Italy to liberate Her from the Germans. It was after the 8th September that the civil war started in my country. The Risiera – that’s how the rice-husking factory is called in Italian – is located in San Sabba just outside Trieste and the German forces changed it into a Police internment camp to be used both for the transit of deportees bound for German and Poland death camps and for the execution of hostages, partisans, political prisoners and Jews. Apart from the historical side of the place, I was most interested in visiting the oven which in the past was used for husking rice as it was that oven that was changed by the Germans into a crematorium capable of incinerating a large number of bodies. It was because of the oven that the Nazis chose this uncommon place to perpetrate their war crimes.
However, peace was not something like a shroud that covered the bodies of so many guiltless people because there were people that spent their lives in the detection of those criminals. For example, Simon Wiesenthal * is a Jew who has devoted his life exposing Nazi crimes and hunting down their perpetrators. He said of the trial, “There is not only a need for justice, it is also a question of education. Everybody should know that crimes like these do not disappear from memory, they are not statute-barred. Anybody thinking of starting up a new Nazi or Fascist movement should know that in the end justice will always win. Even though the wheels of justice turn slowly”. 1
I realize that the datails of my visit to the Risiera are shocking, but I think that the expression of my sensitivity may be appreciated, when I face such touching testimonials of how cruel man becomes in war and unluckily not only in case of war.
East of the Italian border, Slovenija appears suddenly in its lush vegetation and typical carsick hills whose characteristic is that there are no rivers flowing on the surface of the land, but all of theme run underground through funnel-shaped gulfs. That is a unique natural phenomenon due to the particular limestone of the area. In fact, the most breathtaking cavern is Postojna grottoes. It is made of stalactite formation which assume fantastic shapes. Just think that one of the caverns is called "The Ballroom grotto", a chamber brilliantly illuminated. But the finest of all is the “Paradise grotto” whose name evokes ultraterranean wonders.
In order to make my description real a visit to the Postojna caves should be paid to appreciate their charm and fascination.
When in Slovenia you can hardly believe that it is a country which has been independent for only twelve years because it looks as if it had enjoyed a long tradition of peace and calm. Maybe that is because it is inhabited by no more them two million people over a surface which is half the Netherlands!
The land is spotted with fisherman’s lovely villages, resorts on the Adriatic coast but Ljubljana, the capital, looks young and modern, even though you appreciate the old town for its castle and the numerous streams of water. The weather was the ideal frame of my many-sided trip.
Among history, nature and faith there stood the Castle of Predjana, whose visit is a “must” for anybody touring through Slovenija. Actually, the underworld below the castle is an adventure in itself: a maze of caves attracts tourists as well as cavers or simply curious people. Above this world underneath there stands the Castle. It is one of the most picturesque buildings in Slovenija. You can see it high above you and you cannot but be impressed by its hanging on an upright cliff where rocks mingles with low vegetation. It is natural to think of the incredible, romantic life of its owner: Erazem. His legendary figure is mixed with the dim times of the middle ages; he was a rebel and a benefactor of the poor living in the area. History has little to do with the Erazem but people have linked wonderful enterprises with his name.
The inside of the Castle is well kept and a visitor can imagine how the brave and cruel knight spent his life in the now unfurnished rooms.

*: Simon Wiesenthal passed away on September 20th 2005.

1: “The Risiera” ed. by Comune di Trieste, Tecno-Lino -TS- 1995, p.11.