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Slovenia

Introduction

Slovenia is a country situated in southern Central Europe. It stands bordered by Italy in the west, the Adriatic Sea in the southwest, Croatia in the south and east, Hungary in the northeast, and Austria in the north. Technically, my first visit to Slovenia was a day trip to Maribor, the country’s second largest city. This was in the 1980’s when it was part of Yugoslavia. It became an independent nation on 25th June 1991. In the early 2000’s, I returned to explore a little bit more of this small Nation. Some of the photos I took from this visit are here on this webpage, where I hope you will learn a little bit about this wonderful place. I will start by listing a few notes which were made from my visit there. This will be followed by some information I have written about Slovenia with factual content sourced both locally and from books. At the end, I will list some references and links to further information for the reader.

Lake Bled, where I based myself. Slovenia is small enough in that most of the main sights are no more than a couple of hours away.

Firstly, here are some facts I didn't know about Slovenia, until I went there:

Piran, Slovenian Adriatic Coast

I had a rather bizarre experience in Slovenia. I went to Piran, a Venetian resort on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. I entered the Franciscan Monastery and sat down in the cloister to read up on it. After a couple of minutes, the attendant told me that she needed to get a coffee and visit the lavatory and could I look after the monastery. I obliged. I sat next to the entrance with a small table next to me upon which was some money in a cloth bag. It’s a bit of a strange feeling knowing that you’re in charge of a monastery. Several thoughts entered my head. “What if she doesn’t return?”, “What if someone starts removing items?”, “What if this is some sort of set up for Slovenian Candid Camera?” She returned some 15 minutes later during which I had taken 2 admissions, sold some postcards, a guidebook to Piran and had passed on some newly acquired knowledge of the building’s history to a Japanese tourist who seemed to go away a happy man.

Above: Mount Triglav (2,864m / 9,396ft), Slovenia's Highest Mountain

Above: Because of it's geographical location, Piran, on Slovenia's Adriatic coast is rather Venetian in style. To compare, the bell tower in Piran is shown here (left), next to a photo of the Campanile di San Marco in Venice (right), which was also visited a few days later.

Above: Airport money bin in Ljubljana airport. The currency in use at the time of my visit was the Tolar which was in use from Independence in 1991 until January 1st 2007. This has now been superceded by the Euro.

Flag

Slovenia's flag has three equal horizontal stripes of white, blue, and red from top to bottom. This tricolour was first used 1848, as a symbol of a united Slovenia. The modern day flag is shown here. Between the white and blue stripes, Slovenia's coat of arms is positioned along the hoist side of the flag and is shaped as a shield with a red border. The coat of arms of Slovenia features Mount Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia. Below the white peaks are the waves of the Adriatic Sea which Slovenia lies on. Above the peaks is a constellation of three six-pointed golden stars in an inverted triangle. These stars represent the Counts of Celje, who ruled Slovenia in the 14th and 15th centuries. The current flag of Slovenia was officially adopted on June 27, 1991 as a result of independence from Yugoslavia. The modern version of the coat of arms was designed by Marko Pogačnik, a Slovenian artist and author. In 1945, when Slovenia became the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, a red star was centered over the Slovenian tricolour. This flag was used until Slovenia split from the former Yugoslavia.

Geography

Slovenia is situated in Central Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. It shares borders with Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. The Country is mostly elevated; the Mountains, including the Julian Alps, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and the Karawanks chain, as well as the Pohorje massif, dominate Northern Slovenia along its long border with Austria. Slovenia's Adriatic coastline is relatively short. It stretches approx. 27 miles from Italy to Croatia, which equates to less than one inch per person!

Above: The terrain consists largely of karst plateaus and ridges, Alpine peaks, basins and valleys.

The term "Karst" originated in south-western Slovenia's Karst (Kras) Plateau - a limestone region of underground rivers, gorges, and caves, between the capital Ljubljana and the Adriatic coast, extending into north-eastern Italy.  The highest Alpine peak in Slovenia is Triglav (2,864m / 9,396ft). The name means 'three heads'. As previously mentioned, it can be seen on the Slovenian coat of arms and National Flag. In a valley beneath Triglav lies Lake Bohinj and, north-eastwards, Lake Bled. On the Pannonian plain to the East and Northeast, the landscape is essentially flat. However, the majority of Slovenian terrain is hilly or mountainous, with around 90% of the surface at least 200m above sea level. Over half of Slovenia is covered in woods and forest.

Flora and Fauna

Slovenia has a very wide variety of habitats due to both the natural geography and influence of people. Much of the country is protected; however it has suffered from pollution and other green issues. The country contains 24,000 animal species, which is disproportionately large for its land area. It is home to marmots, like neighbouring Austria, Alpine Ibex, chamois, deer, boars and hares. Carnivores include the Eurasian Lynx, European wild cats, foxes, the European Jackal, and a small number of wolves and brown bears. Some snakes such as the grass snake are also found. Slovenia is noted for the diverse number of cave species. One notable species was first described scientifically in 1768 – the olm, known locally as the human fish or proteus. It can grow 30 cm long and live for more than 100 years. It is the only cave vertebrate in Europe and the biggest cave animal in the World. Bird species in Slovenia include owls and hawks, members of the crow family, woodpeckers and the White Stork. There are thirteen domestic animals native to Slovenia. The most famous is the Lipizzaner horse, closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria. Notable fish include the marble trout and the Wels Catfish. In the interior, the forests typically contain oak and beech trees, whilst in the mountains spruce, fir and pine trees are more common. The linden (lime) tree is also common in Slovenia and is a national symbol. Many alpine flower species and over two thousand species of fungi have been recorded in Slovenia.

Climate

Slovenia has a continental climate with cold winters and warm summers. Snow falls in the Alpine areas in winter, ideal for skiing, whereas the Mediterranean climate on the coast makes it ideal as a summer destination.

People

Slovene, which is closely related to Croat and Czech is the main language spoken in Slovenia. It is written in the Roman alphabet. Most Slovenes speak German, Hungarian or Italian, with English as a second language. Most of the population is Roman Catholic (75%) with small communities of other Christians including Eastern Orthodox. There are also Muslim and Jewish minorities. Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. Social convention is typical of most Europeans and informal dress is widely acceptable.

Culture

The 8th February is in fact a Slovenian public holiday dedicated to the Nation’s culture, for which they are proud. It marks the anniversary of the death of their greatest poet, France Prešeren, author of Slovenia’s national Anthem, Zdravljica. Slovenia is steeped in folk tradition, marked by various festivals. The overwhelming majority of Slovenians pursue some kind of creative activity from writing to painting, cooking, performing music, acting, engraving, wine-making and often, bee-keeping. They know how to create art out of everything they love. As well as applying their various art forms from years of handed down tradition, Slovenians are also creative in modern styles. Slovenians love to read. Cultural festivals are well attended as are concerts and the theatre.

Above: Lake Bled has been notable for hosting amongst many other things, renowned world chess tournaments

Government

Slovenia’s 1991 constitution gives great authority to the President, who is elected every five years. There is a directly elected legislative assembly, which is advised by an indirectly chosen state council representing economic and local interests. The prime minister and cabinet are appointed by the president, supported by the legislature.

Above: Ljubljana, the capital tity of Slovenia

Industries

The Slovenian economy is largely based on manufacturing. Potatoes, rapeseed, cereal crops and fruit are the main crops grown in the countryside. Forestry and cattle production are also important. Slovenia is a primary producer of coal, lead and zinc. Iron and steel plants and other heavy industry are located in Ljubljana as well as in Jenice. Other production includes textiles, chemicals, furniture, clothing, electrical goods and motor vehicles. Tourism has been important and is currently playing an increasing role in Slovenia’s economy.

History

The history of Slovenia is somewhat complicated for such a small country! Prehistoric sites are scattered around Slovenia and cover a large area from the mountains and along the Adriatic coast. It is known that by about 3,500 BC Stone Age farmers lived in what is now Slovenia. Human inhabitation continued through the Bronze Age and throughout the Iron Age. Various archaeological finds in Slovenia have included a situla (bronze bucket) which is the place location name and where the name comes from and also a bone flute in the Divja Baba cave near Idrija, which is supposedly the oldest musical instrument in the world. About 400 BC, the Celts settled Slovenia, followed by the Romans where Slovenia prospered. Under the Romans towns were founded such as Emona, which is modern day Ljubljana, today’s capital city. Roman rule collapsed in the 5th century AD.

The ancestors of Slovenes first settled down in this area in the 6th Century. In the 7th century, the Carantanian duchy was formed - the first Slovene state. In 745, this state became part of the Frankish state of central Europe and in the 9th century Slovenia was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire, which was centred on Germany. The people were here converted to Christianity and slowly losing their independence. In the 10th to 13th centuries Slovenia remained under German domination. Slovenia came under Habsburg rule and later became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when a dual monarchy was established in 1867. Indigenous hopes for a political union of South Slavs (Slovenes, Serbs and Croats) began to be expressed in the 1870’s and the first political parties in Slovenia were formed in the 1890’s. Following the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, Slovenia became a part of a new unified kingdom along with the Serbians and Croats. This was named Yugoslavia in 1929. In 1945 at the end of World War II, the Slovenes got their own republic within the Social Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, led by Marshall Tito. After the death of Tito in 1980, the economic and political situation deteriorated in Yugoslavia. This ultimately led ten years later to the end of the Socialist Federal Republic.

In April 1990, Slovenia held its first democratic elections. The following December, a referendum for a sovereign and independent state of Slovenia was held with 88.5% of votes cast ‘for’. On 25th June 1991, Slovenia proclaimed its independence. The Yugoslavian army attempted to invade Slovenia two days later. The Slovenian Territorial Defence forces and the police managed to prevent this. The next month, Yugoslavia agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union. By January, the following year, Slovenian independence was recognised by the European Union. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union and also joined NATO. In 2007 Slovenia became part of the Euro zone. From 1st January - 30th June 2008, Slovenia held Presidency of the EU.

Practicalities

For practical aspects of visiting Slovenia or for any general information about the country, the following quick links may be of help to the reader:

Slovenian National Tourism
Visit Slovenia
Lonely Planet
Rough Guides
FCO (UK)
Dept of State (US)
Slovenian Government

References/Further Reading:

1) Questions About Slovenia, Turistika Publishing House

2) Lonely Planet Slovenia (Travel Guide) by Lonely Planet, Baker, Clammer and Fallon

3) Slovenia and the Slovenes: A Small State in the New Europe by Cathie Carmichael and James Gow

4) The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny

5) Slovenia (Bradt Travel Guides) by Robin Mckelvie and Jenny Mckelvie

6) Slovenia (Landscapes) by David Robertson and Sarah Stewart

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