The last time I went to Predjama Castle, Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia and the Berlin Wall was a few years away from falling. All I remembered through my child’s eyes – I was either six or seven at the time – was a magical castle in a cave. Shuttered windows on beige walls built in to the rock face.
Returning to the site some 25 years on, the Cold War was confined to history, Yugoslavia had long since broken up and Slovenia was a proud and independent country. Yet Predjama Castle stood as it always had – a once near-impregnable fortress of stone that seems so improbable that it almost appears to be a trick on the eye.
The first thing you notice about the castle is that it is remarkably well concealed. Situated at the end of a valley, even the most eagle-eyed visitor would be hard pressed to spot it until the final approach.
Predjama Castle is thought to have been built in the 12th Century, with the oldest surviving records dating back to the second half of the 13th Century. Its most famous inhabitant was Erazem, or Erasmus Lueger, who lived in the castle in the second half of the 15th century when the Medieval building was still very much a fortress.
Erazem killed a kinsman of the Austrian emperor Frederick III, in revenge after the decapitation of his friend. The emperor sent the governor of Trieste, Caspar Ravbar, to capture Erazem, who in turn fled to the safety of Predjama Castle.
Legend has it that Ravbar besieged the castle for a year and a day, trying to starve out the inhabitants and bombarding it with stone projectiles. Erazem, who received a constant supply of fresh food through a secret passage in the cave beyond the castle, taunted his enemies by sending them occasional gifts such as roast bullock.
But Erazem’s end proved a rather ignoble one. After being betrayed by a treacherous servant, he was killed by a deadly missile while answering the call of nature. He is thought to be buried at the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in the nearby village.
Today Predjama Castle is a much more peaceful affair with its unique setting and macabre history attracting guests year round.
Visitors get given a guide and map of the castle, taking them on a tour through the five floors. Of particular note is the torture chamber in a cave, the castle chapel and the water closet where Erazem is thought to have met his demise.
At the very top are the ruins of the original castle in the cave, and the secret natural passage itself. You can also tour the cave under the castle, but if you like the subterranean world you would perhaps be better off visiting the remarkable Postonja Caves nearby.
A fairytale castle with a Brothers Grimm-esque story, Predjama Castle still held as much of the magic for me as an adult as it did a child.
For visiting information on Predjama Castle, go to the Slovenian Tourist Board website: http://www.slovenia.info/?grad=654