Slovenian castle life is no fairy tale
I was never a big fan of princesses and castles. While some of my friends dreamed of being Snow White or Cinderella, I poured over my gruesomely illustrated Grimm Brothers. Why? Well, aside from being a weird child, castle life didn’t seem so hot. Women were always locked up (Rapunzel) or forced to perform boring chores (i.e., Cinderella and Snow White). In the end, they “won” a lifetime of being stuck in another old -though nicer-stone house, married to a stranger (Sleeping Beauty). Compared to them, Hansel and Gretel were much cooler.
So although our Slovenian guidebook featured Predjama Castle on its cover, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic when Muz suggested we stop there on our drive from Ljubljana to Bled. I figured it would be an old, weird building that looked nothing like the cover of our guidebook. I kept this opinion to myself as we drove through the green countryside and unpaved roads. Thirty five minutes after leaving Ljubljana, we came across this:
I was completely wrong. The castle is even more striking in person. It was built into a stone cave in 1274. Later, the castle was expanded to include secret passageways through the cave. Secret passageways? Caves? I was intrigued. We paid the 9 euros per visitor (yikes!) and walked in.
Once we were inside, I realized that the best past of the castle was the exterior. We walked through mostly barren rooms, armed with a guide that helpfully marked rooms as “vestibule” or “room with cistern.” There was no sense of how people lived in the castle…until we saw the mannequins.
Creepy, waxen, life-size dolls sat in silence, miming chores like yarn spinning and child care. The baby doll had an oddly wizened face. Castle information notes that Predjama life wasn’t easy, and the dolls seem to confirm this. Despite their creepy appearance, they weren’t terribly realistic since they were clean and seemed to be passive about the whole affair. Plus, the air was fresh, and you know that no one smelled good in an isolated castle.
Especially this guy demonstrating “life” in the torture chamber.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was suitable for children. Sure, I read about Bluebeard’s homicidal tendencies when I was a child, but seeing a mannequin being shackled and tortured seems a bit much. While visitors are encouraged to envision their own stories about the castle, Predjama has a good story to tell.
At one point in the 15th century, the castle was the home of robber baron Erazem Lueger. Erazem got into a bit of trouble with he killed someone connected to the Roman Empire. He fled to this castle and began a new life as an anti-Hapsburg politico. He killed another connected guy and became a target of Austrian emperor Fredrick III, aka “Fred.” (He wasn’t actually named this, but it’s easier to write.)
Fred wanted to kill Erazem and tried to storm the castle. It was impenetrable, so he decided to starve Erazem out. This didn’t work because food was being delivered through secret tunnels in the caves. Things went on like this for over a year. Erazem grew cocky. It’s said he even threw fresh food at Fred’s henchmen to prove his invulnerability. But every castle has a weak spot-or weak people. Fred’s men bribed a servant into divulging when Erazem would be in the most vulnerable place in the castle: the bathroom. While Erazem was relieving himself, he was relieved of his earthly duties. Fred launched a cannon ball right to the “throne.”
It’s not exactly a feel good story. But it does confirm my childhood impressions that castle life is no fairy tale.