The Slovenia Times

Mountain with a story to tell

A mockup of Ajdna, Photo Library of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Regional Unit Kranj. Made by Mitja Brandt, Avgusta d.o.o., Idrija.

People often climb mountains for recreation, sport, entertainment, in search of fresh air or breathtaking views. But Ajdna, a tooth-shaped peak below Mount Stol in northwestern Slovenia, offers much more than a momentary respite from the world.

One of the most notable late antiquity archaeological sites in Slovenia, Ajdna was home to a long-forgotten village. The excavations on the site testify to the existence of as many as 27 buildings, including two churches in a very small area with archaeologist Milan Sagadin recently telling TV Slovenija that between 150 and 200 people lived there.

The mountain as a shelter

The mountain was settled in the 5th century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. When Avaric and Slavic tribes started looting the area, the locals were forced to retreat. They chose the 1064m high peak as their hiding spot.

Everything they wanted to bring on the mountain they had to carry on their backs or on mules.

The mountain could house around 150 people in twenty-some houses but there was no space for pastures or fields. The people continued to farm in the valley and let their cattle graze on nearby mountain pastures.

The settlement had a small church with a baptistery and a mortuary chapel at the side. The altar was, as was typical at the time, at the eastern side. There were eleven graves in the church. The most important one belonged to a young woman, which was highly unusual for the time when only men of certain status were buried in churches.

The village on Ajdna also served as a small administrative centre, as proven by an iron stylus that was discovered at the site, which was a typical writing utensil at the time. Still, there are no written records of the life on Ajdna.

Ajdna's violent history

Life in Ajdna could not go on forever. The village was destroyed in a fire in the late 6th or early 7th century. Archaeologists believe it was likely destroyed by invaders of a different religion because the altar in the church was destroyed and its reliquary smashed.

For a long time, it was believed that the village was forgotten until it was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1970s. But the latest excavations have found that the mountain served as a shelter once more in the 9th century.

In the 9th century the region was inhabited by the Slavic people, who had to fend off attacks by the Franks. In a last-ditch effort, a group of noble horsemen retreated to Ajdna, archaeological findings show. Among objects found from that time are spurs, most similar to those used by Croatian and Moravian princes in the 9th century.

Exploring the mountain

Excavations on Ajdna began in 1976 and revealed the 1500-plus-year-old settlement. At first the archaeologists wanted to bury back the remains of the village they discovered but the locals insisted the excavations continue.

The archaeologists were able to research remains of six buildings and prepare them for visitors by building roofs and floors.

Still, there are nearly twenty buildings that have not been fully explored and only a trained eye can point to their location. One of the reasons is definitely financial as such projects are very costly. Additionally, if all sites were explored and dug up, it could lead to erosion of the soil.

Regardless, visitors to Ajdna will not feel deprived as they will be able to take in the gorgeous views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

The objects found in the village on Ajdna can be seen in an exhibition room in Žirovnica at the foot of the mountain. This includes jewellery found in the grave of the young woman, ceramic dishes, arrowheads, knife blades, needles, bells and styluses. Many of the iron objects have remained almost rust-free for more than a millennium, which proves that Ajdna was home to some excellent blacksmiths.

At the centre of the exhibition is a bronze brooch in the shape of a bird. Unlike most objects that date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, the brooch is much older. This style of brooch was worn in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This raises the question - was Ajdna already inhabited at that time or did someone discover the brooch and brought it up to the mountain.

Climbing the mountain and more

While the exhibition can be easily reached by following the signs for the Čop Birth House in Žirovnica, hiking to the top of Ajdna requires more effort.

One of the routes to the top will have the hikers start at Lake Završnica. First they will have to reach the Valvasorjev Dom mountain hut, which can be done either by car or on foot. Once at the mountain hut, there is a thirty-minute walk to the top of Ajdna, which ends with either a more challenging climbing route or a simpler hiking route.

For those who have not had enough exploring, here's a tip: Near Lake Završnica lies another hiding spot, this one in a cave. In the 15th century during the Ottoman invasions, towns started building walls for protection.

But the small villages were left defenceless, which is why they had to be more creative. They found a cave in a remote location and fortified it with a wall. The cave, later known as Turška Jama, could fit around 50 people. Legend says that mostly women and children hid in there and that it was never discovered by Turks.


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