24 July 2011

Castle Hunting: Grad Snežnik

What Snežnik castle has is charm - and not a whole lot else. It has been rebuilt and retouched numerous times, and exists now as the display case for a collection of provincial, late 19th century furnishings and knick-knacks. This is not a high-walled fortress perched high atop a cliff. It's a sweet, cheerful manor set in parkland, with a few geese in the "moat" and fewer visitors knocking at the door.
We parked our car under a few huge elm trees - there's no formal parking lot - and walked around for a little while until the next tour was about to start. It feels lonely and magical, with a quietness not often associated with tourist sites. A woman swept the castle bridge with a twig broom and smiled when we approached.
A young woman, quite out of breath, sold us tickets and ushered us through the front door. We were alone with her, but she seemed perfectly content to lead such a small group. She talked very little about the building itself, but gave us quite a bit of information about the last owners and their furniture.
Confiscated by the communists shortly after the second world war, Snežnik's interiors were preserved almost in the exact state that they had been in before nationalization. "Some paintings and things were traded," our guide told us. "They traded for, like, a bottle of wine or something small like that. But everything is back here. Except the wine." According to her, the biggest renovation project that had to be undertaken before the castle was re-opened was a ceiling restoration and a "big cleaning." Photos weren't allowed, but she assured us that she wasn't watching and that we could get away with it as long as we didn't use flash.
Despite it's current quaint prettiness, Snežnik has a long history and has remained mostly unchanged since the end of the 15th century. A partial foundation for the castle, however, dates to the beginning of the 13th century. Originally, the fortress consisted of two independently situated towers connected by a bridge. It served as a remote outpost and re-horsing station for a number of kings and military leaders in the greater Austrian and Magyar kingdoms of the middle ages. The expansion included a larger cellar and much more room, though the added walls were needed more for habitation than military function.
During the 1860's, a terrace and two turrets - visible in unplastered stone above - were added for romantic effect, and the land around Snežnik was converted into parkland. Additionally, a fourth floor was added. The upper windows are clearly wider and more indefensible than the lower ones, and the roof is made of more costly terra cotta, rather than wooden shingles. Further, the approach bridge has been made permanent, which is more convenient but more difficult to defend.
Of course, nobody has to defend the castle now - it's even left alone by tourists and tour groups. In the heart of rural Slovenia, even a building this well preserved and freshly painted tends to be ignored.

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