Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Castle of Bled, Slovenia, a grandiose illusion on a minute kernel of history

Bled Castle in Bled Slovenia
 Perched atop a 130 meter high cliff sits Bled’s signature castle. Every available pamphlet on Bled will say that this imposing structure dates from the year 1011, but a quick glance at its architecture reveals it to be a slick folly of a mere few centuries old; not all that special in this area. The castle is impressive because its picturesque position; the building itself isn’t much of a highlight. Far from being a military bastion, the castle of Bled is a show piece, designed as such as, and kept in ostentatious service to this day. Tourists gravitate towards it like a Vegas show.

The Castle of Bled, Slovenia

Draga and I march up the hill, after we followed a sign pointing straight into the wilderness. Riled up by the literature that we found in generous stacks in our hotel, I hopefully expect the remains of a thousand years worth of wars and vigilance, insightful connections between ruling lords and waning empires. Draga mutters that there has to be a paved road somewhere. What are we doing clumping through the snow?
     “The ghosts are in the forest,” I sing, “On the road less traveled by!”
     “It’s dead winter,” Draga grumbles, “There are no yellow woods.”
     “A mighty fortress is our God!”
Draga’s upbringing in Orthodoxy has left her far from indifferent to the heroes of my western youth. After being mesmerized by her culture for two weeks I gladly impose some of mine on her. “That’s a song by Marten Luther,” I declare loudly.
     “Saint Marten?”      “Other Marten. This one was a monk. Kind of an uppity one.
     “How uppity?”
     “Started a movement.”

Bled Castle at sunset

The castle looms up from the trees. A sign boasts its origin in 1011, but its obvious that the building presented is hardly older than the billboards that promote it. Immediately inside its main gate a signpost points at the restaurant, gift shop and museum. All of them smashingly well formed and organized, but strikingly vacant of any factual info.

Inside Bled Castle

Even the museum speaks of every possible topic, from ancient swords found in the lake to jewelry once worn by the local women, but the how and when of the castle itself remains a mystery.

The Wine Monk of Bled Castle
 Drawn by some huge wine bottles we enter the castle’s wine cellar. Inside we happen upon a solemn monk, whose solemnity vanishes as he begins to explain about the wines of Bled, which come from vineyards far away from Bled. But at least the gentleman’s kindness is genuine.
     “Are you a monk?” I ask.
     “Are you a tourist?” he replies.
I guess he got me there.

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