Ljubljana, 30 May – Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain, is arguably the country’s foremost symbol. Unlike many whose prominence has paled over the years, Triglav has stood the test of time, being involved in all the key moments of Slovenia’s modern history.
Climbing the 2,864-metre mountain at least once is considered a must for any Slovenian and the trail leading to the peak is often crowded.
But while the hiking aspect is indeed important for Slovenians, who are proud of their mountaineering tradition, the mountain has above all been a national symbol which unites the country’s people like no other.
Opinions as to the name of the mountain, which translates into Three heads, are divided. Some believe it is based on the Slavic deity Triglav, but it is the stylised view of the mountain as heaving three distinct heads with the highest in the middle that has been the basis for its symbolic depictions.
The fascination with the highest peak of the Julian Alps dates back to the late 18th century and the first recorded ascent, sponsored by patron of the arts, Baron Sigmund Zois, was made in 1778 by “the four brave men” from the town of Bohinj.
In the 19th century, the Triglav story was marked by rivalry between Slovenian and German mountaineers, which included a “signpost battle”. The two sides also used separate huts.
In 1895, the local priest, mountaineer and patriot Jakob Aljaž decided to put an end to this; he bought the top of the mountain for a symbolic sum of one Austro-Hungarian gulden and had a small storm shelter built.
The Aljaž Tower became a symbol in its own right and the subject of a “paint battle”, bearing at different points in history the colours of the Italian and Slovenian flags, after which it was white for a while and red with a star on top after WWII.
According to Miro Eržen, a mountaineering expert who gave the initiative for the Slovenian Mountaineering Museum, opened in 2010, it was indeed Aljaž who made Triglav what it is today.
“The tower was one of the clearest signs of resistance against German domination in the Slovenian mountains, and this symbol of determination of Slovenians to be masters of our land has continued until today.”
This was the case during WWII, when Triglav’s stylised form was the symbol of the resistance movement. It appeared on the walls of buildings in occupied cities and Slovenian members of the Partisan armed resistance movement wore distinctive three-pronged caps known as “triglavke”.
The symbol was used in the Slovenian coat of arms in Yugoslavia as well as in the new coat of arms now, which is also part of the Slovenian flag. Triglav is also depicted in non-stylised form on the Slovenian 50-cent coin.
“The thing with Triglav is that whenever the going gets tough for Slovenians, we kind of assemble around it. It unites us…irrespective of political affiliation or world view,” Eržen told the STA.
One of the most moving moments in the history of the mountain as a Slovenian symbol happened in June 1991.
Two weeks before Slovenia declared independence, members of a secret expedition raised a giant Slovenian flag on top of Triglav.
The footage was shown at the independence ceremony on 25 June, leaving Slovenians speechless.