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GORENJA VAS – POLJANE: A rest stop on the Vienna Trieste road

The central settlement in the Pojanska Valley, Gorenja Vas (which makes up half of the municipality of Gorenja Vas – Poljane) is roughly halfway between Škofja Loka and Žiri. For years it was a popular place to stop on the road from Vienna to Trieste, but saw much less traffic with the opening of the railway line in the middle of the 19th century, and was then burnt almost entirely to ground by children playing with fire in 1901.

 

Nowadays, with only some 1300 people calling the town home, there is not an overwhelming amount to see or do here, but it is probably the best place to organize a guided tour of the overgrown bunkers and fortifications that comprise Rupnik’s Line.


RUPNIK’S LINE: Of all the lessons learned in the aftermath of The Great War, one of the simplest was that employing old military tactics despite the advent of new technologies directly led to a massive increase in the number of casualties suffered by both sides – or to put it another way: charging into machine gun fire and fighting in muddy trenches for years on end was not a lot of fun.

This knowledge, coupled with a pessimistic outlook of a peaceful future, led many European states to construct fortifications along their borders in the years following the war, and the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was no exception. The Treaty of Rapallo had left nearly 1/3 of Slovene territory under the control of Italy in 1920, with the newly created border running just west of Gorenja Vas – Poljane and nearby Žiri. As the Poljanska Valley was seen as the easiest route to Ljubljana were there to be another major conflict, the most extensive fortifications were planned for this area.

Although proposals for a series of bunkers, tunnels and large subterranean forts were first discussed in 1926, actual construction didn’t commence until 1937 under the command of General Leon Rupnik, and was supposed to have been completed in 1947. The pace of construction quickened as war broke out in other parts of Europe and by early 1941 over 60,000 men (both soldiers and civilians) were working on the project. However, when Axis forces finally invaded on 6 April 1941, the work abruptly stopped and the fortifications that had been built were never actually used for military purposes. Today these eerie remnants of darker times in European history can be visited on guided tours, and make for one of the more interesting experiences to be had in the region.