Heritage Trails through Dolenjska and Bela krajina

OTOČEC CASTLE





Swan

The Krka is one of our most interesting karst rivers. Its waters are saturated with dissolved limestone, which is precipitated as tufa. It is the only Slovenian tufa-forming river forms characteristic several metres high tufa barriers in its upper reaches. Mills and sawmills were frequently built beside these barriers. Tufa is precipitated just below the surface as extensive underwater shelves in the middle reaches.
The most extensive of these is found in the middle reaches of the Krka, at Otočec, where the river valley cuts into a higher karst plateau.

Tufa shelves extend for a distance of almost two kilometres between the village of Otočec and Struga castle, whilst the river level falls for a height of four metres. The superstructures of the tufa shelves are islands, which have been colonised by a variety of waterside vegetation. Island formation is a dynamic process, because high water is constantly eroding the banks, whilst the luxuriant vegetation is washed away and forms fragile dams. 30 islets can be counted between the village of Otočec and Struga castle during the summer. Most of them are quite small, although the largest is the castle island.


Kingfisher

Carp

Pike

The natural conditions, which are created at Otočec by the Krka with its numerous islelets, tufa shelves, river channels and exuberant vegetation, represent one of the most picturesque and attractive stretches of river. It has a great variety of aquatic habitats, which are characterised by an exceptional number of fish. The Krka is inhabited by 32 species of fish, including many rare and endangered species. Huchen, Wels and Danube Roach are the most highly valued species in angling.

The white Mute Swans are aparticular characteristic of Otočec. The first pair was introduced here in 1968. The present population now numbers over 50 individuals. Mallard Ducks and Gray Herons are also common, whilst Great Bitterns and Moorhens occasionally nest in the reed beds. Kingfishers nest in the eroded banks. There is an even greater variety of bird species in winter, when the large flocks of Common Coots, Little Grebe in Great Cormorants, whilst the Mallards are joined by Garganey, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and other rare duck species.

Otočec Castle, built on one of the islands in the river Krka, is the only castle surrounded by water in Slovenia.
A varied past is concealed behind it's walls. The castle entered written history in the mid 13th century, when it was occupied by the Knights of Otočec, vassals of the Bishops of Freising. When the Knights of Otočec died out at the end of the 15th century, their property came into the possession of other noble families. Thus the castle was owned by the Tirolean Villanders family at the beginning of the 16th century, but in 1560 it was acquired by Baron Ivan Lenkovič, the captain of the Žumberak Uskoks and later the General of the Military March. The castle was bought in 1629 by Janez pl. Sonce, the hero of the tale of the same name by Ivan Tavčar. The Schweiger von Lerchenfeld family acquired Otočec in the mid 18th century, whose last male descendant Vinko Schweiger was famous for his popularity and support for the Slovenian language. In 1854 the castle was acquired by the Margheri de Commadona family, who owned Otočec up to the end of the Second World War and were well known for their vivacity.

The modern image of the castle architecture has been formed over the centuries. It's fabric dates to the mid 13th century, to the period marked by the stylistic transition from Romanesque to Gothic. Otočec was a two-story, undefended rectangular building at this time, typical of the medieval stone built mansion type. The building was enlarged spatially in the mid 14th century and acquired an L shaped ground plan. The archival sources also bear witness to a castle rampart, whilst the security of the castle was further increased by the excavation of a new southern channel for the river Krka, which cut off the natural river meander. This transformed the former riverside post into an island, which was joined to the mainland by a wooden bridge.

The castle was further fortified after the fierce Turkish raiding of Dolenjska in 1471. A new curtain wall was added, the corners were defended by semicircular towers and the old curtain wall took on the function of an internal curtain wall. The castle began to acquire a renaissance image under the direction of Master Manfredo del Costonello during the Lenkovič period. In the first half of the 17th century, when the Otočec lordship was acquired by Janez Sonce, the castle building was further remodelled and acquired arcades on the ground floor and both storeys of the southern wing. This concluded the more important remodelling of the castle building, whose image has been preserved down to the present day.

Otočec castle was burnt during the Second World War. The castle furniture was destroyed or dispersed at this time and both the wooden bridges were also damaged. The castle was renovated under the supervision of the heritage protection service in the 1950's and was given a tourist hotel function.
It is worth mentioning that this is the only renovated castle of the many that were burnt during the war in Dolenjska.

It is worth noting certain rare, but extant architectural details during a visit to the castle. The renaissance sandstone entrance portal that dates to the 16th century is particularly fine. It is decorated with two marble medallions, which bear renaissance maiden profiles. Fragments of profane painting that show hunting and fishing scenes can be admired on one of the piers of the central castle building in the internal courtyard. Although it is derived from the medieval tradition, it already heralds progressive renaissance artistic appreciation.

The interior of the castle building has been thoroughly renovated and adapted to a hotel function, which makes it difficult to speak of its authenticity. It is only worth mentioning some late Gothic stone portals and Gothic stone window frames with a characteristic pilaster profile.

The Castle Park. The scant historical sources indicate that the park was laid out during the period, when the castle was in the possession of the Schweiger - Larchenfeld family (1727 - 1850), probably at the turn of the 18th century. The Franciscan Cadaster (circa 1825) shows a tree lined drive axis along the length of the island, which links the castle entrance with the extreme eastern part of the island. The tree lined drive axis terminated in a garden pavilion, which is not otherwise mentioned.

The modern Castle island is somewhat larger than it was in the past, according the historical graphic depictions from 1679 (Valvasor), 1758 (Wiser), 1845 (Wagner), but there are no traces of the 19th century park layout. The oldest trees in the park are a good century in age, but the majority were planted after the renovation of the castle the 1950's. In addition to the native tree species, such as black alder, white willow, black poplar, oak, etc., as well as the common introduced horse chestnut, the park also contains examples of exotic tree species, such as marsh cypress, tulip tree, cigar tree, gledičija and others.

The modern design form of the park is informal - organic, following the English Park landscape style. The absence of original historical park elements is replaced by the exceptionally picturesque image of the park organisation of the island with the castle, which is reflected in the depths of the Krka.

Information:
Hotel Castle Otočec*****
E-mail: booking.grad-otocec@terme-krka.si
phone: ++386 (0)7/38 48 600, ++386 (0)7/38 48 900
http://www.terme-krka.si/en/grad_otocec/

Visitors can view the castle interior by prior arrangement.

The further information: http://www.visitdolenjska.eu/