Heritage Trails through Dolenjska and Bela krajina


The river Krka has cut a marked river valley upstream from Soteska. This has worn deeply along the Žužemberk fault line into the area between the edge of the Kočevski Rog hills and the Ajdovska planota (plateau). The steep slopes of the heavily forested plateaux meet at the riverbanks, leaving barely enough space for the road. In the shelter of the forest, the ancient migration routes of wild animals, including bears, wolf and lynx, run through the isolated canyon and across the river.

An important communication and trade route, connecting central Slovenia with the Croatian coast via the Novo mesto basin and Bela krajina, ran through the river canyon from prehistoric times onwards. The route was controlled in prehistory by a hillfort on the summit of the Plešvica hill (593 m o.d.) above the left bank of the Krka.

Medieval sources first mention the narrows at Soteska as Taeure in 1145 and as Teber in 1313. The road through it was guarded by the Ainöd fortified keep. This is now called Stara Soteska and is located on a rocky promontory above the right bank of the Krka. The fortified Soteska Stately Home was built on the level ground on the left bank of the Krka after its abandonment in the 16th century. A settlement of the same name gradually grew up around the Stately Home.

A large scheduled heritage area is located on both banks of the river Krka. It contains the following scheduled cultural monuments: the ruins of the Stara Soteska castle, the Soteska Stately Home with its park and the Hudičev turn (Devil's Tower), the parish church of Sv. Erazem (St. Erasmus).

Air photograph of Soteska, circa 1935

Soteska Stately Home. The predecessor of the Soteska Stately Home was built on the level ground beside the river Krka in the 16th century. The ground plan of the Stately Home, drawn by Janez Klobučarič in the first decade of the 17th century, can be detected in the southwestern part of the ruined Baroque mansion.

The magnificent Soteska Stately Home, one of the finest in the duchy of Carniola, according to Valvasor, was built by Duke Jurij Žiga Gallenberg between 1664 and 1689. It was rectangular in plan with an internal courtyard, surrounded by four two-storied tracts with arcades in both storeys. The strength of the fortified building was emphasised by four corner towers and an entrance tower. The coats of arms of the Gallenberg and Schrottenbach families, as well as an inscribed plaque, dated to 1675, were placed above the entrance portal. The richly painted rooms painting of the Stately Home are dated to the end of the 17th century and attributed to the painter Almanach.

The Gallenberg family held the Soteska lordship until 1733, when they sold it to Count Auersperg. The Dukes of Lichtenberg bought the lordship in 1743 and held it until 1793. It was then bought the Auersperg Princes from Žužemberk castle, who held it up to the end of the Second World War.The Stately Home was burnt in the autumn of 1943 and used as a source of building material after the Second World War.

The church of Sv. Erazem is also closely connected with the owners of the castle and country house at Soteska. It was first mentioned in 1396 and became the seat of the parish in 1617. The present building dates to circa 1664. It has high quality 18th century altar furniture and a presbytery, painted by Goldenstein in 1856.

A Detail of the Wall Painting

Hudičev turn and the park. The park was laid out at the same time as the construction of the country house. It originally comprised the fortified area around the country house and was laid out according to renaissance principles. A new Baroque park was laid out on the flat area beside the river Krka at the end of the 17th century. It combined the architectural and the constructed natural ambient in an exquisite whole.

The park pavilion known as Hudičev turn (the Devil's Tower), which has a trefoil ground plan, forms the central motif of the park. The interior is richly painted. The ground floor is decorated with an illusionist composition, which is based on well and portal motives. The vault is decorated with a scene from antique mythology, the kidnapping of Ganymede by Zeus. One may wonder at the partially visible paintings in the first storey. These are imaginative illusionist compositions of pillared architecture and monumental female figures, which personify faith, hope and love. The atelier of master Almanach was responsible for the painting the, which date to the end of the 17th century.

The walled park was divided into rectangular fields, organised around a central path. The park pavilion was connected along the axis of the park to the country house by the central path, which ran through three stone arches. This created a feeling of disappearing in space, which is so typical of this period. An orchard was planted in the park and tenants were moved into the Hudičev turn at the beginning of the 20th century.

Folk tradition explains the unusual name of the park pavilion. It links it with the hedonistic entertainments, organised by the lord of the Stately Home, which led the local population to call it the Devil's Tower (Hudičev turn).

The Ruins of Stara Soteska Castle in 1679

The Ruins of Stara Soteska Castle. Drawing by
Goldenstein, circa 1860

Stara Soteska Castle is first mentioned in the sources in 1311. The first known owner, lord Herman Črnomaljski, is mentioned in 1326. The Širski Knight acquired the castle from the Črnomaljski lords by marriage in 1448. The isolated position of the castle led to its abandonment in the 16th century and the construction of a new castle on the opposite, left bank of the river Krka.

The surviving ruins reveal that the castle was a tower or keep type. The remains of the southern wall with its rounded corners are indicative of typical Romanesque construction techniques, employing ashlar blocks laid in regular courses. This dates the foundation of Sara Soteska to the 12th century. The central Romanesque keep acquired a double curtain wall with towers and a moat in the late Gothic period. These survive as foundations.

The castle possessed dungeons that were cut deep into the living rock, which were visited by J. V. Valvasor in the second half of the 17th century. Here, the daughter of the then owner, Jurij (George) Širski, awaited her fate at the end of 15th century, for the crime of falling in love with her local teacher against her father's will.

In the 19th century, the economic strength of the Soteska lordship rested on the exploitation of the extensive forests in the Kočevski Rog hills. A sawmill was established on the right bank of the Krka in the middle of the 19th century. It achieved its greatest prosperity in the period between the two world wars. The surviving mechanical equipment includes the following: a 1906 Francis Radial Turbine with a vertical axle, a 1929 steam engine, a full reciprocating saw made by the Esterer factory and a veneer peeler.

In 1927, a hydroelectric plant was erected on site of the former mill on the left bank of the Krka below the mansion of Soteska. It still retains all the original equipment, which was produced by engineer Schneiter from Škofje Loke.

It is also interesting to note that a brewery operated in Soteska in 1840.The Jazbina karst cave near Podturn was converted for use as a refrigerator in 1867.

The main entrance shortly
after the Second World War

Visiting Soteska. There is an official car park with an explanatory panel opposite the ruins of the Stately Home, beside the regional road. A visit to the scheduled area includes a tour of the ruins of the Soteska country house, the Hudičev turn park pavilion and the associated outbuildings. The exhibition depot of the Technical Museum of Slovenia (Tehniški mužej Slovenije) will be on display here from the 1st September 2000.

The ruins of Stara Soteska castle are on the right bank of the river Krka, circa 500 m from the starting point. Signposts point out the way across the bridge, through the sawmill and further on along a forestry road. It is also possible to walk to the parish church of Sv. Erazem above the ruins of the Stately Home.

Visit to the Tehnical Museum of Slovenia exhibition depot and Hudičev turn are possible by prior arrangement at the Dolenjske Toplice Commune, phone: 07/384-5191.