Predjama Castle in the Karst region of Slovenia is a unique fortress – it’s a castle in a cave. It’s one of the many awesome sights in Slovenia, and it’s something I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Work on the castle began in the 1100s, and it got its current look in 1583 when Count Ivan Kobenzl added the entrance tower. It’s the best-preserved cave castle in the Julian Alps, and it’s only 10 km from the world-famous Postojna caves.
Unlike later castles, which were built for status and opulence as palaces, Predjama is a castle built for warfare. Approaching the castle, I was confronted with an imposing defensive wall. The two major parts of the wall face the approach, and it would give defenders a great opportunity to fire concentrated arrow volleys at any attackers.
Of course Predjama Castle – Predjama Grad in Slovenian – no longer serves as a fortification and is relegated to a historical attraction with a yearly medieval fair, the Erasmus Tournament. Its most recent owners used it as a hunting lodge before it became a tourist site.
The Erasmus tournament is named after the 15th century robber baron Erazem of Predjama. The tourist pamphlet describes his rebellious life and his use of Predjama Grad as a fortification that was not taken by force.
After running afoul of the Habsburg empire, he was besieged for a year and a day, in which he confounded the attackers by continually lobbing cherries in their direction.
A secret tunnel was allowing him to leave the castle to get more supplies, but it was the treachery of a servant who let the attackers know when Erazem was using the toilet that led to his downfall. The besiegers fired a cannonball, which killed Erazem as he answered nature’s call.
Despite its status as a relic, the castle is in remarkable shape, and it was definitely worth a visit. Walking across the drawbridge was fun in itself, since most drawbridges in castles that can be explored today are fixed – this one still appears functional.
Inside, the castle is decorated and furnished, though it doesn’t feel like it’s all that authentic. Looking at it from the perspective of a medieval historian, it probably doesn’t measure up. But the furnishings really give visitors a feel for how life in a castle would be, and I thought it was a nice touch. Cavernous rooms in other unfurnished castles only tell half the story.
Being built in a cave, the castle has unique architecture. The cave is nowhere as deep as the massive Postojna, where visitors take an electric train several kilometers underground, but it’s substantial.
Entering the castle, I walked through the entryway and then took stairs upward. The stairs generally head upward, following the slope of the cave. That’s good defensive architecture, because any attackers able to breach the main door would have only one entry point, and the defenders would always have the high ground.
The initial rooms were small, but progressing through the building, it opened up. The guidebook I had (Rick Steeves’ Slovenia and Croatia), advised skipping it.
I disagree with skipping it. Simply put, castles are cool, and I feel compelled to go into as many as I can. But also, the entry fee is reasonable, and looking at the way medieval engineers incorporated the natural landscape into their architecture is worth it.
I also think it’s nice, coming from an American perspective, to see castles in places far from Germany, France and the United Kingdom – the places I generally learned about when studying history in the United States.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about the view from the castle. Yes, it’s good, and you can see quite a distance in the beautiful countryside, but if you’ve gotten to the castle, you’ve already had similar views.
Predjama Castle is best accessed by car, and there was ample parking when I was there in late September. Parking might be more difficult during the high tourist season – especially during the medieval festivals – but I think using a car is the best way to see the Karst region. Biking would be good as well, and the ride from Postojna would take you over generally mild foothills terrain.