The village Gradež

The village Gradež

The village Gradež in the hills of Turjak is one of the oldest and most interesting villages in the area around Turjak and Velike Lašče. This area is credited as the cradle of Slovene literature because it is here that Primož Trubar was born, the author of the first book printed in Slovene. Gradež lies only 25 km to the south from Ljubljana town center, and it is only a few minutes’ walk from the Castle of Turjak.

From the remains of a defense wall above the village it can be assumed as to when the people first started to settle permanently in this area – these are the remains of an ancient fort on the mountain Sloka gora. People say, and scarce archeological findings confirm, that a small stone castle used to rise above the village. In the long years of history, people settled more and more on the slope of the hill, so that in the years of Napoleon’s reign (1809-1813) only few houses remained on Sloka gora and the village Gradež moved to where it still is today. And even though the street that runs through the village simply ends on Sloka gora, it doesn’t mean that the people here were ever cut off from the rest of the world. Already in the Antique there was a Roman road running not far from the village, and today there is the regional highway Ljubljana-Kočevje, and also the European long distance footpath.

The village Gradež

The old village center lies 600 m above the sea level. On the Gradež meadowy slopes, by the old village, a settlement of holiday cottages emerged, which are slowly becoming permanent homes.

Up to the middle of the 20th century there were 15 houses in Gradež, and the families were very numerous. People were farmers and made some extra living doing many other activities. Today the number of houses in Gradež doubled (not counting the holiday cottages), but the number of inhabitants decreased. Almost all villagers have found work outside the village, farm work becoming only an “additional activity” for them. There is still life in the village, however. The number of young families is increasing; there are children, pupils as well as students living in Gradež. The members of the Association for Preserving Heritage are working to preserve cultural and natural heritage and to keep an ecological way of farming, which can, form a solid basis for development of tourism in the countryside.

Housing

Old houses of Gradež, each with a slightly different and unique well, stand on both sides of the village road, many of them facing a new family house on the other side of the road. Old buildings are made of stone, covered with roughcast, and have a typical room distribution.

A house oven (krušna peč), a kitchen appliance in which only half a century ago all food was cooked and baked, can be found in every house. In 1948, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum conducted a field research in Gradež, systematically describing, drawing and photographing all houses, wells, stalls, apiaries, hayracks (hayrack or Slovene kozolec, pl. kozolci is a freestanding vertical rack, mostly wooden, used for drying and storing fodder and grain; it is a unique piece of Slovene rural architecture) typical chests and other furniture and tools. Transcriptions of interviews were made, with villagers speaking about life, work, other activities, costumes, meals, and about their customs and habits. Soon after World War II even the last houses and farm buildings replaced their thatch with tiled roofs. One of the last buildings with a thatch was the typical Strle’s kozolec with a wheeled drawer for drying millet. Another example of traditional rural architecture is the Andolšek’s granary.

The village Gradež

The life has also changed. Most of the population have stopped working in agriculture and found work outside the village, so farming is now only an additional occupation. A century ago, the village had eight farms and seven semi-farms. Life was not easy and besides working on the mountain farm, everybody had to make some extra living. Typical of Gradež were handmade toothpicks, brooms and wicker baskets, goods that were traded even abroad. Some of the villagers were carters, joiners or masons, others traded sand or firewood. The number of apiaries was also significantly higher than today, when, at entering the village, you only see the Zore’s apiary with an exhibition hive.