Riddled with secret passageways and narrow shafts into the mountainous cave network of south Slovenia, Predjama Castle is what legends are made of. Built in the 11th century, it made a name for itself when a rebellious knight, a real-life Robin Hood of sorts, locked himself inside the fortress at the mouth of a cave for a year and a day, fleeing from the Holy Roman Empire.
The head-strong knight Erazem Lueger had found himself in trouble with the throne of the Holy Roman Empire when he killed the commander of the Imperial army at the Vienna Court for offending the honor of his deceased friend, according to legend. Unfortunately for Erazem, the commander he killed for talking smack about his friend in public also happened to be a relative of the Emperor Frederick III, who quickly put the knight on his “most wanted” list, dead or alive.
Erazem was branded a robber baron and fled to his ‘unconquerable’ castle in the village of Predjama, stopping on the way to make allies with the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, while the Emperor prepared for revenge.
With the governor of Trieste leading the attack, the Emperor’s forces besieged Erazem and his men in his fortress day and night for 366 days.
They tried to starve him out, but to the confusion of his adversaries, Erazem seemed to have unlimited supplies and fresh food, despite there being only one known way in and out of the castle, purposely built under a natural rocky arch high in the valley to make access difficult.
But of course Erazem knew his castle and caves better than anyone, including the existence of a secret tunnel leading from the castle to the nearby village of Vipava, where he collected his supplies for him and his men.
The cunning knight even taunted his attackers by pelting them with fresh cherries to prove how comfortable he was. Perched 123m high in his cliff-hanging castle with a drawbridge over a raging river, Erazem made holes in the ceiling of the entrance tower to pour boiling oil on intruders.
This circus-like stand-off lasted until the day after Erazem’s one year victory of keeping out the Emperor’s men from his impenetrable castle. In the end, it was an inside betrayal by his own servant, who was bribed to plan the final assassination attempt.
Meeting a rather undignified end, when Erazem went to use his toilet, an outhouse situated on the top floor at the weakest point of the castle, the servant placed a candle at the window to signal the knight’s presence to his enemy. A single cannonball was launched, and Erazem, literally caught with his pants down, was killed right there on the loo.
See I told ya, the stuff legends are made of.
Fast-forward a few centuries, and the Predjama Castle and its secret cave tunnels (a 6km network) are yours to visit if you’re ever in Slovenia.
In 1991, while working in the cellars, restoration workers discovered buried treasure from the 16th century.
Our rebellious knight, Erazem Lueger’s coat of arms is still on the walls and the museum rents out equipment for exploring his hidden passageways in small groups.
Visitors information can be found here.
And while you’re there, just 9 km from the castle you’ll find…
The Cave Railway
For 140 years, in the nearby Postojna Cave, (the second largest cave system in the country), visitors have been able to take a train through the beautiful subterranean world of nature’s limestone sculptures and spectacular underground arches embellished with chandelier look-alike stalactites. For many years visitors could only explore the cave on foot but in 1872 the first tracks were laid to enable the transport of little two-seater carriages which were pushed by the cave guides. However, the small man-powered railway could not cope with the large numbers of visitors and machine-powered trains replaced them in the 1920s. Their exhaust fumes created a fog in the cave, reducing visibility and in 1957, new battery-powered locomotives were implemented.
The trains are still running today and you can find visitors information here.