The Project Herb Stories of Gornji Grad

Herbalism is the knowledge, cultural heritage and skill that was developed and preserved in monasteries and villages both in everyday life and in stories. The project Herb Stories of Gornji Grad, undertaken within the framework of the public tender Student Projects Aimed at Sustainable Development, deals with the preservation and reinterpretation of such heritage, the development of sustainable tourism, the acquisition of career competencies, and the process of becoming acquainted with career options. Seven students from different departments, two pedagogical mentors and two on-site mentors are participating in the project. Half of the participants come from Gornji Grad itself or its surroundings.

The active part of the project runs from 1 November 2022 until 30 January 2023 and is divided into three parts. The first phase covers the on-site mentors’ presentation of their activities, becoming acquainted with Gornji Grad and its history and heritage, learning about the challenges of sustainable tourism, and consideration of innovative solutions for its development. This is followed by an overview of the narrative folk tradition collected to date and the gathering of new material connected to herbalism. The second phase encompasses the process of connecting the gathered material to selected places and points in the Gornji Grad area, planning the thematic tourist trail Walking the Gornji Grad Herb Trails, translating selected texts into German, English and Polish, setting up the project’s webpage navigation menu and designing a leaflet. In the third phase, the project will be presented to an audience in the form of a guided walking tour through the created thematic trail and the writing of an article to be published in a local newspaper.

Photo: Eva Glavan

The project represents a partnership between the private sector (the two local entrepreneurs) and educational institutions. In addition to the acquisition of specific practical competencies, the goal of the project is to learn about the entrepreneurial and creative possibilities of the local area, which is essential for raising awareness of the area’s potential, as well as for decentralisation and the process of encouraging young people to find occupational possibilities in the local area. The project enables the participating students to work in an interdisciplinary group, to network, to relate their theoretical knowledge to their work experience, and to acquire job-specific competencies that would not have been received through their studies alone. The project’s results will be very useful for the continual development of high-quality sustainable tourism in the Gornji Grad municipality. Since Gornji Grad is a problematic border area, creating creative possibilities for its development should receive special attention.

Photo: Eva Glavan

Zeliščarna v Gornjem Gradu

Photo: Eva Glavan

Students from different universities, faculties and study programmes are participating in the project: Jasna Reščič (Department of Slavistics and Department of Slovene Studies), Lana Turk (Department of German, Dutch and Swedish), Hana Selišnik (Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology), Tia Ilievski Andrič (Department of English and Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology) from the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana; Eva Glavan from the Faculty of Design, Nina Repenšek Poličnik from the Faculty of Tourism Studies Turistica, University of Primorska, and Jerneja Krajcar from the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana. The project’s leading pedagogical mentor is Asst. Prof. Dr. Lidija Rezoničnik from the Department of Slavistics of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, and the second pedagogical mentor is Asst. Prof. Dr. Anja Moric from the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the same faculty. Babave, a company for the preservation and reinterpretation of natural and cultural heritage, which is managed by Amanda Kladnik and Maja Žerovnik, is the project’s outside partner. The project is coordinated by Urška Gruden from the Centre for Pedagogical Education of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.

In cooperation with on-site mentors Amanda Kladnik and Maja Žerovnik, we participants are searching for and reviving the cultural heritage concealed within Gornji Grad. By collecting local stories and creating a thematic tourist trail leading through the Gornji Grad herb footpaths, we seek to revive the magic of herbs and to present them to Slovenia and the wider world. Since we believe that the understanding of cultural heritage and the revival of traditions is of the utmost importance to the community, we have chosen exactly this as our goal. While carrying out the project, we hope to become acquainted with Gornji Grad and its history and culture, and to listen to the local orally transmitted folk tradition. We especially want to form innovative ideas aimed at the development of tourism that will be connected to the local community and treat it with respect.


Text: Jerneja Krajcar, Lidija Rezoničnik, translated by: Tia Ilievski Andrič

Gornji Grad

Driving through Gornji Grad, the traveller’s attention is immediately drawn towards the large cathedral dominating the tectonic graben between the Menina Pasture Plateau, Lepenatka and the Rogač Hills. Today, it is a peaceful town, but for 800 years it was the centre of one of the largest conjoined properties in Slovenia, changing owners many times: first it was owned by aristocrats, then by the Church. It was given to the Benedictines and later, once it was established, to the archdiocese of Ljubljana. The peculiarities of the Upper Savinja Valley dialect, which differs in many ways from the other dialects of the Styrian dialect group to which it belongs, show that the area was self-sufficient in the past and maintained minimal contact with its surroundings. Due to the isolated nature of the area, the phonetic group “ła” was preserved in the Upper Savinja Valley dialect. The dialect contains the Proto-Slavic phoneme “ł”, which, in other instances of the Slovenian language, is preserved only in the southern part of White Carniola. At the same time, novelties arrived from other European feudal lands to Gornji Grad itself, which was the centre of the property.

Gornji Grad z Menine planine - panorama - foto: Tomo Jesenicnik - visitsavinjska.com

Photo: Tomo Jesenicnik – visitsavinjska.com

Katedrala sv. Mohorja in Fortunata v Gornjem Gradu, foto: Eva Glavan

Photo: Eva Glavan

The Benedictines received the property from the Church of Aquileia in the twelfth century. At that time, they built a monastery where the cathedral stands today. Alongside other edible plants that grew in the monastery’s garden, they also grew herbs that had medicinal effects. These included herbs that were not native to Gornji Grad, which the Benedictines obtained from other monasteries, including those on the Mediterranean coast.

After the Benedictine ownership, the Gornji Grad estate became the property of the archdiocese of Ljubljana, which was established in 1461. Gornji Grad had received market town privileges from the Counts of Celje even before that, but under the auspices of the Ljubljana bishops it became an important bureaucratic and judicial centre, as well as being their seasonal residence. In 1928, Gornji Grad was given town privileges. At that time, a building complex with bureaus for the entire Upper Savinja Valley was built. This complex was destroyed during WWII, but its reconstruction can be viewed on the interactive display currently located near the cathedral. In the eighteenth century, Archbishop Attems built the largest Slovenian Baroque church where the old monastery used to stand. Today, the Cathedral of St Mohor and Fortunate is still the largest cathedral in Slovenia in terms of volume. In addition to the Baroque architecture and decorations, another treasure is concealed in the aisle: the Tomb of God, which overcomes the visitor with its use of perspective, making the chapel appear even larger than it is. Of particular value in the cathedral are the six paintings by Martin Johann Schmidt, also known as Kremser Schmidt (1718–1801), including Christ’s Awakening and Ascension.

In addition to the valuable material monuments, Gornji Grad is also rich in intangible cultural heritage. In the herb shop, by pouring hot water with the tea blend, Maja and Amanda transport visitors back to the time when journeying to the store, the pharmacy or the doctor’s surgery was a long and slow process for the inhabitants of the Upper Savinja Valley. The farthest they had to travel was from the solitary farms that are still in existence today, some of which can be seen by looking over the slope of Menina from the Počrevin Hill.

Photo: Eva Glavan

Due to the secluded nature of the location, people had to rely on themselves if they or their livestock fell ill. Some were known as local healers and their stories have remained alive among the inhabitants. Thus, in Gornji Grad’s history of herbalism, the more formal scholarly medicine of the Benedictines has come together with folk medicine.

Where the old monastery used to be – behind the present day cathedral – Maja and Amanda have created a herb garden based on the local garden, where, just like in the olden days of the Benedictine garden, medicinal and other useful plants from different parts of Europe can be found.


Text: Jasna Reščič, translated by: Tia Ilievski Andrič

Thematic Trail: The Stories of Gornji Grad

1. The Cathedral and the Herb Garden

In the middle of Gornji Grad stands a Rococo cathedral that was built in the eighteenth century by order of the Bishop of Ljubljana, Ernest Attems. At that time, the estate belonged to the Archdiocese of Ljubljana and it also served as a seasonal residence. The inside of the cathedral is famous for its Kremser-Schmidt paintings and the Tomb of God, which is renowned for its masterful use of perspective.

Before the cathedral was built, a Benedictine monastery stood in its place. The Benedictines received the estate in the twelfth century from the Church of Aquileia. In the monastery garden grew herbs and other edible plants, some of which were not native to Gornji Grad, as the Benedictines received them from other monasteries or the missionaries brought them back from their travels through other continents.

Since the monks understood the conditions of natural sites, they succeeded in growing tropical plants even in this northern location thanks to their knowledge and resourcefulness. They used greenhouses, grew saplings in closed rooms, used water to power the water pump and the irrigation system, fertilised with compost and grew plants at the southern walls using special methods of protection against the cold.

Take a peek at the eastern side of the cathedral and view the herb garden, which is based on a local “garteljc” garden. Are the herbs in full blossom at this time of year or are they dormant? Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel how special this place is.

Katedrala sv. Mohorja in Fortunata v Gornjem Gradu, notranjost, foto: Eva Glavan

Photo: Eva Glavan

Photo: Eva Glavan

2. Fruit Drying Chamber

Orchards were once an important part of self-supply. The most common types of fruit were different varieties of apples, pears and češpe (the local name for plums). The fruit picked in autumn were cut up and dried for the winter. This was often done on top of brick ovens and in some places they even had special drying chambers. One such chamber stood by the stream Šokatnica. Compote, juice, tokc (the local name for apple cider), spirits and jsih (the local name for vinegar) were also made from this fruit.

The children of farmers took on the duties of shepherds when they were still young. Time spent out on the pasture passed much faster when they played games or even made sweet snacks.

We used to make applesauce. We built a fireplace right there on the pasture, and we stole sugar from home so that we could sweeten it. (local man)

When the people worked in the fields or the forest, they enjoyed fruit tea as a refreshment. When possible, housewives made tea using fresh fruit, but when there was no fresh fruit available they used platički (the local name for dried fruit slices). When the tea boiled, they did not remove the fruit, as they liked to eat it after they had drunk the tea. Thus, they both hydrated themselves and took care of their food energy supply.

We had these apples, we called them “drobotke”; they were very small and sweet. We peeled them and made tea from them. Now that was great tea! (local woman)

3. Počrevin Hill

You can see the entire Gornji Grad from the top of Počrevin Hill. Today it is a peaceful town, but from the twelfth century until WWII, it was the judicial and spiritual centre of the Upper Savinja Valley. In 1928, Gornji Grad was even given town privileges. Among them was the right to a park with an avenue of lime trees and a pavilion. You can see the remaining part of the park if you look in the direction of the cathedral.

On the slope of the Menina pasture rising above Gornji Grad, you can see one of the farms situated in the higher parts of the town. From solitary homes like this one, the journey to the store, the pharmacy or the doctor’s office was long and slow, so the inhabitants had to help themselves if they or their livestock fell ill. Some of them were known as local healers, who practiced zagovarjanje (the local name for the practice of “defending”, that is, treating others by uttering special words and magical formulae).

“Vrtačnica” Franca knew how to take out the fire if somebody had burned themselves, while “Pstočki” Herjan knew how to stop the fire from spreading. When lightning struck the barn, Herjan made crosses with his hands and prayed, so he managed to stop the fire from spreading. (local woman)

Once, a child got polio and the people believed that the cause was either a cold or fear. Luckily, there was a warlock called Brclonko in Luče who knew how to practise zagovarjanje against fear. He told the family to bring him one piece of candy, which he infused with the practice of zagovarjanje, and the child was indeed cured. (local woman)

Photo: Babave

Photo: Gorazd Tratnik

4. Skittle Alley by the Footbridge

The skittle alley by the footbridge, which was built by a rich townsman in the first half of the twentieth century, was a real local attraction. The inside of the alley is even said to have once had fresco paintings. The men spent many hours at the alley just bowling or socialising. Since the lane was long and setting up the skittles was time consuming, they left this task to the children. The children even returned the skittle balls, rolling them down a wooden gutter that had been erected next to the lane, which had an incline enabling the balls to roll back to the players.

As a child, when I was nine or ten years old, I used to go and set up the skittles. That way I got a little money out of it. In the mornings I went to church, and afterwards I went straight to the skittle alley. I should have been at home at noon, but down in the village there was a shindig … and afterwards I got such a hellish thrashing at home! (local man)

The owner of the skittle alley had a single-storey house nearby. After returning from America, he had a second storey added and turned it into an inn, thus adding accommodation to the list of services he offered. He also had a car with which he transported drinks for various occasions up to Semprimož (a small church above Gornji Grad). During the trip back to the valley, they had to rope up the car with štriki (the local name for ropes) because the road was so steep that the breaks did not hold.

5. Hops Drying Chamber

According to oral sources, there were hops plantations in Gornji Grad or its surroundings before WWII (especially in the fields before Zagradišče). In Gornji Grad, there was a hops drying chamber, which was once a third bigger than it is today and had a gable roof as well.

Alongside the hops drying chamber was a post office that offered an “express mail” service as early as in the eighteenth century. The service was called “riding mail” and “urgent mail”, as the mail was carried by fast horse riders.

Little information is available in Gornji Grad about the use of hops and the reasons for growing it. There is more information and knowledge about herbs and their use. Rcnije (the local name for medicinal plants), e.g., St. John’s wort and pot marigold (used for burns and wounds), mallow (used for colds and coughs), horsetail and yarrow (used for bladder infections), arnica (used for rheumatism), etc., were often planted at locals’ homes or simply plucked in nearby areas. Knowledge about herbs was transmitted through oral folk tradition and it was especially older women who knew recipes for curing and treating various afflictions.

If you cut yourself, your mother had a varžet (the local name for a pocket) cut out of an old pair of pants. They put the fragments that remained from hay into the varžet, poured boiling water over it, and then placed it on the wound, so that it extracted the pain. (local man)

Photo: Eva Glavan

Photo: Eva Glavan

6. The herb shop and the tea party

After WWII, tea parties took place at farms on Sundays after mass, when the young people met up at a different homestead each time, gathering in a big room that represented the central part of the house. They made two pots of tea – one for the boys and one for the girls. The pot for the boys contained more schnapps than the one for the girls.

We gathered in front of the church and our youth organiser said, “lads and lasses, there is a tea party today!” We girls, we just had to clap, “oh, thank God!”

There were two benches. The girls sat on one side, and the boys on the other. When they started playing the accordion, the boys stood up quickly and started dancing, as they had been deciding which girl to ask for a dance beforehand! (local woman)

Before WWII, only the women gathered at tea parties in the centre of Gornji Grad, as the men were “strictly forbidden” from coming. They drank tea made from herbs and plants that they had gathered nearby or planted in their gardens (lime, elderberry, arnica, pot marigold, caraway, etc.). On special occasions, they drank Buddha tea, which was sold in little metal boxes on which was written: “If you drink Buddha tea, on Earth you will paradise meet.”

As was the case in other towns and settlements, there were also shops in Gornji Grad and every craftsman had their own distinctive symbol on their façade.

Look around – do you see any buildings in which a herb-related business is located on the ground floor? Step inside and enjoy a cup of homemade herbal tea.

Translated by: Tia Ilievski Andrič