Bled Island is Slovenia’s only natural island. Today the Church of Mary the Queen crowns the island but according to archaeological findings, there was a temple dating to the Early Medieval Ages on the island, built by pagan Slavs to worship Živa, the Slavic goddess of life and fertility.
The church gained its present Baroque appearance in the middle of the 17th century when both the Chapel of the Virgin Mary and the monumental staircase with 99 stone steps were built. There is a tradition still alive today, which demands that the groom must carry the bride up all 99 steps if the couple wants to get married in the church on the island.
Many other legends are connected to the island. One of them is described in the masterpiece entitled The Baptism at the Savica of Slovenian poet France Prešeren. Legend says that a temple used to stand on the island, dedicated to Živa, the Slavic goddess of love, which was protected by the priest Staroslav and his daughter Bogomila. When Črtomir, the heroic leader of the pagan Slavs visited the island, Bogomila and he fell in love. Out of fear for Črtomir’s life, Bogomila converted to Christianity. The poem ends with the defeat of the pagan Slavs who later converted to Christianity, including their leader Črtomir who was baptized by the Savica Waterfall.
Another legend has it that a grieving widow once lived in Bled Castle. After her husband’s untimely death at the hands of robbers, she was so consumed by grief that she collected all her silver and gold and paid for a bell in the chapel that would ring out in memory of her fallen spouse.
But the bell never arrived, as a powerful storm sunk the boat that was transporting the bell to the bottom of the lake, where it still rests today. Some say that the bell can still be heard on clear nights. Crushed, the widow sold all her belongings and spent the rest of her life in a monastery. After her death, the pope blessed a new bell for Bled Island. Today, whoever makes it to the island and rings the bell three times will have their greatest wish granted.
Nowadays, the island is a popular wedding location. It is possible to have Catholic, Protestant or even civil wedding ceremonies in the island’s church.
Tradition says that you haven’t visited Bled until you’ve taken a trip with the traditional bloat pletna boat. The origins of this iconic wooden flat-bottom boat date back to 1590 and today the pletna is navigated only by the oarsman (in Slovenian pletnar). The name Pletna derives from the German word platteboot meaning »boat with a completely flat bottom«. It was designed similarly to the Venetian gondola but with a pointed bow and a canopy.
The exclusive right and title of the Pletna oarsman were created during the reign of Maria Theresa and given to 19 families, that were living in the settlement Mlino (close to Vila Alpina). The title was handed down from generation to generation – to this day, which is why the respected profession of pletnarstvo remained in individual families throughout the centuries.
Pletnarstvo is not the only tradition in Bled that is still handed down from generation to generation. While exploring the city, you will likely encounter open carriages known as fijakers. At first, they drove pilgrims, and after the railway was constructed they transferred guests from the railway station to the desired destinations in Bled.
Similarly to the oarsmen, the profession is inherited from father to son, and the members of the local fijakers association make every effort to keep this tradition still alive. The drivers wear traditional clothing consisting of a black sweater, black trousers, black hat, white shirt, vest with the embroidered Gorenjska region carnations, and claret colour blankets and jackets.
Beekeeping is an important agricultural activity with a long and rich tradition. Slovenians are such enthusiasts that more than 10,000 inhabitants, i.e. one in 200, are engaged in this activity.
Therefore, it’s not surprising at all that Slovenia boasts its very own Apiculture Museum in Radovljica, and that Slovenian beekeepers are well organised under the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association.
Beekeeping has gained international recognition due to its particular features, such as the unique painted beehive decorative panels. They originated from folk awareness and imagination during the mid-18th century, and depict the central themes and motifs of various narratives, legends and everyday rural life.
Slovenia also prides itself with the Carniolan honey bee, an autochthonous Slovenian bee subspecies renowned for its docility, hard work, humility and excellent sense of orientation. This bee variety is regarded as the second most widespread in the world and is protected as an indigenous subspecies in Slovenia.
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