Vernacular architecture of Slovenia

Skill through experience and materials at hand

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Vernacular architecture is anonymous architecture. It does not include the great monuments of the past, such as the Egyptian pyramids and the grandeur in stone that was ancient Rome. Planned and built by great masters craftsmen with labour of thousands, they are important to us, not only because they survived the ravages of centuries and millenia, but also because they bear witness to building techniques, aesthetics and political/social systems of the distant past. On the other end of the scale is the so-called vernacular architecture - architecture of the people. These are simple dwellings, constructed for temporary use, dedicated to uses such as storage of food and tools, and for permanent habitation, as shelter for man and his animals.

Buildings were constructed by skilled men, experts in their field - for local people, from local materials. They had no formal study or training, they acquired their skill through experience, guided by necessities of survival, by using their common sense and their hands. They made use of tools, which they made themselves and constructed their buildings with natural materials at hand.

This ethnological heritage of Slovenian countryside consists today of selected rural settlements, market towns, homesteads, residential and farm buildings and also landscape planning related to buildings. Deterioration of traditional lifestyles and desertion of the land have threatened the preservation of architectural heritage. However there is a strong movement towards preservation of such monuments of ethnological heritage and great value is placed on buildings that have remained.

Vernacular architecture is conditioned and defined by building materials used, climate and social and historical circumstances. Slovenia has a highly diverse countryside, on a junction of the Alpine, Pannonian, Dinaric, and Mediterranean zones. Its situation confirms Slovenia as a mini-Europe, where in a scarce 20000sq km Alpine, Mediterranean and Pannonian cultural influences and materials meet, providing an extraordinarily varied vernacular architecture, as it adapts to the varied landscapes. Thus we recognize four main architectural regions: Alpine, Pannonian Plain, Central Slovenia and Coastal Slovenia with Karst and four types of architecture. We can also say that Slovenia exists on two levels: the plains and the hill country. Even the Adriatic coast rises immediately, in the Julian Alps as high as 2864 metres.

Three types of natural building materials have been chiefly used: clay, wood and stone. Unburned clay as in pounded walls is still in use today, but more important for architecture are bricks, in construction, and also as 'window nets', serving a decorative function on house fronts. Wood as building material is accessible and easy to treat, very suitable for constructions, with long life in smart use, extremely nice in decoration (in the best of architecture, construction and decoration merge).

Stone is used for building in Western Slovenia, spreading from the coast to the Triglav. In the south stone is used exclusively, in colder regions it is combined with wood: wood for the living quarters, stone for construction of the house.

The flat country in the north/east of Slovenia, is referred to as the Panonian plain. It borders on Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Continental climate with strong winds, good and fruitful soil for fields and vineyards and clay as the major building material characterise this less developed part of the country.

Central Slovenia is mostly hilly country, connecting flat areas with Alpine world, the Karst and Adriatic seaboard, with the hilly continental core of Slovenia. Flat-type architecture is characteristic of its south-eastern borderland, stone constructions typical of the areas approaching the Adriatic seaboard, sometimes displaying Alpine details.

Coastal part with Karst is particularly interesting, because it connects stone constructions on the coast and in the Karst region with wooden architecture on the other side of the Alps.

Alpine type of building can be seen in some narrow valleys with high peaks: architecture here is modest, tending in places towards self-sufficient large farmstead, due to inaccessibility during winter months. Very important are buildings dedicated to temporary use, far from the farmstead, such as shepherd's huts during summer months.Elements of architecture are as follows: walls in wood are mostly block building, sometimes free or with lime covering, even with clay plaster. Stone architecture is made of half-cut stones, with mortar. Brick walls are always rendered with plaster.

Houses are mostly painted white, with the exception of the Panonian plain where they use strong colours: blue, green or red on the front and sides, dull brown or grey at the back. Roofs are always one to one or 45 degrees, except in Karst and on the coast, where tiles are laid on a gentler incline, about 24 degrees. In these areas thatched roofs, made of locally grown straw used to be common, but are hardly seen today. In the Alps we still find roofs covered with wooden shingles, laid in a variety of laying styles. Stone plates are also common, in Alps as well as in the coastal areas. Except for the coast, gables are commonly made with wooden planks. In the Alps balconies are a common feature, often covered with flowers.

Slovenia has a rich architectural tradition, of the baroque, mediaeval and Roman periods, which is significant by European standards. However, the vernacular tradition is the most interesting and also the most characteristically "Slovenian" aspect of the country's architectural heritage, rich in its variety and simple beauty, rich in its history.


Juvanec, Borut, Istrski kažun (Europe) - The Istrian Kažun (Europe), Rural Arcitecture,, USA
Juvanec, Borut, Kozolec :  raziskava : kratka verzija,  Univerza v Ljubljani, Ljubljana, 2000