Grad Strmol in Upper Carniola, Slovenia

A 13th century Social Legacy.

Picturesquely set against the steep hill Dvorje,  Strmol is one of the castles in Kranjska region (Upper Carniola), which has throughout retained its Slovenian name. In German texts it appears simply as a transcription of the Slovenian name, variously as Stermol, Stermöll, Stermoll or Stermull in German, and Stermol in Latin.


Strmolski knights appeared in the records in the second half of the 13th century and were in the 14th century an essential part of the social life in their sphere, from the Velesovo to Kamnik. At the end of the 14th century they carried the name of their castle also to the neighbouring Štajerska (Styria), where it accompanied them until the beginning of the 16th century. They were succeeded by a related family of the knights of Breg, the Rain family in the middle of the 15th century,


The Rain family was based at Strmol around 1458 - 1634. Like the Strmolski family they were landed nobility that bought and sold farms, gave them as dowry to their daughters, gifted the church with them. Members of the family entered church and monasteries.


In 1643 the Baron Konrad III von Ruessenstein bought the Strmol castle for the sum of 13,750 gulden. He came from the castle Hmeljnik in Carinthia, belonging to a well-to-do merchant and landowning family, ennobled in 1602, and raised into the baronial estate in 1631, acquiring the appellation von Ruessenstein.  For a number of years Konrad III carried out important administrative offices, such as the Chief Justice of the Provincial Estates. In 1643 he retired with his second wife to Strmol Castle to pursue at leisure his interests in nature science and alchemy. He was by all accounts a colourful baroque personality. Surprisingly he was godfather to Johann Weichard Valvasor, born in 1641 and baptized in the church of St. Nicholas. He died in 1668 at Strmol, leaving a wife and several children. His wife survived him by 15 years.


Valvasor showed considerable interest in Strmol Castle, writing at length also about its situation with high mountains on one side, and pleasant level fields. When Konrad von Suessenstein bought it, it was an uncomfortable antiquated residence surrounded by bare walls and towers. He renovated and transformed it. In the interior there were now handsome rooms, outside a pleasant path shadowed by leafy trees was created for walking. A water reservoir was constructed, feeding four fishponds. In the castle there was also a chapel, supposedly so holy that the devil was rendered completely powerless in it, and people were known to be freed from the evil spirit there. The castle had the reputation of being haunted. Voices were supposedly heard on Christmas Eve, of ghosts counting money or throwing heavy objects about. Cecilia, Konrad's youngest daughter was said to have heard lovely music from the chapel one evening and died soon afterwards.  A bluish mist arose from the ground and the water reservoir in humid rainy weather. Several times, just before the publication of Valvasor's The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, flaming meteorites were seen on the nearby hills, and lightening often struck in the mountains.


Valvasor correctly surmised that the area was rich in minerals. Konrad tried his hand at mining and struck a gold vein soon after he first moved to Strmol. The vein disappeared after some 25 metres, and the folk opinion was, that dwarfs caused its disappearance. Valvasor rightly maintained that such beings have nothing to do with natural phenomena, which are God's creation.


Konrad III died in 1668, and was survived by his widow Ana Katerina by 15 years.

Konrad's son Henrik Konrad pursued similar interests, hobbies and lifestyle, but was a careless manager of his property. He spent his life digging for gold and studying alchemy. Due to his debts, he had to leave Strmol in 1702, and spent years in legal proceedings in attempts to get it back. The legal battle lasted 48 years, long after he died. When it was finally resolved, his descendants received some compensation.


Around the turn of the 18th century the Strmol Castle became connected with families Dietrich and Urbančič, when Martin Urbančič married Konstanca Dietrich, the daughter of Franc Ksaver Dietrich, the 19th century owner of the Strmol seigneury. At that time the estate passed over into the hands of Alojz Urbančič, nephew of Franz Ksaver Dietrich; he had bought the property on 4th April 1769 at an auction from baron Michelangelo Zois, for 19,000 gulden.


The castle Strmol finally came into the hands of Edvard Urbančič. When he died in 1899, his two sons inherited it and sold it to Jožef Jenko, grammar school teacher and owner of the manor in Grad near Cerklje for 35,550 gulden. Subsequently the property was in dispute and under management. After the death of their uncle Vincent Dietrich, his Urbančič nephews, Alojz, Janko and Fidelis shared equally in the ownership of the castle Strmol and sold it at an auction. It was bought by Alojz Urbančič for 23,100 gulden.


Rado Hribar, the last private possessor of the Strmol castle, came from a known Ljubljana family of Dragotin Hribar a Slovenian printer, industrialist, politician and follower of Pan-Slavic ideas. He bought Strmol in 1936 from Marija Fuchs, widow of Klemen Fuchs (1850-1929). He was a wealthy man, who spent a great deal of money in transforming Strmol into a beautiful residence of a man of taste, lover of the arts and supporter of the artists. He gathered around him many writers and painters. He was also a keen hunter and kept hunting dogs that he was extremely fond of. He married Ksenia Gorup, an exceptional woman, who was the first woman in Yugoslavia to hold a pilot's licence. A sophisticated couple, they were also unpretentious, generous and warm towards the people who worked for them. They led a lively social life, visited by friends and relatives, some of them staying for longer periods. The Ljubljana mayor, Ivan Hribar was a regular guest, and they called him uncle, although he was only a distant relation. Rado Hribar had many German pre-war acquaintances, who visited him at Strmol during the German occupation. He used his influence, whenever he could, in some cases to save lives. In one case he was able to stop a villager from being shot as a hostage. A true patriot, he supported and was in contact with the freedom fighters. By the people who worked for them they are still remembered with warmth and gratitude for their generosity, friendliness and humanity.


Both died under tragic circumstances, tortured and killed by partisans in 1944, accused of treason and collaboration with the German occupator.


After the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was established at the end WW II, Rado Hribar's properties were confiscated and nationalized. Edvard Kardelj and Matija Maček, leaders in the new government decided to take over the castle and put guards on it. This meant that the castle was not robbed and destroyed like many others after the war. In the beginning it served as holiday retreat for the executive council of Slovenian government. Later it became a protocol residence.


The inheritance proceedings of the Strmol and other property only took place in 1993. The brothers Svetozar and Peter or their descendants shared the inheritance. At present the castle Strmol has been established as a place of national heritage, open to viewing by the public and as a state service facility of the Yugoslav and later Slovenian governments, for conferences, and with accommodation for over twenty people.


Strmol Castle contains remnants of the wonderful collections of art and art objects, unique pieces of 18th century furniture, paintings, ceramics, silverware, glassware, the largest collection of oriental carpets on Slovenian territory, from Persia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Caucasus, mostly dated in the 19th and 20th century.


2 Kronika 54. Iz zgodovine gradu Strmol na Gorenjskem, by Lidija Slana, 2006 (Eng. From the history of the Castle Strmol in Upper Carniola)

The author gives a short survey of the owners of the castle and the estate Strmol in Gorenjska (Upper Carniola) from the 13th century when the knights of Strmol were first mentioned, till the end of the 2nd World War when the castle and the estate were nationalised and entered into the service of the State.

Strmol coat-of-arms with two sickles preserved from 1319, appeared on a number of documents.