Lake Bled and its legends

“None of Slovenian water bodies compares to Lake Bled,” wrote limnologist Špela Remec Rekar in the journal titled Bled 1000 Years.

She is right. The lake, a remnant of the once majestic Bohinj Glacier, is situated in the triangle between the rivers Sava Bohinjka, Sava Dolinka and Radovna.

Barvito in megleno jutro Bled- Ales Krivec.jpg© Aleš Krivec

Understandably, the beauty of the lake sparked many legends and tales that have survived to the present day. In one, the reason behind the creation of the lake was God’s wrath. To punish the shepherds who had allowed their cattle to graze around St Mary’s Church, God surrounded the church with water.

Experts say that in the past Lake Bled was twice its present size. It was known for thermal springs distributed along the eastern shore of the lake. Early written sources report a total of seven springs, four of them potentially suitable for human use. Janez Vajkard Valvasor mentioned the springs in his books, saying that a few springs were destroyed by the castle caretaker Krištof Weidman who wanted to avoid having to host frequent visits from castle lords (cf. Bled 1000 Years). Other than that, the first studies of the springs date back to the 18th century. Grand Hotel Toplice, the best-known and the most luxurious hotel in Bled, was constructed near one of the springs, and still operates its own thermal water bathing area. The then-owner of the Toplice, Ms. Jula Molnar, built a Roman-style spa, which was fed by the water coming from a rock.

The beginnings of tourism in Bled are also associated with pilgrims. The visitors’ book at the Bled Island recorded around 16,000 signatures in the period 1867 – 1879, or 1300 visitors per year! That means that in the second half of the 19th century, the Bled Island was already visited by more than one thousand people per year.

zgodovina-pletna

Another legend that is revived every year on Christmas Day by the Bled Tourist Board is the Legend of the Sunken Bell, which was the inspiration for the ‘wishing bell’ on the Bled Island.

Bled – the image of paradise, or Imago Paradisi, is the slogan Bled has been known by since the late 20th century, but the people of Bled have lived with this awareness at least since the 5th century AD. Early settlers converted to Christianity even before the arrival of  the Slavs, as is demonstrated through the ancient symbol of a peacock, or the bird of paradise, depicted on a brooch originating from the 6th or 7th century, which was recovered from the archaeological site Pristava in 1949.

Huberto-Siroka-Rajska-ptica-Bled-Local-selection-Tomo-Jesenicnik-9© Tomo Jeseničnik

The peacock is a symbol of immortality, eternal life and endless spring. The temple on the island was consecrated to the goddess Živa, an Old Slavic goddess of life and fertility, and was later replaced by St. Mary Church. Živa is one of the oldest deities, normally depicted with a an ear of wheat in one hand and an apple in the other, a true personification of life.

As the research of Andrej Pleterski is summarized in the journal Bled 1000 Years, Slavs established their own community in the area of Bled. “The central element of Slavic cosmology is the ritual angle of 23.5 degrees. This angle connects three sacred places consecrated to the gods of light and darkness that maintain the fragile balance between the two forces.” In line with this concept, Slavs worshipped a female deity on the island, the Straža hill was governed by god Triglav or Dabog, and Dobra gora was dedicated to the god of the sky and thunder, Perun.

Bled_jesenske_Jost_Gantar_MALA (18).jpg© Jošt Gantar

In his book The Cultural Genome (source), Andrej Pleterski states that Bled is “one of the most comprehensively studied and researched mythical landscapes”. One of its best-known local legends was immortalized in France Prešeren's Baptism at the Savica, which talks about a temple to goddess Živa at the Bled Island. Andrej Pleterski also mentions another interesting fact:

“It is less known that during the Second World War the charismatic image of the Bled Island motivated the head of the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) Heinrich Himmler to start making plans to build a temple with a golden statue of Wotan, the father of gods in the western Germanic mythology. The altar in the church on the island was to become a place where the most important leaders of the new Third Reich would exchange blood oaths following a special protocol.” (Pleterski, 2014)

In Bled it is widely believed that when taking a walk around the lake, one should always make sure their heart is facing the land rather than the water and that such a walk, when made at dawn or sunset, is a spiritual act that will fill the person with special energy.

Bled-jesenske-Jost-Gantar-MALA-1© Jošt Gantar

The belief that Bled is an image of paradise has been with us for over two thousand years, and is forever immortalized by France Prešeren in his famous lines No, Carniola has no prettier scene, than this, resembling paradise serene.”

This year Bled will focus its efforts on the creation and upkeep of theme trails, which also offer a look into the world of Bled legends and tales. A new theme trail intended primarily for families offers 6 stops around the lake that showcase Bled's cultural and natural attractions and point to the importance of nature protection for future generations. The trail, called Zlatorogova pot (Goldhorn's Trail) uses gamification to teach children and parents about the role of nature conservation. It is an original and fun way to learn more about local attractions, cultural and natural heritage and experience one of most famous fairytales through the eyes of children's imagination. Having solved all tasks, children will beat the lake monster. Equally appealing and exciting are the Godrnjačeva pot (Glumble Bear Trail) and Začarani gozd (Enchanted Forest) on the Hom hill near Zasip.