The Solitary Mountains that Saw Bonaparte’s Rise and the Axis Powers’ Fall

Fort Hermann
Fort Hermann

Riley Arthur, a National Geographic grantee, traveled to Slovenia to do a documentation on the Erased, about 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically acknowledged as citizens of the country after its split with Yugoslavia in 1991. Years have passed but this group is still on a continuous fight for documentation.

Riley not only looked at the people but the places where they lived – the mountains surrounding them which happened to witness the rise of an emperor and the fall of one of WWII’s key players.

This was her account about the solitary mountains which stood witness to the rise of Bonaparte and the fall of the Axis Powers.

The Story

Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park, vaunts about its picturesque landscape and how its mountains are swanked with military history, from Napoleon’s exploits up to World War II.

During the reign of the Romans, the estate was an Italian territory but throughout the years until WWII, some of the region’s territories which bordered Italy and Slovenia have changed. These areas’ are rich in relics – mostly from WWI – and the mainly rocky mounds were witnesses to battles over a period of thousands of years.

A white water kayaker in the Soča River. (National Geographic Photo; Riley A. Arthur)
A white water kayaker in the Soča River. (National Geographic Photo; Riley A. Arthur)

One of the park’s famous rivers is the Soča River (Emerald Beauty). Its waters are a combination of beautiful sparkling turquoise and emerald hues, so arresting to the eyes and popular to white water rafting daredevils.

The Napoleon Bridge above the Soča River (National Geographic Photo; Riley A Arthur)
The Napoleon Bridge above the Soča River (National Geographic Photo; Riley A Arthur)

Above the blue-green-watered river is the Napoleon Bridge, so strategically placed it has seen countless of battles over the centuries since it was put up. It was first built as a wooden bridge but the Venetians destroyed it in 1616. It was built again, this time in stone, in 1750 and shortly after its completion, Napoleon’s troops marched across it, thus, it was named after him.

The Austrians blew up that bridge come WWI but the Italians rebuilt it using iron and wood. During the Second World War, the Partisan Army stood up to defend it. Since then, the Napoleon Bridge had been restored to its original structure – as a stone bridge; there are also other bridge structures in the region named after the emperor.

The region’s Napoleonic history includes folklore of the emperor’s army on horseback falling into their death after the collapse of one wooden bridge. The story remains unproven but when one looks over the steep cliffs of the said location of the story with the wintry waters hundreds of feet below, one couldn’t help but feel the chills.

Kluze Fortress
Kluže Fortress

Just beside this said legendary bridge is the Kluže Fortress.

It was first built in the 15th century as a territorial defense against the Turks. However, that edifice was burned down to the ground by Napoleon’s troops in 1797. It was built again in 1882. After WWII, the fortress was deemed unimportant so it fell into disrepair over the years.

It was not until 1989 that it was given attention and renovated to be a tourist destination. Currently, it contains a small tourist office, a presentation of the fortress’ history and the areas surrounding it, a local gallery devoted to showcasing local work of arts and a wedding hall.

The fortress also regularly showcases WWII reenactments.

Fort Hermann
Fort Hermann (National Geographic Photo; Riley A Arthur)

Beside the fortress is Fort Hermann which stands on top of the cliffs. It was built in 1909 for the First World War but was destroyed in 1915. The short walk to the fort starts in a dark tunnel cut through the mountain. The short hike was quite extreme given the loose rocks but generally, it was not that difficult to get over with.

Before reaching the fort’s summit, one has to pass a cement pillbox which overlooks the mountains and the Kluže Fortress below – an amazing sight. And though the fort has been left to decay for over years now, what is left of the site can still bring out strong emotions of what it had been like back then, being stationed in this outpost surrounded by all these mountains.

Miss Arthur was privileged to stay at a friend’s house, a local in the area. He eagerly recounted stories of how his grandfather, on his own in his teens, supported his family by collecting metal scraps left from WWI and WWII. he also recounted how this same man closely cheated death in WWII when he fled to the mountains he knew so well after Italian soldiers killed the family who hid him in their barn. This local’s house, built by the grandfather, had WWI mementos displayed all over – Bullets and buckles family members found in the area.

The Julian Alps region, part of the Triglav National park, was the site of over twelve skirmishes during WWI and where approximately 300,000 troops was believed to have died. Miss Arthur was not able to find any statistics for the Napoleonic battles the occurred within the region or WWII fatalities but looking at the august mountains and the beauty surrounding it, one could not help but be doubtful if the area had been anything but peaceful back in these times.

“No picture that I’ve seen or taken really do the region justice. This area is a must for history buffs, hikers, climbers, white water rafters, kayakers; or for someone like me with curiosity to learn more about a country with so much beauty and history that has until now been slightly over looked by its better known neighbors,” Miss Arthur wrote to conclude the account of her journey in these solitary mountains.

The National Geographic reports

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE