It may have been billed by Lonely Planet as one of the 'must see' locations in Slovenia, but I was simply unprepared for the exquisite gem that is the Church of the Holy Trinity in Hrastovlje. Set amid vineyards and fortified by ancient honey coloured walls, the external simplicity of the 12th century exterior is misleading once you experience the riot of detail within.
I have a passion for Romanesque churches and naive frescoes, so when I read that Hrastovlje's frescoes featured a 'dance macabre' (the 'Dance of Death', which was such a central theme of plague-ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages), I took no more convincing - the bigger challenge was persuading the family that they wanted to stop off to visit some old church on the way to the beach on a sweltering day!
The frescoes cover almost every inch of the interior and are utterly breathtaking. They date back to the 15th century, but had been painted over, only being reexposed in the mid 20th century. Although they have been lovingly restored, they are understandably extremely fragile, and so no photography is allowed. They were designed to be 'read' by a congregation that would have been almost entirely illiterate, and once you take the time to get your eye in, you can start to interpret what are still universal themes about Man's relationship with God and the universe.
The nature themes are particularly strong, and even small children (under close supervision!) can have fun identifying the different animals. It is my experience that small people have a highly developed sense of the macabre, and so they took great delight in identifying the different figures being lead by the skeleton in the Dance of Death, from the child to the cripple to the rich man trying to buy his way out of his fate!
There are no differences... you could be a king or a ordinary cityzen, you could be a beggar or a child, you cold be a pope or a mearchant... It's all the same! THE DEATH WILL COME AFTER YOU AND THERE IS NO WAY TO ESCAPE.
The landscape around Hrastovlje is typical of the Karst region : lime stone with cliffs on the heights, covered by forests in the lower parts, with scattered little villages.
Photo 1 shows a thick cover of forest and in the background a viaduct of the Highway.
Photo 2 shows the nearest hamlet to Hrastovlje, under a rocky area, almost a cliff.
Photo 3 shows another hamlet, under a cliff.