Zaplana: the Birthplace of Dragons

Vast, deep forests of Zaplana plateau, some 30 km southwest of Ljubljana, are a mysterious place. A place where dragons live – and are born. So where better to fly a kite – incidentally, the Slovene word for kite, zmaj means dragon (as it does in many other languages) – than here!

Do dragons really fly above these forests?

In the religion of Old Slavs, chthonic god Veles – seen sometimes as a serpent or a dragon – inhabits the underground; he is both an antagonist of light and a protector of herds, a stereotypical villan and a keeper of clean waters.

Beehives, meadows, and forests

So when people found a baby dragon – an offspring of a god – in a spring flowing out of a cave, they would bring it back, for they didn’t want to risk the ire of Veles.

And baby dragons did they find. On the slopes of Zaplana plateau there is an interesting intermittent spring called Lintvern, from German Lindwurm, meaning dragon, specifically, a wyvern. A karstic curiosity and a protected natural monument the spring can be completely dry, only for the water to gush out the next moment with great force. Seemingly unrelated to rain the people thought a dragon – a Lintvern – was responsible for this erratic water flow. And when they found his little offspring in the stream, they were sure: here be dragons. Valvasor wrote about the baby dragons in his Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, so it must be true!

Sure, Lintvern spring is just a siphon-effect rhythm spring, not a dragon-controlled water wonder, and that ‘baby dragon’ was of course the Olm, the famous cave-dwelling salamander (nicknamed ‘human fish’ for its colour), the largest cave animal in the world, that was occasionally flushed out of its cave beneath the spring.

Baby dragon – Olm (Proteus anguinus) – that lives in the caves of Zaplana. Photo Alex Hyde, courtesy of Postonjska jama

But even for our fact-loving brains Zaplana plateau remains a magical place. Deep forests, fairy meadows, old orchards, caves and springs create a unique natural ensemble, full of life. Wolves, jackals and lynxes pass through the forests, wild cats live here, various birds of prey patrol the skies, and you can hear the rattling of doormouses and owl calls at night. For botanical souls there are orchids to be found, and many rare and protected plants adorn the meadows of Zaplana. It is a true green experience.

And there are other stuff to explore. An ancient Roman wall Claustra Alpium Iuliarum can still be seen in places, guarding the approaches to Rome. More recent defensive wall called Rupnik line, a Kingdom of Yugoslavia fortified border with Italy offers concrete bunkers, caverns and guard posts to an intrepid explorer.

Zaplana is a very relaxing place. Even the famous Slovene politician Janez Drnovšek, former prime minister and president, chose its tranquility and near-remoteness to spend his last years here relaxing, recharging, and reminiscing.

So come. Get in touch with Nature. Listen to the wind howling through the tree crowns, to the birds singing and crickets cricketing. Lay among the flowers and watch the clouds pass above you.


All kite aerial photos shot with Nikon P330 on a delta kite.

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