There is no place in the world that would not search for the roots of its existence and try as much as possible to paint a comprehensive picture of its beginnings, though still wrapped in a veil of mystery. There is at least a little bit of truth in every story, even in the most incredible ones. And it is true that, in this area, people first settled in the surrounding hills; it was only later on, after coal was discovered, that they moved into the valley - archaeological finds from different historical periods testify to this.
In the sixth century, the Illyrian and Celtic cultures, whose genes we still carry, made way for the Pre-Slavic people - our direct ancestors. It was here along the Sava River that the early Slavic tribes, who had already adapted to life in this hilly place, managed to resist the German Bavarian tribe for a certain amount of time; however, it was not destined for them to finalize the development of their nationality. The Galls, which moved here from Bavaria, and the Gallenberg counts that followed later on, left their mark on this area for several centuries by acquiring large states and “suppressing” or virtually enslaving a large number of the peasant population.
Both the Gamberk Castle (Gallenberg) and the Medija Castle (Galleneck) were built by the Galls. The Gamberk Castle was one of the strongest castles in the territory of present day Slovenia; the rocks were brought in from elsewhere, reportedly even from Croatia. Since the provincial court of justice was near the castle, it had a prison and gallows. The castle supposedly had a secret passage that led into the valley, through which they were able to obtain food - particularly during the Turkish siege. It was alas destroyed in the 19th century, yet its ruins still testify to its greatness.
The Medija Castle does not have such a tumultuous history, but it is known for the fact that, during the 16th and 17th century, it belonged to the Valvasor family. The well-known baron Janez Vajkard Valvasor, thanks to whom we know a great deal about our history, was a descendant of this family. If the Gamberk Castle was never conquered by the Turks, according to Valvasor’s testimony, the millet fields by the Medija Castle were never swarmed by sparrows until the millet has been harvested. This was supposedly because a witch had cast a spell on the castle. It is not known for sure whether Valvasor, who spent a great deal of time at his father’s castle, truly used the secret underground passage to go take a dip in the healing spring at the present day Medija spa, nor has it been historically proven that Janez Vajkard Valvasor was in fact buried in the family tomb in the castle chapel. In Zagorje, we believe this is so and, as far as we are concerned, it would be better left that way. The Medija Castle held out for a longer amount of time than the Gamberk Castle, but was eventually defeated during World War II, when it was destroyed by the Partisans.
There are 32 churches in the municipality of Zagorje ob Savi. Many of them are associated with various myths and legends; one such legend is that of the mountain named Sveta gora, which says that, once upon a time, wonders were happening on the mountain and that the symbol of a cross under the church even chased the Turks away. Churches were built in places where there were cramped villages and only few were situated in completely isolated places. Most of them date back to the early-to-mid-16th century, which is when most of the villages and hamlets known of today were built. But there are also much older ones, such as the church in Tirna which dates back to 1154, or the church in Čemšenik which dates back to 1184; this is not at all unusual since the Vicariate of Čemšenik was first mentioned in 1296. The present day view of Zagorje, with a magnificent church and bell tower on the hill overlooking the town, is pretty much the same as in 1873, but before that, three churches once stood on the same spot. The first one was built in the mid-15th century, and it is said that, prior to this, a chapel named the Ravbar chapel stood there. As the centuries turned and the congregation grew in number, the church became too small, so it was decided to tear down the old church and build a new one; this was repeated over and over again until the last one was built, for which they even had to lower and broaden the hill on which it stands.
A special chapter in our history is, of course, reserved for mining. What was once the deepest brown coal mine in Europe (262 meters below sea level) is now no more; it was shut down on the last Friday of July 1996. But perhaps the stories about the everyday life of miners and their families are more interesting than the information about the million tons of coal excavated and the miles of tunnels dug. A completely new and unknown culture of life had been formed, shaping the slightly crude yet good-natured soul of Zagorje
But perhaps the stories about the everyday life of miners and their families are more interesting than the information about the million tons of coal excavated and the miles of tunnels dug. A completely new and unknown culture of life had been formed, shaping the slightly crude yet good-natured soul of Zagorje. Even the dwellings looked different than the previously known farmhouses. The number of workers was growing, the families were growing and it was necessary to provide them all with accommodation. A typical example of this is the workers’ colony with low houses that looked like a military base, but made it possible to accommodate a large number of people in a relatively small area. The apartments were quite small with just one-room for the whole family to squeeze in. The larger, two-roomed apartments were given to the supervisors and foremen. Each apartment had its own kitchen, while the toilets, wood-fired ovens and water wells were collectively shared. In other parts, larger multi-family residential houses were built with equally low living standards; the apartments were free of charge so that they could get miners to come there and do the hard work. The buildings were often given very picturesque names (e.g. “puršenhaus” - where single miners lived or “ajmohthaus” - the Abyssinia settlement).
The mine was the centre of everything, it even had its own mining school and it wasn’t long before they had formed a coal miner’s brass band and miner’s choir. Village feasts and celebrations were a popular way for the villagers to relax and enjoy themselves; however, in these areas, it was common for fights to break out at such events. There was no good celebration without a good fight. It only took one “raufmajster” or brawler to shout “Aufbiks!” (a call to fight) and fists were already flying. Pay day was also a special day. The miners were fairly well-behaved visitors at the taverns, but when “colnga” or salary day came, they knew how to be pretty wild. They say you could tell how good a salary was received that month on the basis of the fights. If there were no brawls or fights, they had definitely received a poor salary that month. For a while, the authorities even forbade the tavern owners to be open on salary day. This was all part of the miner’s folklore, as a very unique and very witty sense of humour. “I am not afraid of work. I can even fall asleep next to it!” was something they liked to say. The miners knew many “fokslov” or jokes, some of which could be quite crude -especially when making joking on their co-workers’ behalf. Many of them were invented in the “vašhava” or miners’ bathroom, where they came to shower after a hard “šiht” or working day.
The blame for many a woe was often placed on the legendary cave dwarf named Perkmandeljc. In the original legend, the giant dwarf showed the people of Zagorje where the precious rocks were hidden in the ground; but, in the more recent version, he is a small and mischievous yet good-natured dwarf who lives underground and plays tricks on miners. He would eat or hide their lunch and scare them, but he didn’t cause them any harm. In fact, the miners were quite fond of him because he supposedly warned them of danger; and he was also a handy excuse when a trick was played on someone. They simply blamed Perkmandeljc for everything.