The man behind the counter at Ptuj Castle suggested I begin my tour at a display of costumes and masks from Slovenian folk traditions and tales. “But I have to warn you,” he said. “Just the other day a man told me it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen.” He shook his head when I laughed. “I’m not kidding. The guy was practically shaking when he left.”
Curious, I wandered among abominable snowman-like creatures with feathered headdresses, devils with long red tongues, headless hens, and old women carrying old men in baskets strapped to their backs. Believed to assure good luck and productive crops, for centuries these scary looking magical beings were known only to rural villagers in the northeast corner of the country, especially around Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia. Each spring, they would make their appearance during a three-day carnival, or Kurentovanje, which commenced exactly 46 days before Easter. Read More
Click on above photo to view it in large format: One of four dragons that adorn the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia. One legend says that the city was founded by Jason, who, along with his Argonauts, slew the dragon. Another legend insists that the dragons wag their tales when a virgin crosses the bridge.
Perhaps it was my imagination. The lavender harvest had been completed two weeks earlier, but as I trudged up the hill in temperatures hovering near the century mark, the air still seemed redolent with the herb’s rich, musky fragrance. At the top, I swiped rivulets of sweat out of my eyes and gazed out over Hungary’s Pannonian Plain, a view that has been enjoyed by the monastic community at Pannonhalma Benedictine Abbey for more than a thousand years.
In AD 529, sickened by the immorality of Roman society, Saint Benedict withdrew to the countryside to live as a hermit. Several years later, with the aid of a few disciples, he built a small monastery in Monte Cassino, Italy, where he wrote the rules for his community: monks must keep a docile heart, be obedient, desire a simple life, and practice chastity. Their lives would be based on prayer, spiritual reading, and labor. Read More
Click on above photo to view it in large format: The library at the Benedictine Pannonhalma Abbey, founded in 996. The library holds more than 360,000 volumes, and the ceiling of its oval hall is painted with allegories of the four medieval university faculties: Law, Theology, Medicine and the Arts.