Cerkno is the administrative, economic, and cultural center of the Cerkno region, which has 4811 inhabitants (2017). It lies 324 m above sea level in a valley where the Primorska region borders on the neighboring Gorenjska region, between the Alpine and the Dinaric areas. The Cerkno hills (Slov. Cerkljansko hribovje) are a part of the foothills of the Alps, which continues in the direction of the Dinaric area. Natural passes from the Poljane and Selca valleys lead across this area towards the valleys of the Idrijca and Soča rivers.
The Cerkno region was inhabited even before Christ in the time of the Illyrians and Celts. They were followed by the Romans who used the trade route that connected the Škofja Loka and Cerkno regions with the Tolmin and Friuli regions. In the 7th century Slavs migrated through the Cerkno region from the Škofja Loka hills towards the Soča valley and the Friuli region. The Cerkno region was first mentioned in written records in the 2nd half of the 11th century.
The oldest traces of human settlement in the Cerkno region go back as far as prehistory. Evidence for this can be found at the Divje Babe archaeological site in the steep slopes above the Idrijca valley, where precious remains of ice-age humans (stone tools) and many bones of cave bears were found in a karstic cave. The most important find is the 55,000-year-old Neanderthal flute, the oldest instrument ever found in the world.
From the 11th to the 14th centuries the secular ruler of this area and the neighboring Tolmin region was the Patriarchate of Aquileia. The urbarium of Tolmin was written during this time (1377). From 1420 to 1509, Cerkno was under Venetian administration and then annexed to the Habsburg estates in the County of Gorizia until the beginning of the 20th century. In the time of Austria-Hungary Cerkno was a market town and the seat of a local court and tax collector’s office.
After WWI, in 1920, the Rapallo border between Italy and Yugoslavia became final and Cerkno became a part of Italy. After Italy’s capitulation during WWII Cerkno was for a long time the center of an extensive territory liberated by the partisans.
There is a special monument near Cerkno visited by ten thousands of visitors nowadays – the legendary Franja Partisan Hospital. It is hidden in the picturesque Pasice valley and is one of the rare reconstructed and preserved hospitals from those that were active in Slovenia during WWII. It has been entered into the World Heritage Tentative List at UNESCO and bears the European Heritage Label.