The Local Community of Straža: the villages next to and above the Idrijca river

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TThe Local Community of Straža, which is being presented here, is comprised of four villages, which are in a way being united by the Idrijca river. The villages of Straža and Reka lie on both sides of this watercourse and you will reach Jagršče if you cross the bridge across the Idrijca river at Želin and then climb up high into its left bank. The village of Police is located on a “shelf” above the right bank and above the small village of Laze.

There is proof in written records that the villages already existed centuries ago, Police as the first already in 1275. All four are mentioned in the land register of Tolmin in 1377: Reka as Reycha, Police as Poliça, Jagršče as Jagodisca, and Straža, with parts of the village called Želin (Ciglino), Gorenja Mlaka, and Dolenja Mlaka (Mlacha superiori, Mlacha inferiori). Precisely the latter has remained the most scattered and without a true center until today because of its location on the slopes of five different hills. According to folk tradition the current name of the village, Straža (Eng. Watch), stems from the time of the Turkish invasions. According to local lore, residents are supposed to have warned each other about the arrival of Turkish troops by burning bonfires on the hill where the village Church of St. Paul stands – they were standing watch. The oral tradition about Police claims that all former residents died in a plague and the empty village was then repopulated by Gypsies.

According to the data of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, 244 residents lived in the area of the entire local community in 2015 (25 in Jagršče, 22 in Police, 76 in Reka and 121 in Straža). After WWII, Jagršče and Police were strongly marked by their remote location and difficult accessibility. The only way to get there was a narrow and steep access road for a long time. It is different today, since there is an asphalt road to both villages, but poor access to employment in the valley decades ago resulted in heavy emigration and a decrease in the size of the population.

Jagršče

Jagršče is a compact settlement above the valley of Idrijca with a wonderful view of the area. You can only suspect it is there from the main Idrija – Tolmin road, as the houses are on the sunny side of the ridge under the village Church of St. Ursula and even lower down the fields open up and spread out. From Jagršče paths lead on to the villages of Šebrelje, Idrijske Krnice, and Stržnica. Many interesting hiking and cycling paths of differing difficulty levels lead to and out of the village and also towards the village of Reka, and many individual farmhouses (Jablanica, Mažgon, Burja, and more).

As an interesting fact let us mention that the ruins of an old church from 1493 are visible “in the field” under the church and a memorial chapel with photos of all villagers who lost their lives during WWII stands at the crossroads above the village.

To Jagršče in a basket

Proof that the long, narrow, and steep path to the Jagršče village used to be a big obstacle is the following anecdote from the times under Italian rule. A well-known local eccentric called Frohtar used to carry various things in his basket on the way back from Želin to Jagršče for the local pub or for the shop. His real name was Franc Kacin and he got his nickname after the non-standard word for the word freight – “froht”. As in all other villages in the Cerkno region there was a school also in Jagršče then, into which an Italian teacher was sent to teach. She lingered in the company of Italian officers at the inn in Želin and started to worry about how she was going to reach the village. The officers consoled her and told her that Frohtar was going to carry her if no other way was found. He really was asked for the favor and in return for payment he promptly promised to do it and, of course, accomplished his task as well. He later liked to boast in front of others about the important cargo that he carried to Jagršče.

Police

We can reach Police from two directions: from the road towards the Bukovo village (the exit is in Laharn) or from Šentviška Gora. Church administration allocates it to the age-old parish of Šentviška Gora and thus to the deanery of Tolmin. The main attraction in the village is the Church of St. Mary, as the bell tower was built separate from the church building, inside of which there are frescoes made by painter Jernej from Loka in the 16th century.

The village houses are tucked under the base of Poliške Krnice and the church stands on a piece of flat land in the middle of fields. Under the village flows the Poličnica stream, along which mills and a power plant used to stand. Every year on the Nativity of Mary (8 September), the village holiday, the villagers of Police invite you to visit them and to get to know their old hometown.

Police is an age-old village. Wrapped in a veil of half-forgotten lore it takes us back into time. […] You can learn about it most if you climb up to it on foot. Gasping on top of the slope you can judge more fairly about the field, the isolated church, the village – squeezed between the field and the Krnice hills – and about the linden trees. The view takes you a bit more directly to the neighbors in Ravne and Rodne, to the area surrounding Šebrelje, and to Daber. Weary in the knees, the traveler might sooner understand that Police are not just fertile fields, boastingly drawn across the land, but also Krnice, Kres, Kuk, Degarnik, Prhurnik, Pregrade, Klapce, Krajc, Trtne … all enormous, little fertile and brightly sunlit steep slopes. […] Police is not just a piece of golden peace, which someone placed between the raw gullies of Kazarska Grapa and Dabrčkova Grapa. The field is not here just so that an eye thirsty for a soothing sight could rest upon it. The field is a promise, it is hope, it is an outstretched hand, it is a piece of bread wrapped in constant work. The villagers do not need to be told this. […] More as an ornament or as a reminder are the grass-covered mounds, Mary’s church, the chapel next to the path, hayracks, and the Homc hill. By the Poličnica stream there are the walls of four village mills.

(The passage is taken from a research task paper by students of the Cerkno elementary school about the Police village in 1989.)

Reka

Reka (Eng. “River”) is of course a village by a river. This is the Idrijca river, which attracts visitors to the village, may it be fishermen or swimmers who want to cool off and relax in the summer months. The Divje Babe archaeological site in the precipitous slopes above the village proves that there was life here already in prehistoric times. And not just that, there was music too! The Neanderthal flute carried the nearby area’s reputation far across the world. The Reka tourist society is active in the village and its members try to introduce the village to as many people as possible through its various activities. The most important tourist event in the village is definitely the series of events called Glas piščali (Eng. Sound of the Flute). Since the village is located at the main route through our municipality, a welcome fact for all the travelers and other visitors is that there are two bars open in the village. The renovation on the Keltika road has recently come to an end and during that two new access roads to the village and a new bus stop were built. The family woodworking business Masiva owned by the Makuc family, has its headquarters in the village. An attraction of the village is the Church of St. Cantianus, which is being renovated after earthquake damage. A century ago, when the world found itself embroiled in WWI, there was a military hospital in the village of Reka. There are no traces of it left today, except for the preserved documentary photos.

Straža

Straža is another village that lies on both sides of the Idrijca river. Its farmhouses are scattered across the slopes above the river and its tributaries of Luknjica, Trbovčenca or Zaganjalščica, and Otuška. In the small village of Želin there is a crossroads, where the path splits from the Keltika regional road to the municipality center in Cerkno. On flat land above the confluence of Cerknica and Idrijca rivers lies the Želinc tourist farm, which is managed by the Brus family.

With its hospitality, neatness, and high-quality services, the farm attracts visitors from Slovenia and abroad to the village. Next to the main road in the direction towards Idrija the family business Hojak is located, which has been active in the metalworking industry for the second generation already. A little further on top of a sloping road section called Pirhov klanec you will see the Pirh farm, which was excellently renovated and has the shape of a so-called farmers’ manor (a large farmhouse) and is an exceptionally fine example of such architecture. Those who appreciate peace and pristine nature will be lured by the shady Volkova Grapa ravine, through which a gravel road in a good condition leads under the village of Cerkljanski Vrh or the Lajše hill and also takes us to the natural site of an intermittent spring called Zaganjalka. Those who swear by alternative lifestyles are attracted to the village by the Karajževc festival, which has been organized by the Cerkno youth club CMAK for many years now. During the festival on the meadow by the Idrijca river, visitors, volunteers, and musicians from Slovenia and abroad can meet. Music, different workshops and lectures intermingle here.

And how do the locals socialize? Apart from mutual help during major farm chores, they were also united by plays in the first decades after WWII. The plays were learnt and performed by the young people in the village at the time. In recent years, the villagers organize a village cookout at the end of summer, to which they invite all current and former residents of this scattered village.

The Pirh farm in Straža and the field marshal Svetozar Borojević

The Pirh farm in Straža was built in 1852. The plans for it were made by a fellow resident of Cerkno, priest and natural scientist Mihael Peternel who was born at the Laniše farm in the village of Podlanišče. The house was renovated in 2003 and is protected as a monument. The exterior of the building itself has remained unchanged since the time of construction until today. During WWI, field marshal Svetozar Borojević also stayed in this house for a while on his way to the Isonzo or Soča Front. He was the commander of all Austria-Hungary troops at the Isonzo (Soča) Front.

Peter Hojak, Hojak d.o.o.:

Hojak is a family business with thirty years of tradition in manufacturing components for the auto, and electro, and tooling industries. We employ about 18 people from the local area. The company’s vision includes expansion of the production and employment, but it is currently impossible to acquire a suitable space in our area, which means that these plans also stay unrealized.

Jože Podobnik, the Reka tourist society:

TheTD Reka tourist society unites villagers of a cheerful disposition and with the intention of advancing tourism in all its forms: reviving old customs and habits, preparing and organizing various events, such as sports and recreational events, trips, and cultural, and entertaining events. The innovative activities make the tourist society and the village of Reka recognizable and interesting for tourists. The society works with other societies in the area and abroad with the aim of ensuring an overall and favorable recognizability of the landscape with all of its characteristics. The society has thus already participated in many events in Slovenia and elsewhere and promoted the Cerkno region with its “Neanderthals” and the oldest flute in the world. We were happy to accept the invitations to the carnival in Ptuj, the carnival mock trial event in Cerkno, the “kravneval” in Idrija, and we also visited the carnival in Cerknica headed by Uršula the witch. We are most proud of the twinning with our “Neanderthal” colleagues in Krapina in Croatia. There is no shortage of good will on our part. We will continue to look to the future, cooperate, stay positive, and respect and help each other. And who knows, maybe we will even manage to find a real Reka Neanderthal during the next excavations…