The village of Zakriž: a cross so big that travelers could sleep in its shade

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The village of Zakriž was built on a landslide mass that got caught between the hills of Lamk, Kovk, and Zakriški Vršič centuries ago. It is located on a sunny side, two and a half kilometers above Cerkno.

Zakriž lies at an altitude of 593 m and today has 179 residents. The village extends over three and a half square kilometers. The entire area, which belongs to the village, spreads out over a little more than 11 square kilometers.

The village is surrounded by meadows full of flowers, fields with crops, pastures with domestic animals and hills covered with a mixed forest. In the past villagers grew grain and earned their bread with forestry, processing meat and milk, distilling, weaving, flour milling, shoe making, lace making, smithing, and production of lime and charcoal.

Today the part-time farmers raise mostly small ruminants and cattle and grow corn, potatoes, beans, vegetables, and other crops in the fields. Rural handicrafts are still alive in the village, such as basket weaving, smithing, and woodworking.

From Križ to Zakriž due to a plague

The village of Zakriž most likely existed already in the pre-antique or antique times. The institute for the protection of monuments entered an archaeological site onto a record sheet in 1980 – an old settlement in a place called “Križ”. According to oral accounts, individual objects were discovered at this location, which are unfortunately not preserved, along with the remains of masonry houses. These remains were revealed especially during major landslides and other land movements.

Individual artefacts were also found in the stream bed at the base of the slope in “Griva”. In the folk tradition there is a firmly established tale of “old Cerkno” in “Križ”, near the provincial Roman route used by transport animals, which led from Friuli via Baška Grapa, Bukovo, Orehek, and Zakriž to Cerkno.

For seven marks and seven castrated rams

The first known written records of the Zakriž village date back to the year 1320. Speranza, a nobleman from Tolmin, received the village of Zakriž as a patriarchal feud. Already in 1336 the villagers were land tenants themselves. The entire rent was seven marks and seven castrated rams. It was paid at the end of September, on the feast day of St. Michael. This rent was exceptional for those times, as there were only few similar cases in Slovene lands. The land register of Tolmin states that there were ten farms in Zakriž in 1377. The many disasters that hit Zakriž and its surroundings, from earthquakes, floods, fires, and wars to severe winters and locusts, were joined by a terrible disease in April and May 1348 – the plague.

The original church stood in “Cerkovnica

The predecessor of the current church is mentioned in written records from 1515. According to oral tradition it stood in “Cerkovnica” (this is just a field name – a name for a meadow, forest, or field, most often known to locals only). The information in the land register from 1591 and 1633 proves that the Tolmin nobility still had its estates in Zakriž at the time. The current Church of St. Andrew was already mentioned in records in 1595. In 1767 there is written record of a mention and a task that a cross made of hard wood and at least six feet tall should be put up in the place where the churches used to stand. This information tells us that the church in Zakriž really stood elsewhere in the past than it does today. Very little is otherwise known of the life in the village of Zakriž between the years 1377 and 1912. The reason for this is mainly the fire in the parish house of Cerkno.

Zakriž had the first waterworks in the Cerkno region

The forests of Zakriž used to consist only of deciduous trees even around just 150 years ago; later coniferous trees were planted as well, especially the spruce tree. In 1903 the first waterworks in the Cerkno region was laid in Zakriž. Four troughs were connected to it. The locals had difficulties paying off the waterworks, so they were helped by the gentry and the municipality.

As the second in the Cerkno region they founded a dairy cooperative in 1917, in which butter and cheese were produced among other things.

After WWI Zakriž became part of Italy according to the Treaty of Rapallo. The Alpine Wall named “Vallo alpino” ran across this area. In 1922 an educational society called Zarja Zakriž was founded in the village, which was abolished by the Italian authorities after four years. Up until 1937 the homes were lit with splinters, carbide lamps, and kerosene lamps. Then the villagers brought electricity to the village at their own expense.

During the war the well-known IX Corps was stationed here

Sources state that Italians started building underground barracks and military bunkers in Zakriž in 1938. The village suffered human loss in both World Wars and also material damage in WWII. In this period, the National Liberation Movement was active in the area of Zakriž. The well-known IX Corps and the Garibaldi Brigade were stationed here. The partisan daily newspaper Partizanski dnevnik was printed here.

In the postwar period all the objects in the village were still covered with straw, which meant a constant danger of fire. This was also the reason that villagers founded the volunteer firefighting department of Zakriž in 1958. After 75 years they also revived the Zarja Zakriž cultural society for preserving old customs and traditions.

The legend of how the village of Zakriž came to be

Where hay barns, fields, and mountain meadows are found today, there once stood a village called Križ. Even though the farms were very wealthy, the farmers were very selfish and would not help anyone, the legend says. One evening, a boy named Mihec came to the village, hungry and freezing. The only farm that took him in was “V Robidnic’”. The boy recovered from a very severe bout of pneumonia there. Out of gratitude he put up a big cross facing the village of Orehek. The cross was supposed to have been so big that weary travelers could sleep in its shade. A few months later, plague came to the village of Križ and people had to escape over the hill where a new village was formed, which was named Zakriž.

Alpine Wall

Among the many cultural and historical sites in Zakriž are the Italian military fortifications, which were part of the 1,850-km-long defense Alpine Wall between the Italian Genoa and Croatian Reka. Construction began in the 1930s and was never finished. In the village of Zakriž the Italians built two caverns to accommodate the army and two bunkers also known as operas after the Italian word for them, where the machine guns were stationed. The locals can guide you through them when you visit the village.

In the village of Zakriž, you can see four fruit-drying kilns known as “pajštva”, which were once crucial for survival. The one at the “Pri Zalazarju” farm was completely renovated a few years ago. Even nowadays there is still the pleasant smell of dried fruit in the village in autumn time. You can also see how spirits are being distilled at the farms and you can also try it.

Have you heard of the Jersey Tiger butterfly and the Lesser Horseshoe bat?

In Zakriž you can see the preserved troughs of the oldest waterworks in the Cerkno region as well as memorial plaques and a memorial stone, which testifies to the national liberation activities in the village. Interesting is also the three-hundred-year old Julija’s house. In the vicinity of the village, in “Rebre”, there is a grave for the victims of partisans. You can also walk along a Roman path. Its location is passed on through oral tradition.

Apart from cultural there are also many natural sights in the village. In the area of Zakriž, two animal species are protected with a Natura 2000 zone: a butterfly – the Jersey Tiger (Lat. Callimorpha quadripunctaria) and a bat – the Lesser Horseshoe bat (Lat. Rhinolophus hipposideros).

The “V Jezeru” meadow is interesting especially after the rain, since many small ponds appear on it. A nice hiking destination is “Križ”, where the old settlement used to be.

The organ in Zakriž

The village Church of St. Andrew in Zakriž is known for its beauty and a unique organ with five stops and a pedal, which is a rare example of such an instrument in Europe.

The locals invite you to “Jejdaw Somn” (Eng. buckwheat fair)

Near the village you can pick several different berries and herbs. You can also watch wild animals, such as numerous birds, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and wild boars. If you set off from Cerkno to Zakriž on foot, you can see a small waterfall at “Kahlč” on the way. Members of the KUD Zarja Zakriž cultural society invite you to visit their plays, with which they preserve ancient habits and customs. Especially known is the cultural event “Jejdaw Somn” (Eng. buckwheat fair), which is held every year in Zakriž on the second Sunday in October.

Miro Sedej, president of the Local Community of Ravne – Zakriž:

“The local community strives to make life in our villages as pleasant as possible. This is why we help the villagers build and maintain the roads as best we can. We are planning maintenance works of the road under the village, where it will be necessary to repair the lower part of the roadway. Since there is more water flowing through our waterworks, which was the first in the Cerkno region, than what we need in the village, the municipality has decided to capture the surplus water and lengthen the waterworks in the direction of Cerkno.

Together with the cultural society we have decided to buy an automated defibrillator, which was presented to the public at last year’s “Jejdaw Somn” event.

I sincerely thank my co-villagers for all the clean-up actions and cultural activities, which are organized by the Zarja society. This kind of events unite people. For life in village it is namely extremely important that we socialize as friends and help each other.”