CRAZY ABOUT GAME OF THRONES? TAKE THE PREDJAMA CASTLE TOUR AND EXPLORE THIS ULTIMATE CAVE FORTRESS THAT INSPIRED GEORGE R.R. MARTIN
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You traveled all the way to see the charming city of Ljubljana. Now, you owe it to yourself to venture out of your way to see the most unique cave fortress in the world. Take the Predjama Castle tour to discover the Castle’s very bizarre past. An impregnable fortress, secret passageways, and a knight killed while using the toilet? Kids will love this place. Who wouldn’t? Plus it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
INSPIRATION FOR GAMES OF THRONES
In 2011, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin toured Predjama Castle. Martin commented he would “definitely have to model some castle in Westeros on this one, it was an eyeful, especially by night.” Predjama Castle quietly holds the Guinness World Record of being the world’s largest cave castle. Halfway up a 123 meter (400 feet) cliff, this incredible Renaissance castle is more than 800 years old. The Slovenian name for Predjama Castle is Predjamski Grad or “castle in front of the cave.” More exciting than its name is its strange history. Read on!
THE TALE OF ERASMUS
Predjama Castle first entered the annals of written history in 1274. By the 15th century, it became known as the home of Erasmus of Lueg (Erazem Lueger), a rogue knight and nobleman and sort of a medieval Han Solo. In addition to being lord of the castle, Erasmus was a well-known robber baron who imposed extraordinary taxes and tolls on traveling merchants. So much for the piety of knights!
Erasmus also made some really poor decisions. For example, he killed the commander of the Habsburg imperial army in Vienna, Marshal Pappenheim. Not good. Naturally, this did not go over well with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. Apparently, Pappenheim had insulted Erasmus’ deceased friend, who also happened to be a mercenary.
Having crossed the wrong powerful family in Europe, Erasmus was now a marked man. He fled and hid out in his family fortress of Predjama. Erasmus allied himself with the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus. With top cover from Corvinus, Erasmus and his troops began raiding neighboring Habsburg estates and towns. The Emperor was now at the end of his patience and tasked the Governor of Trieste to kill or capture Erasmus.
MASTER OF DECEPTION
Iztok Medja, Archives of Postojnska jama d.d.
As the Holy Roman Emperor’s troops closed in on Erasmus, he had more than a few tricks up his sleeve. During the one year and one day siege of Predjama Castle (yes, that’s correct), Erasmus and the residents of the fortress hardly suffered at all. Erasmus (who should have been starving during the siege) taunted his attackers daily by sending them gifts of fresh cherries. For you see Erasmus had a few tricks up his sleeve.
As a cave fortress, Predjama Castle sat on an aquifer system that conserved rainwater — providing its residents with fresh drinking water instead of the water from poisoned wells. Additionally, the castle was built on top of a 14 km (9 miles) long network of secret underground passages.
Unbeknownst to his assailants, Erasmus used the passages to come and go undetected from the castle to smuggle food. In particular, Erasmus relied on two tunnels: a vertical natural shaft that led out of the castle to the top of the cliff, 25 meters (82 feet) away from the cliff’s edge and a passageway between the castle and the nearby Postojna Cave.
BETRAYAL IN THE BATHROOM
Iztok Medja, Archives of Postojnska jama d.d.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Erasmus’ luck ran out when he was betrayed by one of his servants. The servant passed information about the castle’s most vulnerable point — the outhouse. The servant signaled the enemy by lighting a candle (other tales have the servant waving a flag) when Erasmus was, well… occupied.
Capitalizing on this nugget of information, the Emperor’s troops obliterated the outhouse with a flurry of cannonballs. Needless to say, Erasmus did not emerge from the outhouse. Today, visitors on the Predjama Castle tour can see the cannonballs that killed Erasmus on display outside of the rebuilt outhouse.
After the siege and destruction of the original castle, its ruins were acquired by the Oberburg family. In 1511, the Purgstall family took ownership and built a second castle that was destroyed in an earthquake. Archduke Charles of Austria then leased the castle to Baron Philipp von Cobenzl, who constructed the present Renaissance-style castle. In 1846, the Windischgrätz family purchased Predjama Castle and remained its owners until the end of WW2. The castle was then confiscated and nationalized by the Yugoslavia Communist Party and was turned into a museum. Now, every year in mid-July there is a one-day jousting festival held at the Castle complete with medieval merry-making.
Predjama Castle has been used as the backdrop for several films. In 1986, martial arts action star Jackie Chan filmed the movie, Armour of God. In 2008, the Sci Fi Channel filmed an episode of Ghost Hunters International at Predjama Castle. The castle was also featured in Alastair MacLean’s novel Air Force One is Down under the name Castle Windischgraetz. Lastly, the multiplayer map “Castle” from the 2014 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive DLC, Operation Breakout, is based on Predjama Castle.
A TREASURE CHEST
In 1991, construction workers found a small treasure chest buried under the stone floor. The treasure site is the last stop on the Predjama Castle tour. The small hoard consisted of some small cups, three goblets, two drinking chalice, a windmill cup, a saltcellar and a pair of candlesticks. There were also ten silver objects, coated with gold and richly decorated with floral and other patterns. These were likely used for religious purposes. Archaeologists believe these items were likely from the late 16th century. Today, the treasure can be seen at the Karst Museum. Who knows what other treasures are waiting to be discovered?
We arrived in the late afternoon after spending the morning at the Skocjan Caves. The ride through the countryside from Skocjan to Predjama was gorgeous with farm fields and nature at every turn. The road to the castle is incredibly unassuming — it is literally a dirt road off of a country road.
We’ve visited numerous castle but Predjama Castle is unique. The castle is literally built into the cave. The complex is a warren of passageways, stairs and rooms. The highlight of the Predjama Castle tour was exploring the cave itself as it was used as the last line of defense.
The experience was made all the more intriguing with the backstory of Erasmus. The castle had all of the medieval gore and violence one would expect. There was a dank dungeon, rooms full of armor, swords, and halberds. There was even a shaft where prisoners were pushed in and… well, think of Eyrie and the Moon Door from Game of Thrones.
Overall, the castle, caves and cannonballs really brought the story of Erasmus to life. The story was really punctuated by the unassuming display of cannonballs that had killed Erasmus. Being able to see in the first person where/how the story of Erasmus actually played out was intriguing. And yes, Predjama Castle should absolutely be used as a movie set location in a Game of Thrones sequel. Families with children will LOVE exploring Predjama Castle.
PRO TIPS FOR THE PREDJAMA CASTLE TOUR
PRO TIP 1 – VERY IMPORTANT. Purchase the Combo tickets and stay at nearby Hotel Jama. The Combo packages provide incredible savings for the following attractions: Predjama Castle, Postojna Caves, Karst Museum, and the Secret Rooms of Hotel Jama Cold War Exhibit.
PRO TIP 2 – VERY IMPORTANT. The audioguide is an absolute must. There is little to no information posted otherwise.
PRO TIP 3. Give yourself two hours to explore Predjama Castle and the grounds and to really soak up the story of Erasmus.
PRO TIP 4. Go slow and pace yourself as there are several stairs to climb and uneven passageways to explore.
PRO TIP 5. Although there are a few places to eat at Predjama Castle, we recommend packing a picnic and enjoying the scenic countryside en route to and around the castle.
PRO TIP 6. Private tours of the 14 km Predjama cave system are available to small groups from May to September. Another option is to visit the narrow Erazem’s Nook, to see how the besieged knight remained connected with the outside world. Some climbing skills are required for this tour, it needs to be booked 3 days in advance.
NEAR THIS PLACE
ŠKOCJAN CAVES. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Škocjan Caves is where Journey to the Center of the Earth meets the Lord of the Rings in an underground Grand Canyon.
POSTOJNA CAVE. Take an underground train ride and enjoy a 3.7-km-long journey on the world’s only double-track cave railway.
KARST MUSEUM. In 1991, construction workers unearthed a treasure chest in the caves under Predjama Castle. These valuable late 16th century items are on display at the Karst Musem.
M BURGER. Why on earth would a burger joint be considered an “attraction?” Because the food was incredible. For one of the tastiest cheeseburgers we have ever had, served by some of the kindest people we have ever met, check out M BURGER. This amazing oasis of culinary joy is situated in an obscure parking lot only minutes from Hotel Jama. It’s a real find. Simple, but wonderful — our meal was so delicious that we are still talking about it months later. ADDRESS: Novi trg 8, Postojna 6230 Slovenia
BEST PLACES TO STAY
HOTEL JAMA. Hotel Jama may literally be one of the coolest hotels in central Europe. Why, you might ask? Because it served as a Cold War era hotel for Yugoslavian dictator Tito and Soviet leadership, it has a secret maze of rooms used for listening in on hotel guests. These rooms were only recently discovered in 2017. In addition to this intriguing exhibit, the rooms are modern and spacious and the staff is incredibly helpful. ADDRESS: Jamska cesta 28, 6230 Postojna, Slovenia
RADISSON BLU PLAZA HOTEL LJUBLJANA. Centrally located with modern rooms with orthopedic beds, and FREE WiFi. Guests receive a 30% discount to the Atlantis Water Park up the street. ADDRESS: Bratislavska cesta 8, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.
HOTEL NOX. Located in the Šentvid area of Ljubljana, modern air-conditioned rooms with FREE Wifi, and FREE private parking. ADDRESS: Celovška cesta 469, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.
BIO APARTMENTS TRNULJA. Five miles from the downtown in the Nature Park Ljubljansko Barje, all apartments are air-conditioned and fitted with wooden furnishings. Organic breakfast sourced from the Trulja farm. Guests can rent bikes on site. FREE WiFi and FREE parking are provided. Horseback riding just minutes away. Numerous hiking and cycling tracks can be found around the property. ADDRESS: Crna Vas 267, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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