Exploration of the Duchy of Carniola

A year after his visit to Venice in 1679, Valvasor started preparing the publication of The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola. On 23rd February 1680 he sent letters to the owners of castles, to towns, monasteries requesting descriptions, historical data, sights and interesting phenomena. There were few responses – only from seven castles and two towns (Novo Mesto and Kamnik). This did not deter him in his plans to present his country to visitors and foreigners. He set forth to realise his plans (of the study of the archives of the country, state, and class), so he bought the house from the heirs of Janez Froelich in Ljubljana in 1681.

In 1680 the State appointed Valvasor Captain of an infantry regiment of Lower Carniola, a military division composed mostly by peasantry, to be called up in case of military danger. This was his last recorded military exploit for the year 1683, when he interrupted his research for three months. At the time of the last Turkish siege of Vienna he was sent as the leader of a Carniola army division to help defend the Styrian eastern border threatened by rebellious Hungarians, with 400 infantrymen. Furthermore, peasant rebellions threatened the eastern part of Styria. The expedition left Ljubljana on 7th August 1683 and swiftly reached the Field of Graz. There the army units camped at Wildon under Valvasor’s command. Later Valvasor got the order to move towards Fuerstenfeld to save the castles and surrounding areas and the town Radgona from the rebels. After successful operations the expedition turned towards home at the end of October and reached Ljubljana on 1st November.

The period around 1679, which was marked by the momentum of the graphic printing, belonged to Valvasor’s plans for the Ljubelj Tunnel. They were probably the result of his journey to Carinthia, where he was to prepare both of his topographies of the country. The tunnel above the peak of the Ljubelj pass was built in the year 1575 and was one of the first mountain passes in Europe. It was used till 1728 when it was excavated and the road widened into the cut. Valvasor was aware of the importance of this communication link between Carniola and the northern countries, which became impassable in winter. This was the reason for his plan to build the tunnel; both the entrance and the exit were planned to be built at the height of the churches situated on both sides of the pass. According to the polymath’s statement the tunnel was not built because of the plague ravaging the Empire in 1679. However, the main reason why this bold and visionary project was not realized at that time, was primarily the lack of finances. The tunnel was eventually built at another place during World War II and opened to traffic at the beginning of the sixties in the 20th century.

If the project for the Ljubelj tunnel was too utopian for the authorities of the time, this was not the case with Mary’s Statue in Ljubljana. It was built to commemorate the victory over Turks in 1664 and to celebrate the escape from the plague in 1679. Ljubljana was the only capital of the Habsburg Empire that was saved from the ravages of the epidemic. The project was commissioned by the State who had planned it for about a decade and a half earlier. The work finally started when Valvasor took over, in spring 1680. The building in front of St. Jacob’s Church was completed on 27th March 1682. From a technical point of view the most important pieces of the monument are the column and the statue which are Valvasor’s invention; especially the latter. It is carved in a special technique in one piece. For his exceptional work the State gave him a financial award at least once and his tax debts were written off for the year 1682. In the records they wrote: “The work will praise the master for a hundred years.” It is possible that for this reason at the state convention on 19th June 1683 support was given for the preparation of the Carniola Chronicle for the amount of 2,000 florins. They accepted the offer and decided to purchase 500 editions. Due to this agreement Valvasor received 800 florins payment on 13th March 1686 three years later and another 300 florins a year later, as a wedding gift on the occasion of his second marriage.

In the year 1687 he got the first and only official recognition for his scientific work during his lifetime. At the end of this year he was elected member of the Royal Society of London, believed to be the oldest of its kind in existence, established in 1660. The reason he came into contact with the Society was the report about the Idrija mine and Lake Cerknica which Valvasor saw in the book Acta philosophica Societatis Regiae. Valvasor researched the Lake Cerknica intensively in the years 1684-85. There was written correspondence with the Society secretary Thomas Gal. Valvasor’s first letter was dated 3rd December 1685; in it he introduced himself and his family, his previous work and future plans. There was no answer, so on 5th March 1686 he sent an almost identical letter and he included a drawing of the capital Ljubljana. But the first letter had reached the right address. The answer was dated 1st January 1686 and led to Valvasor’s response on 15th April, 1686. In this letter he mentioned that he had sent his work to Venice by the King’s representative. He reported about: his invention of a cast of very fine sculptures, about his observation of a strange walnut tree in the village Lokev in Primorska region, about his work on the Carniola Chronicle and he asked how to send the manuscript about Lake Cerknica. The second answer from Gal is dated 3rd June 1686. In this letter he said that the contents of Valvasor’s letter had been discussed at the Society’s meeting. About his research he advised him to confirm thoroughly the authenticity of the phenomena he researched. Gal also confirmed the existence of similar trees in England. Valvasor erred about his election to the membership; and expressed his thanks in a letter dated 29th August 1686. In the letter he also gave the description of the casting of thin statues made of metal. An important letter dated 17th November 1687, was essentially the accompanying letter to the description of Lake Cerknica where he also reported on the progress of the Glory of the Duchy of Crain and made a request for a dedicatory poem.

The research of Lake Cerknica signifies one of the peaks of Valvasor’s scientific research. The drying up of the lake excited the imagination and provoked questions about the structure of the activity; that was the reason for the polymath’s intensive study. He was convinced that there was a system of five lakes in the hill called Slivnica, under the lake’s surface, which made its emptying and filling possible. On 14th December 1687 Janez Vajkard Valvasor was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a part of his description of Lake Cerknica was read on that occasion. Edmund Halley, the world’s famous astronomer, did the experiment of the filling and emptying of Lake Cerknica. With his election Valvasor became the fourth member of the Society from the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the first and only one from Slovenian lands. The report about Lake Cerknica and the procedure of casting metal objects that was used on the production of the Mary’s statue was published in Philosophical Transactions, London 1687, Number 191, and in Acta Eruditorum, Leipzig 1689 – the two oldest and at that time the most important scientific magazines.

In the year 1688 in Nuremberg, the bookseller was Wolfgang Moritz Endter, the Complete Topography of the Old and the Modern Archduchy of Carinthia – Topographia Archiducatus Carinthiae et modernae completa; was published, with 264 numbered sheets bound in a fourfold form. The preface is important because there is Valvasor’s dedication to the States of Carinthia. Among 227 images of the places (to which 4 are added) there is a large panorama of Klagenfurt and a map of the Carinthia. The edition cannot compare with the famous XIth Book of The Glory of The Duchy of Carniola.

The author’s main source was Annales Carinthiae, written by Hieronim Megisr and published in Leipzig in 1612.

In 1689 Valvasor finally published his life’s work and reached the highest point of his creativity.