Monday, June 10, 2013

Russian Chapel - Vrsic Pass, Slovenia

During World War I, the Battles of Isonzo were a series of 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies mostly in the territory of today's Slovenia. In May 1915 when Italy declared war on Austro-Hungary, Austro-Hungary decided to construct a road over 5,826 foot Vrsic Pass in the Julian Alps, starting from the town of Kranjska Gora, to give better access to the Isonzo Front. About 10,000 Russian POWs were used to build the road. In March 1916, an avalanche buried a POW work camp about halfway up the mountain between Kranjska Gora and Vrsic Pass. Exact numbers are not known, but between 170 and 300 Russian POWs were killed and 10 to 80 of their Austro-Hungarian guards. Over the course of the next year and a half, the remaining POWs built a wooden memorial chapel with two towers, completing it on November 1, 1916. 
The approach to the Russian Chapel from the road.

Judy around the backside of the Russian Chapel.
It has a stone foundation, is planked with bark and was later covered with boards. We were not able to get inside, but the inside is painted white and the altar is made of cut tree logs. Icons are painted on it in oil. 
The initial bark covering is evident above the doorway.
In 1937 all of the dead were buried under a stone pyramid next to the chapel which serves as a tombstone with the Cyrillic inscription "Synam Rossii" (to the Sons of Russia). Another smaller grave is just down from the chapel with piled stones topped by an Orthodox cross. I'm not sure how the stone grave relates, but it could possibly have been a burial place before the main grave was established in 1937. 

During the time of Yugoslavia and Tito's regime, the chapel was primarily a tourist attraction. But after the downfall of the Communist regime in Russia and Slovnia's declaration of independence in 1991, diplomatic relations between Russia and Slovenia were established and the Russian Chapel became an important memorial object that gave connection to the two nations. Since then, a memorial mass has been held at the chapel each year with Russian priests and representatives of Russia. The last event was held on July 29, 2012, attended by the Slovenian Prime Minister and Minister of Foregin Affairs, representatives of the Russian Federation Council and State Duma of the Federal Assembly, including the deputy speakers of both bodies, and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by the Bishop of Voskresensk Savva.  

The road was completed in 1917, covering 15 miles, with 24 hairpin turns on the Kranjska Gora side and 26 hairpin turns on the other side. In 2006, the road up to the pass was renamed the Russian Road in honor of the Russian dead and as a symbolic link between Slovenia and Russia.
Vrsic Pass is just to the right of the Mount Prisonjik massif above.
The road at Vrsic Pass.
Judy and a view of the Julian Alps from the other side of Vrsic Pass.
The town of Kranjska Gora is on the Sava Dolinka River in northwestern Slovenia, near the Austrian and Italian borders. It is at the base of the Julian Alps, which stretch from northeastern Italy to Slovenia, named after Julius Caesar, who established a town at the foot of the mountains.
8,533 ft. Razor Mountain right above the bridge over the Sava Dolinka River.
View of the Julian Alps from Kranjska Gora. Razor Mtn. is right of center. 8,356 ft. Prisonjik Mtn. is to the far right.
View of Prisonjik Mtn. from Kranjska Gora.
Razor Mtn. is left of center and Prisonjik is right of center, above a lake outside of Kranjska Gora.
This was not on our original itinerary. But as we got to Lake Bled and we looked at the snow capped Julian Alps, we decided we had to drive into them. It was time well spent. 


  1. Interesting story, and I love that beautiful chapel. Those mountains are incredible.

  2. That chapel was like a little jewel sitting in the forest. I'm so glad we took this detour!

  3. Very pretty spot. What tragic history...
    Putin is due to visit the chapel on July 30 and pray there.