Bled is a town on Lake Bled in northwestern Slovenia. It's most notable as a popular tourist destination in the Upper Carniola region and in Slovenia as whole. Bled's highlight is the glacial Lake Bled, which makes it a major tourist attraction.
Perched on a rock overlooking the lake is the iconic Bled Castle. The town is also known in Slovenia for its vanilla and cream pastry. Today it's a convention center and tourist resort, offering a range of sports activities such as golf, fishing, and horseback-riding. Other notable near-by landmarks are the Assumption of Mary Church and Triglav National Park.
St. Martin's Parish Church Bled
The present no-Gothic church, consecrated to St. Martin, is from 1905 and is on the site of an earlier Gothic church dating from the 15th century., The very first chapel was here before the year 1,000.
The new church follows the plans of Prof. Friedrich von Schmidt (the architect of the Vienna City Hall), but these were later changed. Restoration specialist Ivan Vurnik from Radovljica made most sculptures, produced from the best Carrera marble.
The painter Slavko Pengov decorated the church with frescoes between 1932 and 1937. The great Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik, designed the garden signpost in front of the church in the years before World War II. The well-preserved walls from the 15th century remind us of the periods of Turkish invasions to these lands.
In Rečica you can find a subsidiary Church of St. Andrew. This Church, renovated in the Baroque style, dates back to the 16th century. It includes the remains of the encampment walls.
The history of Bled Castle reaches back to 1004 when the German Emperor Henry II gave his estate at Bled to Bishop Albuin of Brixen. At that time, only a Romanesque tower protected by walls stood in the place of the present day castle. The first castle was here in about 1,011 but the Bishops of Brixen never resided there. This is why the castle has no luxurious halls as the defense system needed all attention.
In the late Middle Ages more towers appeared and the fortification system improved. Can you imagine entering through the outer walls with the Gothic arch and walking over the drawbridge above the moat? Today, earth fills the moat, but the sight is still able to stir up your imagination.
The distinctive feature of the castle is its double structure. The fortified center part was a house for feudal lords, whilst the outer part with walls and buildings housed the servants. In 1511 an earthquake damaged the castle. Later on, after restorations, the castle got its present appearance. Coats-of-arms painted in the fresco technique or carved in stone decorate the castle buildings.
Bled Castle Chapel
The most interesting of all the preserved buildings is the Gothic chapel on the upper courtyard, consecrated to the Bishops St. Albuin and St. Ingenium. Built in the 16th century, it obtained the Baroque style after renovations around 1,700. Next to the altar there are paintings of the donors of the Bled estate, the German Emperor Henry II and his wife Kunigunda. Their portraits are on display in the Church of the Assumption on the Bled Island.
The servant building on the lower courtyard had a castle printing shop, whilst the castle wine cellar found its place exactly beneath it. The upper courtyard hosts a museum which represents the history of Bled.
Church of the Assumption Bled
According to a legend, the temple of the ancient Slavic goddess Živa, once stood in the place of the present Baroque church. The temple disappeared during battles between the followers of the pagan religion and Christians. The latter destroying the altar and building a church.
On the Bled island, archaeologists have discovered traces of prehistoric (11th to 8th centuries B.C.) and Slavic (9th to 10th century) settlements. In the early Middle Ages a pre-Christian, Old Slavic cult area stood on the place where now is the present day church. 124 graves with skeletons from the 9th to the 11th century emerged.
The foundations of a pre-Romanesque chapel built during the process of Christianization, also date from the same period. It's the only discovered example of a cult building from those times on Slovenian territory. According to written sources, the Aquilean patriarch Pellegrino consecrated the first masonry church on the island, a three-nave Romanesque basilica, in 1142.
In the 15th century, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style. A new presbytery, a freestanding bell tower and the main altar appeared. Count Žiga Lamberg, the first bishop of Ljubljana, consecrated the renovated single-nave church in 1465.
An earthquake damaged it in 1509 to such an extent that it required thorough renovation, carried out in the Baroque style. Only the frescoes in the presbytery and a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which adorned the main altar, remain from the earlier Gothic church.
The church today
The present form of the church dates from the 17th century, being renovated after another earthquake. The main altar with its rich gold-plated carving, dates from 1747. On the central altarpiece the Virgin Mary seats, with the donor of the Bled estate, Henry II, and his wife Kunigunda at her side. The side altars, consecrated to St. Sebastian, St. Magdalena and St. Anna, date from the end of the 17th century.
The bell tower, built in the 15th century, has been renovated several times due to damage by two earthquakes, and in 1688 lightning struck it. The present tower is 54 m high and has three bells, made by Samassa and Franchi, bell makers from Ljubljana. Like the church, the other buildings, the walls and the monumental staircase (99 stairs) preserved their looks from the 17th century.
The wishing bell
Of special interest is the ""wishing bell"" from 1534 in the upper roof beam above the church nave, by F. Patavina from Padova. According to the legend, a young widow Poliksena once lived at the Bled Castle, who had a bell casted for the chapel on the island in memory of her husband.
During the transport of the bell, a terrible storm struck the boat and sank it together with the crew and the bell, which to this day is said to ring from the depths of the lake. After the widow died, the Pope consecrated a new bell and sent it to the Bled Island. It's said that whoever rings this bell and thereby gives honor to Virgin Mary gets his wish come true.