“Isn’t even the humblest dwelling magnificent, when it is observed intimately?” I took a walk through the village of Občice occupied with similar thoughts as the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), who dedicated his work The Poetics of Space to the relationship towards the perception of houses and spaces. This clustered settlement along the so-called “Partisan main line”, seven kilometres from Dolenjske Toplice, despite its smallness, offers visitors a glimpse of a rich “collection” of rare preserved architectural heritage.
Občice through time
The name Občice is said to originate from the name of the shared communal land, and is indicative of the original Slavic settlement. According to the description provided by Mitja Ferenc and Gojko Zupan, before the World War II the village predominantly engaged in modest agriculture, cattle breeding and fruit growing (there were mainly apple orchards). Ancillary activities included bee-keeping, viticulture, forestry and cattle yoking. Občice are first mentioned in 1564 in the so-called rent-roll contribution register. The largest number of inhabitants lived there in 1869, i.e. 129 people in 24 houses. In Občice, Gottscheerisch Khrapflern, the Gottscheer dialect was spoken until the World War II, as elsewhere in Kočevska area.
According to the testimony of villager Justina Rabzelj in Marija Makarovič’s Črmošnjiško-Poljanska dolina in njeni ljudje (Moschnitze Valley and its people), during the World War II, in the face of German propaganda, many of the villagers of Občice decided to move to the Reich: “On St Nicholas’ Eve in 1941, Občice remained empty. Except for ours, all the other Gottscheer families had moved out. Only our family remained in the abandoned village. /…/ All my father said was that the villagers came to say goodbye before they left.” (Marija Makarovič: 2005, 484)
Thus, in Občice, where for six centuries the Gottscheer language was part of everyday life, it almost disappeared after the war. Since then, Mrs Justina and other children, such as her brother Albin Samida, learned Slovenian instead of German in primary school.
Protected architectural heritage
Justina and Albin Samida were born on Kulparš’s farm, which was then taken over by his sister, her nephew and his family. The house (Gott. hauš), originally number 5 and now number 1, can be seen in the following photo (first from the right).
The Immovable Cultural Heritage Register of the Republic of Slovenia contains brief descriptions of three houses in Občice, namely houses with numbers 4, 6 and 7. The house located at the address Občice 4 is a top-stable house dating from the second half of the 19th century. It is partly dug into the slope and has a converted black (open-hearth) kitchen. House No. 6 is a type of a top stable house from the first half of the 19th century. During 1944 and 1945, it was the headquarters of the TV-15 relay station command, from where partisan courier connections ran throughout Slovenia (there are also two commemorative plaques on the house). House No. 7 is a small farmer’s ground-floor house, built at the beginning of the 19th century. The inscription of the year 1891 is still visible on the west gable-end of the façade.
Also worth mentioning is the restored farmhouse located at the address Občice 9, where the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers has its headquarters and museum room. Founded in 1992 in Kočevske Poljane, the society is primarily concerned with the promotion of Gottscheer culture through folklore activities, bringing together both Gottscheers who have remained in their homeland and their supporters.
Opportunities for tourism development in Občice
For the first time, I walked through Občice focusing on my feelings or rather my first impression. Wooden windows, blue inscription of 1891 with painted decoration that romantically coincides with the meadow wafting with the fragrance of blue flowers. The ornate façade of the house No. 2, the memorial plaque on the house No. 6, etc. A village which – to refer again to Bachelard’s idea of old houses – testifies to a cluster of houses fortified through ordeal and experience.
It is a rarity to find architectural heritage in the wider Kočevska region preserved to such an extent. Therefore, it is particularly important to provide proper assessment and to define its vision through appropriate expert guidance. When renovating houses and assigning them new designated function, it is particularly important to work with the local environment and residents. The renovated houses could enrich the efforts of the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers to revive the Gottscheer heritage in the Moschnitze Valley. For example, in terms of offering new tourist accommodation that could offer visitors, especially those from abroad, a place to stay in the ambient of their ancestral life. This personalised tourist experience is just one of the possibilities for the development of the municipality and the surrounding area. In this way, they could be instilled with new life and avoid the foreboding sensation that, like most pre-war Gottscheer villages, the last train of silent admiration is approaching.
– Bachelard, Gaston. 2001. Poetika prostora. Ljubljana: Študentska založba.
– Society of Native Gottschee Settlers: https://www.dolenjske-toplice.si/objava/73894.
– Ferenc, Mitja in Gojko Zupan. 2013. Po sledeh Kočevarjev v Črmošnjiško-Poljanski dolini / Auf den Spuren der Gottscheer in der Moschnitze. Dolenjske Toplice: Društvo Kočevarjev staroselcev.
– Makarovič, Marija. 2005. Črmošnjiško-Poljanska dolina in njeni ljudje. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU.
– The National Register of Cultural Heritage: https://geohub.gov.si/portal/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=d6641ae60c0c47e9b027319f4f0f73
Read more about the new arrangement of the ethnological collection of the native Gottscheer people in Občice here.