Meet the Karavanke

The Karavanke is a mountain chain, which forms part of the border between Slovenia and Austria. Its total length of 120 km makes it one of the longest ranges in Europe. Since it is not possible to describe such a broad and diverse area in brief a longer text follows, providing information on the most important geological and geomorphologic features and the flora and fauna, as well as the settlements and management of the mountains of the Karavanke.

Read the following text and learn more about the Karavanke, and explore other links on the website, which is constantly improved and up-dated. You are also warmly invited to visit the Karavanke and experience them for yourself!

From a geological aspect, the Karavanke Mountains were formerly a part of the African continental plate. The last uplift of the Karavanke started approximately 23 million years ago and is still in progress. When the African and Euro-Asian continents collided, the sedimentary rocks were strongly compressed and lifted up into a mountain chain. The mass of rocks was rounded off and shaped by ice and erosion into today's interesting landscape. Traces of glacier erosion can be found in numerous areas, among others in the typically U-shaped valley of Završnica.

Large screes were formed under the steep slopes of Mesozoic limestone ridges, the largest lying beneath the walls of Begunjščica. The mountain area is full of fast-flowing rivers, gorges and waterfalls. The ridge of the Karavanke Mountains is mainly composed of Mesozoic limestone.

Alpine meadows and small villages sprang up on small flatter areas. Wherever we come across wet ground and springs, this usually shows that there are Palaeozoic rocks at the surface. These are flint-stone conglomerate, sandstone and slaty clay. Conglomerate and sandstone were used for building, coating blast furnaces or making millstones and grindstones.

pastures, small villages

A particular characteristic of the Karavanke is its water, which is rich in carbon dioxide and dissolved calcium carbonate. At the surface, the CO2 from the water is partly taken up by plants for photosynthesis. Due to chemical imbalances, the calcium carbonate solidifies to nearby moss and plants. Thus thin coats of porous stones are formed, called tufa. One of the most beautiful tufa slopes, also included in the natural heritage of the Karavanke Mountains, can be seen in Zgornje Jezersko, near the Spodnji Virnik farm.

springs, gorges, waterfalls

Following particular natural processes, stones are transformed into ore; the most important historically were the iron siderite above Jesenice and the mercury ore in Podljubelj. The ore attracted miners and ironworkers. Today, only the partially preserved mine buildings are a reminder of the former industry.

The wide variety of carbonate and non-carbonate rocks and consequently various soil types is one of the reasons for the exceptional biodiversity of the Karavanke. Numerous species of Palaeozoic brachiopoda found in the Dovžan Gorge show the various life forms in the sea in prehistoric times.

the Dovžan Gorge

The Karavanke Mountains are covered with dense stands of woodland. Different trees grow at different heights due to the altitude difference between the mountains and the valley floor, giving a typically 'layered' appearance to the forest. The valleys are deciduous; above them are coniferous trees, followed by dwarf pines, larches, and finally alpine grass and pastures. As far as environmental protection is concerned, the Karavanke range is important for its beech forests, which are unique in Europe and therefore a composite part of the Natura 2000 site. An interesting beetle, Rosalia longicorn, lives in the beech forest, and lays its eggs in dead wood. It is therefore important that the fresh wood is cut before the eggs are laid, otherwise it would probably be destroyed during processing.

forests, pastures, dwarf pines

Due to the old methods of forest management, mainly felling for use in mining, ironworks and charcoal-burning, forests used to be cut and later planted with fast-growing pine trees. Over the last few decades the percentage of beech trees has been growing and the natural balance is therefore being restored.

Ironworking and nature around the Karavanke are connected to the story of two brothers, Žiga and Karl Zois. The lesser known of the two, Karl, was a botanist. He developed a park at his dairy farm at Javorniški Rovt above Jesenice; it was intended mainly for leisure and is still a pleasant tourist spot today. He used to visit the higher ridges of the Karavanke - they are a natural botanical garden today. Zois violet and Zois bellflower (Campanula zoysii) are named after him.

In early spring the sun warms the southern slopes of the Karavanke, and soon the first harbingers of spring blossom in the lower areas. A little later, at the beginning of May, white, sweet-scented mountain narcissi gradually cover the meadows and pastures that have not been fertilized, all the way from Dovška Rožca to the overgrown slopes under Struška planina. It seems as if snow has covered the land once more. Then the orchids blossom; sometimes they grow together with the narcissi; they are also referred to as wild orchids. In the Karavanke, there are a lot of yellow or red Elder-flowered orchids.

Rastlinski svet

On wet and unfertilized meadows above Dovje and Jesenice one can observe a small violet flower, Pinguicula vulgaris or common butterwort. In spite of its name it is less common than its white relation, which also grows on rocky meadows. Pinguicula is an insectivorous plant feeding mainly on midges. They stick to the leaves, which are full of glands excreting digestive juices.

In June, on the forest edges between the valley of Belca and Ljubelj, the largest Slovenian and European orchid, Cypripedium calceolus, the Lady's slipper orchid, blooms. Due to overpicking, the flower was endangered as early as the beginning of the previous century and was one of the first to be protected in Slovenia. Due to the altered methods of forest management, fertilisation and constant human interference with nature, Cypripedium calceolus is disappearing.

Spring comes to this place no earlier than in the end of May when the rocky meadows become covered with flowers, even though there is still some snow in the hollows. As soon as the snow disappears, snowdrops start blooming with two nodding flowers on a thin stem, and it is impossible to overlook the blue Clusius' gentian and the yellow primrose.

The air in the midday heat is full of buzzing insects. Butterflies, the heralds of unspoiled nature, tirelessly search for food. In summer, another European butterfly joins them, Lorkovic's Brassy Ringlet (Erebia calcaria), which together with the Jersey Tiger moth Callimorpha quadripunctaria, spreads around the entire area of the Karavanke to the forest line. In the silence, we can observe or hear some other, hidden inhabitants. When spring turns into summer, the Marsh gladiolus blooms under the mountain of Stol.

In the evening or night hours of late spring, one might sometimes come across a horseshoe bat in the lower parts of the Karavanke. By studying these unusual creatures, biologists have discovered their secret nocturnal life.

School children are also interested in observing nature. Revealing the secrets of our environment and being aware of its conditions for survival is especially important if we want to preserve the wide variety of animal and plant species. The diversity of this area has also been created by the people who still live and work here. The richness and variety, along with the hospitality of the friendly inhabitants combine to invite you to experience unforgettable moments in the Karavanke.