Every year the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition collects sustainable tourism stories and good practices from destinations all over the world to be shared as inspiring examples to others, from tourism professionals to travellers. By telling their stories, destination management organisations can be acknowledged and recognised for the solutions they have implemented in response to challenges and problems they have faced.
The 2022 selection included Rogla - Pohorje Tourist Destination, for the second year in a row. This year we participated in the category Culture & Tradition, with the story “CHARTERHOUSE HAS WOKEN UP FROM A CENTURY-OLD DREAM”.
The Rogla - Pohorje tourist destination (hereinafter referred to as “TDRP”) is an area consisting of four municipalities (Oplotnica, Slovenske Konjice, Vitanje and Zreče) with numerous joint tourism diversity potentials. The municipalities of TDRP embarked on a common path in 2016 and with their successful work became an example to many other destinations on how to mutually cooperate in the development of tourism with a common vision, strategic goals and measures. The future of TDRP tourism is set out in the joint 2022-2028 TDRP Development and Marketing Plan. The destination is identified by the slogan "Explore, feel, enjoy". Numerous sustainability certificates received by TDRP and publications of destination sustainability stories in renowned domestic and foreign media prove that sustainability and commitment to nature in TDRP are not just words written on paper, but that the destination follows the guidelines of sustainable and digital development. Among the TOP 5 attractions of the destination are the Pohorje Trail Among the Treetops, located directly next to the Rogla Ski Centre, Oplotniški Vintgar, the Noordung Center in Vitanje, the Terme Zreče spa and the Žiče Charterhouse - a former Carthusian monastery, which was proclaimed a cultural monument of national importance by the Republic of Slovenia in 2015. The total 15,400 visitors a year (domestic: 12,500, foreign: 2,900) make the latter one of the most visited attractions in TDRP.
The Žiče Charterhouse, a former Carthusian monastery, operated in the Valley of St. John the Baptist between the 12th and 18th centuries. The monastery consisted of the lower monastery, accommodating lay brothers or converts and which, until the 15th century, served as an economic unit to the Žiče Carthusian monks, and the upper monastery, which originally accommodated 12 choir monks, friars, led by the prior. The choir monks devoted themselves to spiritual life and mental work. Between the two monasteries, there was an uninhabited valley, which provided the upper monastery with the necessary peace and quiet. The upper monastery consisted of an economic residential part, a large cloister with monastic cells, a small cloister and a church as the central spatial dominant of the monastery, surrounded by common areas. Books were considered the main focus of the choir monks’ lives, as these were highly educated individuals who dedicated their earthly residence to contemplation, meditation, copying and studying various books.
The Žiče Charterhouse experienced ups and downs during its operation. In particular in the 15th century, the monastery was one of the most important spiritual and political centres of the then Western world. Prior General Stefan Macone, a friend of St. Catherine of Siena brought together the then politically and ecclesiastically divided Europe torn between the Pope in Rome and the Pope in Avignon. At the end of the 15th century, the monastery boasted a library of over 2,000 books and constituted one of the three largest libraries in Western Europe in terms of the number of books. The famous medieval manuscripts from the Žiče Charterhouse were created here for almost four centuries. The well-integrated spiritual community of the Carthusians also engaged in healing, milling, bricklaying, glassmaking and similar handicrafts, facilitating the independence of the religious community. The Josephine reforms and the abolition of the monastery in 1782 led to the dying out of monastic life in the valley. Until the second half of the 20th century, the area of the Žiče Charterhouse succumbed to the stream and ravages of time.
The Žiče Charterhouse, which once housed “white monks”, is now an oasis where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The former monastery complex, caught in unspoiled nature, is a popular destination for acoustic concerts and fairy-tale weddings. The stunning location makes visitors think that they are frozen in time. This kind of power is provided by the cultural heritage, surrounded by a specific intact cultural landscape. Most visitors are overwhelmed by mystical feelings upon entering the secret world of the walls of the Žiče Charterhouse. They can dive into its history alone, in the company of local guides, with the help of handy audio guides or with smart glasses (AR).
The historical and art-historical significance, peace, aesthetic and landscape testimony of this specific place, led the municipality and professional services to undertake intensive research and restoration work under way for almost 40 years. They have also successfully tendered for EU or national funding, which has significantly contributed to the current state of affairs.
Methods, steps and tools applied
The renovation of the former large monastic church in the Žiče Charterhouse began in 2020 upon the allocation of two million euros for the project by the state. The first phase included construction-static rehabilitation works. In 2021, conservation and restoration work continued on the remains of the church. The restoration of the church is important from the point of view of preserving the architectural heritage, as it is a first-class example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture on Slovenian soil. This has allowed us to conserve and present an important common European heritage identity. For the entire duration of restoration works or interventions, regular weekly coordination meetings took place at the facility, attended by all stakeholders involved in the intervention process (the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, a responsible conservator, a conservation and restoration consultant, Restoration Centre), the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geodesy, University of Ljubljana, a statics expert, the Municipality of Slovenske Konjice and others). A round table was held for the general public, as it is essential to actively raise public awareness of the importance of cultural heritage. The mentioned project was strongly exposed in the media, especially from the point of view of modern conservation and its approaches to the conservation of cultural heritage. Due to the efficiency and to some extent the principle of anastylosis (rebuilding in the same forms using the original material), larger stone building blocks and landfills called lapidary have been used several times. With the above interventions, the material authenticity and reuse of the original building blocks was to be followed as much as possible - of course on the basis of comparative material and acceptable conservation interventions from the point of view of economic, socio-cultural and environmental aspects. Consideration of all these three pillars is crucial for the sustainable management of such a challenging project. The last phase of the interventions was a modern roof covering of the Church of St. John the Baptist. The roof consists of two parts - fixed and movable. A movable part of the roof is inserted into the fixed part, which is lowered into a horizontal position with the help of silent lifting technology and completely covers the main nave of the church or venue. The construction of both parts is made of steel, combined with cross-laminated wooden panels. Due to its properties, steel is the best building material for sustainable construction. From an environmental point of view, it is the most recycled material in the world, up to 100% of steel materials can be recycled; from an economic point of view, construction is rational. The fixed part of the roof is covered with slate - with a natural material (stone) from the local environment, the movable part is covered with EPDM membrane (synthetic rubber). Due to its structure, the latter can also be combined with large green roofs or with the installation of solar photovoltaic installations. In terms of energy efficiency, natural materials are not always more suitable than synthetic ones. Most of the materials used are sustainably used, nature-friendly materials with a lower maintenance cost over their lifetime. An AB corridor leading to the viewing platform is inserted into the hollow wall of the church above the presbytery. In the light of sustainable and nature-friendly restoration, all stone walls and reinforced concrete walls are covered with an extensive greening system that conjures up a part of nature and blends in with the environment.
Key success factors
The Žiče Charterhouse is slowly coming back to life. In the lower monastery, there is the preserved parish Church of the Visitation of Mary, and the valley between the lower and upper monastery offers experiences of unspoiled nature and tranquillity. In the renovated outbuildings of the upper monastery, there are four permanent exhibitions, in the monastery cellar, the sparkling wines of the Slovenske Konjice-based Zlati Grič are maturing in peace and quiet, under the arches a master potter shows his craft and invites you among his products, herbal gardens and a store selling herbal preparations invoke the memory of the invaluable heritage of the monastery; and a new tenant of the oldest inn in Slovenia, Gastuž, dating back to 1467, allows you to hear the pleasant chattering of satisfied guests. The monastery is slowly waking up from a century-old dream… Today, this divine space is alive again. On Saturdays, it is filled with moving wedding celebrations, and a few summer Fridays are dedicated to concerts: summer music evenings at the Žiče Charterhouse. This project has also opened up opportunities for further tourism development and the beginnings of unique innovative experiences in light of attracting new guests and returning loyal ones. There are many ideas and possibilities for further conservation and bringing cultural heritage closer to different target groups. The establishment of a digital lapidary and an archaeological park is under way as a basis for scientific research into the material and art-historical substance of the monument of national importance. A modern presentation and research platform of the Žiče Charterhouse will also be created, which will serve for scientific research that is important for the conservation of cultural heritage around the world and at the same time for presenting it to the general public. The renovation and setting up of the interpretation centre for visitors and bringing fresh air into existing exhibitions for visitors are planned. In the light of sustainable management and the exchange of examples of good practice, a comprehensive strategy of interventions and the management plan of the St. John the Baptist’s Valley are being drawn up.
The conservation of cultural heritage should be carried out in a comprehensive manner, which can be achieved through more coordinated cooperation. According to the Slovenian Constitution, all citizens should take care of cultural heritage, especially the state and local communities, although, in fact, this is primarily the task of individual institutions. Why preserve a rich history of the "past"? Because the conservation of heritage and its sustainable use promote human social and cultural development, improve the quality of life of all, both locals and tourists, provide a sense of identity and continuity with previous generations, respect for cultural diversity, etc. Culture and cultural heritage can contribute to inclusive and sustainable development. Every change needs to be identified with, embraced in some way, and understood as a gain for all. Therefore, during the project of restoration of the Žiče Warehouse, workshops were held for the general public, where both supporters of the project and its opponents were able to face one another. There were many disagreements between the art history profession and architects regarding the appropriateness of the planned renovation. Press conferences were also held to raise public awareness of objective facts. The key to success is first and foremost a change in the mindset of the wider environment, networking and cooperation.
Results, achievements and recognitions
Qualitative effects of sustainable development according to TBL (Triple-Bottom line):
Quantitative effects of the restoration:
The presented example is an example of good practice and a quality intervention in a monument of national importance, both professionally, conservatively and economically, and last but not least in the transferability of conservation and management of cultural heritage more widely. Just for consideration: Do people prefer to visit old town centres, squares and villages that testify to the soul of the population, the rich history, are unique with their building tissue, or do we prefer to visit places dominated by instant impersonal architecture, which is no longer regionally recognizable and loses contact with user - resident and visitor? It is certainly important to pay attention and be concerned about the restoration and conservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Because we care about our descendants.