This position is not coincidental. The village of Škocjan was presumably settled in the prehistoric period and undoubtedly in the Roman period. Like the caves, it was named after St. Cantianius (sv. Kancijan) to whom other twenty-two churches in the Slovenian area are dedicated, usually standing beside streams, springs and sinkholes.
The original Gothic church was expanded in the 17th century with the addition of two side naves and a new presbytery. The freestanding Aquileian bell tower replaced the earlier bell tower in 1858. It was around this church that the village developed, leaning on the partly preserved hill fort walls inside which it is situated. The village consists of a nucleus of buildings that opens in two sets on both sides of the church. Only the houses on the end of both sets could thus develop into the walled-in homesteads typical of the area. The majority of buildings in the village are from the 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors can admire a wonderful example of a chiselled stone village well that collects rainwater from the roofs of nearby houses and a cattle pond (kal) that was used as a rainwater collector for watering cattle.
Until the mid-1950s, the village of Škocjan was famous for its many craftsmen (three blacksmiths, a maker and repairer of wagons, a carpenter, two tailors, two dressmakers, a midwife, a stonecutter and an innkeeper) and was a church centre with a curacy and a school (1865–1962).
In present times, the village is almost deserted except for during the tourist season, when visitors to the two permanent museum exhibitions bring it back to life. The ethnological collection in the J'kopin barn presents the methods of producing grain and its use in the times of ploughing by hand. This ground structure's roof is thatched with rye straw and is a unique feature that has disappeared from these parts. In the renovated Jurjev barn, the fascinating history of exploring the Škocjan Caves system from the early 19th century is presented. Many local explorers of the Škocjan Caves found their resting place in the village cemetery. Anton Hanke, an important explorer of the Škocjan Caves, is also buried here.
A core settlement developed from individual building units in the hollow beneath the village of Škocjan. According to the oral tradition from the second half of the 19th century, the first homestead in the village of Betanja was the Betančeva Homestead, which received the largest plot of land in the subsequent division of land in the village. The oral tradition also holds that the village inhabitants enclosed their properties with a stone wall after the division. The majority of these characteristic 19th and 20th century homesteads in the village of Betanja are built around a courtyard (dial. borjač) with a well (dial. štirna) in the middle and enclosed with a stone wall. The courtyard opens outwards with a stone portal (dial. kalona). A stone roof with slate tiles has been preserved on the living quarters of the Betančeva Homestead that replaced the usual thatch in the Karst and provided a more solid and, above all, fireproof roof.
In addition to the Church of Sv. Kancijan and its bell tower, the castle on Školj gives the landscape in the protected area a special character. The castle is one of the preserved nine medieval castles in the Reka River valley that separated northern regions from the coastal ones as a natural, political and cultural boundary. The Školj Castle is situated on cliff above the river.
Cultural heritage properties in the area are protected by law. Since 1996, the following structures have been declared cultural monuments due to their special value:
- the areas of settlement monuments:
the villages of Škocjan and Betanja;
- archaeological monuments:
the Tominčeva Cave, Ozka špilja, Czoering Cave, Jama nad Jezerom, Luknja v Lazu beneath Matavun, Škocjan hillfort, Ponikve Necropolis, Necropolis beneath Matavun, the cliff in Sapendol, the cave in Sokolak, Jama na Prevali II, Mala jama na Prevali, the Stojance fallow near Betanja, Necropolis Za griči, Necropolis beneath Brežec, the hill fort near the village of Naklo, Tabor nad Škofijami;
- historical art monuments:
the Church of Sv. Kancijan, the ruins of Školj Castle;
- ethnological monuments:
Matavun 8 and 10, Škocjan 4, 5, and 7, the former curacy and communal stone well, Betanja 2;
- technical monuments:
Matavun 4 – ice pit, buildings in Malne;
- historical monuments:
the cemetery and old tombstones in the cemetery, the tombstone dedicated to J. Mahorčič by the church in the village of Škocjan; the sign on the part of the bridge along the Tominčeva Trail, dedicated to Emperor Augustus, the sign in the Schmidl Hall dedicated to the explorers, the monument erected to the memory of dead fighters and victims of fascism in Matavun; Hanke's grave in Škocjan and the stone signpost at the junction of the old Dolnje Ležeče-Lokev road.
Škocjan Caves Regional Park Act (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, No 57/96)
Prepared by: Darja Kranjc
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