Kobarid and the Isonzo Front 1915-1917
Dr. Birgit Stegbauer
The Slovenian part of the Slovenian, Italian and Austrian border area is one of the most picturesque landscapes you could ever imagine; and yet, this was the scene for the most fierce fighting in the Alps during the First World War. The battles were mainly fought in the vicinity of the small town of Kobarid. There, a 5-km long historical hiking trail (that takes about three to five hours) has been created. It links places around Kobarid and you can see the sites of former battlefields as well as natural monuments in the Soca area and sites of historical-cultural interest.
Even as you make your way to Kobarid you will pass fortification structures from the 'Great War': Coming from Tarvisio in Italy, you'll reach Predil Pass (1.156m), which is the present day border between Italy and Slovenia. Within a short distance of the pass is a first roadblock constructed by the Austrians in 1899, the so-called Batterie Predilsattel with the Hermann-monument. After that, the alpine road offers some stunning views over the Julian Alps and the Mangart massif, so you'd better drive carefully!
Once you have reached the end of the alpine road, the drive continues along the small river Koritnica on the western border of Triglav National Park. The Koritnica's emerald green and crystal-clear water winds through this steep-sided valley. Where the valley reaches its narrowest point you will see the Flitscher Klause (Slovenian: Kluze, Italian: Porta de Plazz Passo). The old fortress was fortified by the Austrian army in 1882 and further strengthened between 1897 and 1900, when another fortress, Fort Hermann, was built further above it. The Klause and the 20-minute hike (in part through a tunnel) to the (demolished) Fort Hermann with its caverns are worth a short stop. I would advise taking torches for the caverns.
Shortly after Flitscher Klause the Koritnica flows into the Soca (Italian: Isonzo). Until 1918 the valleys of the Koritnica and the Soca belonged to Austria, although this was where the borders between Austria and Italy met. So when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary in 1915, this was the place where the Italian army opened the Isonzo-front. Here the two armies clashed in a series of twelve violent battles, fought out until late 1917, culminating in the battle of Kobarid (German: Karfreit, Italian: Caporetto) between the 24th of October and the 7th of November 1917. It was then that Austro-Hungarian and German troops succeeded in a triumphal breakthrough, regarded nowadays as one of the first Blitzkrieg operations.
The sad balance sheet of these battles: More than half a million soldiers lost their lives, about 300,000 Italians and about 200,000 Austro-Hungarians and Germans. Ernest Hemingway served as a driver in the ambulance corps of the Italian army and in 1929 wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about his experiences at the Isonzo-front, 'A Farewell to Arms'.
The Kobariski Muzej/museum in Kobarid remembers the events of the First World War and is dedicated to the woes of the soldiers on both sides of the trenches. I was deeply impressed by the documentary film in the media hall, because it is made entirely using original film material from 1915-1917. You can watch the film in many languages (ask for your language at the ticket office).
The museum is the first of nine stations on the Kobarid Historical Trail. It leads to a prehistoric and roman settlement on Gradic Hill and from there along the Stations of the Cross to the Italian Charnel House, where the mortal remains of 7014 fallen Italian soldiers are buried. The trail continues through the foothills of the Veliki Rob (455m) to the excavation site of a mountain settlement from late Antiquity, called Tonocov Grad (4th until 6th centuries AD). From there the path leads down to an Italian line of defence with trenches, forts and buildings.
A short walk brings you to the deep gorge of the Soca-river, where you cross the Soca on a 52m-long footbridge. Now you can (and should) make a little detour to the waterfalls of the Kozjak brook. Upon your return the path branches upwards on the left, to another Italian line of defence from the First World War. The top of its observation point offers a nice view over a large part of the historical trail and the Soca pools. On your way back you cross the Soca-river once more at Napoleon Bridge before you return to Kobarid. Finally, at the entrance to the village you can visit the cheese museum and buy local cheese.
It's good to know:
Phone: +386 - 5 38 90 000
April-September: 9 am until 6 pm
October-March: 10 am until 5 pm
Adults 5 EUR, Elementary school students 2,50 EUR, older children 4 EUR
You can ask for the folder 'The Kobarid historical trail' at the TIC Kobarid: