The Hayrack: A National Icon
Nothing is as Slovenian as the kozolec, the hayrack seen almost everywhere in the country. Because the Alpine ground can be damp, wheat and hay are hung from racks, allowing the wind to do the drying faster and more efficiently.
Until the late 19th century, the kozolec was just another tool to make a farmer’s work easier and the land more productive. But when artist Ivan Grohar made it the centrepiece of many of his Impressionist paintings, the kozolec became as much a part of the cultural landscape as the physical one. Today it's virtually a national icon.
There are many different types of Slovenian hayracks: single ones standing alone, ‘goat hayracks’ with sloped ‘lean-to’ roofs, parallel and stretched ones, and double toplarji (hayracks), often with roofs and storage areas on top. Simple hayracks are not unknown in other parts of Alpine Central Europe, but toplarji, decorated or plain, are unique to Slovenia.
Hayracks were traditionally made of hardwood (usually oak). Today, however, the hayrack’s future is in concrete, and the new stretched ones seem to go on forever.
The traditional Štajerska region, encompassing much of the northeast, including the towns of Maribor, Celje and Ptuj, has long been the crossroads of Slovenia and virtually everyone has ‘slept here’ – Celts, Romans, early Slavs, Habsburgs and Nazi occupiers. In the 14th century, the German-speaking Counts of Celje were among the richest and most powerful feudal dynasties in Central Europe, and they challenged the Austrian monarchy’s rule for a century. Štajerska suffered more than most of the rest of Slovenia during WWII, when many of its inhabitants were murdered, deported or sent to Nazi labour camps.