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|The Lower Savinja Valley and the Municipality of Zalec
The Municipality of Zalec includes the Savinja Valley and the surrounding hills. The valley is as flat as a table and surrounded by hills where small white churches and houses glow wherever you look. The countryside is as picturesque as anywhere in Slovenia but has its own special character. This is provided by the hop, thousands of hectares of hop covering the valley that give the valley its special stamp. If we speak of hop, we think of the Savinja Valley; and if we speak of the Savinja Valley, we think of hop. The two things are so closely linked that we can’t separate them, because hop has given an indelible stamp to the valley and its people. The link is a good hundred years old, and hop growing goes back for nearly four generations.
The area is also known for its location along the route between Vienna and Trieste, that is, between Central Europe and the Adriatic Sea. Its position beside a significant traffic route—one might even say the valley is in a draught—has been very important since prehistoric times. Through it passed the famous “Jade Route,” used for transporting jade from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Various peoples migrated here, settled, and left their mark. The first of these known by name were the Celts. They left numerous traces of settlements and graves. In the period when Jesus Christ lived, the Romans arrived. They too left numerous traces: the most beautiful Roman remains found so far are in Sempeter. During the period of the migration of nations, Germanic tribes passed through the Savinja Valley, and Hun and Avar soldiers rode through leaving devastation behind. At length, our Slovene ancestors settled in the valley. Humble, tenacious, and industrious, we endured to the present day. Neither war nor quiet assimilation conquered us. The people of the Savinja Valley have always been one of the pillars of the Slovene identity. Here the Slovene nation always found the strength to take a stand, whether in the period of national awakening, in the struggle for the northern border, in the Second World War, or in the war for Slovenia’s independence. In this last war, the Zalec municipality played a visible role when its Territorial Defence forces captured the largest armoury of the Yugoslav army in Slovenia and ensured enough weapons for our soldiers.
As I mentioned before, hop has given a specific stamp to the Savinja Valley and the entire municipality in the last century. Hop growing demanded greater knowledge and provided better income, which in turn inspired self-confidence and a sense of significance among the people here. The higher incomes influenced the style of house construction, and many Savinja farmers built large comfortable houses. Their homes were filled with furniture reflecting an urban more than rural lifestyle, and the entire valley gave the impression of prosperity, arousing envy and admiration in others. Furthermore, because contract workers were needed in hop production, the Savinja farmer had to learn to lead and supervise others at work.
There is another consequence the hop has left. Because of the frequent fires in the oasthouses, volunteer fire brigades were formed in almost every village. Today, ten percent of the population is organized in fire brigades. Along with cultural and sport associations, the fire brigades play an important role in local organization and social life.
Of course not everyone is involved in agriculture and the hop business. The majority work in industry, commerce, and small manufacturing. In our valley, the textile and ceramic industries have the longest tradition, and more recently the metalworking industry has joined them. The ceramic industry is over two hundred years old: the ceramics factory in Liboje has been operating without interruption for 180 years and is the oldest company in the valley. The textile industry is more than a hundred years old as well. Important metalworking factories include Ferralit where among other products bells are cast, the SIPSEMPETER farm machinery factory, and KIV Vransko which is gaining recognition for producing waste furnaces.
After 1990, some companies experienced crises because they were not adapted to work in a market economy. However, it is typical that small manufacturing and enterprise flourish in the Savinja Valley, and in the last five years the number of small manufacturers and companies has tripled. Today, Zalec above all has become an attractive destination for shoppers with a full range of small shops where one can find everything. Among them are pleasant cafés and bars, and it is a pleasure to simply walk through the lively market and watch the people. Zalec is thus attracting people from the wider countryside and even from larger towns like Celje, Velenje, and Trbovlje.
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