Socerb Castle is situated on the Slovenian-Italian border, atop a karst cliff which marks the watershed between the two countries. This site of rich history played an important role in the Partisan defences during the Second World War, as witness the abandoned barracks, gun towers and the cave of Sveta Jama (‘The Holy Cave.’)
The Legend of St Servul and the Holy Cave
Socerb Castle was built on the site of an ancient Illyrian hill-fort. The earliest surviving record of the castle dates from 1040 AD. It is named after St Servul (St Socerb). Legend has it that this early Christian convert hid in nearby Sveta Jama (the Holy Cave) where he was discovered and executed in 283 by the Roman Governor of Trieste.
During the medieval period, the castle was the site of many battles between the Venetians and the people of Trieste, owing to its important strategic position. In time, the boundaries changed and the site became an agricultural settlement, but eventually it fell into disrepair. The present castle was rebuilt in 1925.
The castle and nearby Holy Cave were a Partisan stronghold during the Second World War. A gun tower and ruined barracks are further evidence of the area’s more recent military history. There are mass graves located nearby which are part of a disturbing and largely unknown history from postwar Slovenia, in which opponents of Tito were executed and their bodies hidden.
The cave is now the site of Slovenia’s only underground church, and a service is performed here every year on 24 May (St Servul’s Day).
Visiting the Site
The castle now houses a restaurant, though this is closed at present due to covid restrictions. It does however have good reviews and would certainly make for a dramatic dinner date once it reopens! It is an easy and short walk from the castle to the cave, with views to the Bay of Trieste below the sheer cliff-edge marking the boundary between the two countries. The cave is kept locked and only opened to the public on Sundays at 2pm (covid restrictions permitting) and of course for the 24th May service.