Where Italian blends with Slovenian, and the people enjoy great wine while avoiding the plague…

By. Jernej Smalc

Leaving Venice and heading north east for an hour or so, you will notice that the signposts along your road start indicating places in two languages, the second of which looking strangely un-Italian. Then, suddenly, the Italian moves to the second place. You have just passed the border between Italy and the tiny Republic of Slovenia. Once there, you still hear all people speak Italian, though an Italian would not understand a single word, for the language spoken only sounds Italian, but is in fact a specific dialect marked by its pronounced Italian melody but using Slavic words.

It was not only its mild weather, beauty or that splendid local Cabernet Sauvignon what some 200 years ago made this hilly wine region such a promised destination for many Europeans. It was rather because it was known as a rare 100% cholera-free area on the old continent at that time.

Well, to be true, one fatal case of cholera indeed happened in the town of Gorica in 1836 – and by no means an unremarkable one.

The last king of France, how he fled to Italy, and his fear of disease…

Some decades before, and 2000 miles to the west, in France, the Bourbons regained their crown following the three Napoleons.  In 1824, after the death of Louis XVIII, Charles X became what later turned out to be the last King of France.

The re-installed French monarchy was quite comparable to the modern parliamentary one already practiced across the La Manche (the French term for what England patriotically calls “The English Channel”). With time, disputes between the king and the parliament became frequent and severe, the latter strongly disliking the way the former was doing his job. A new revolution followed in July 1830 and the king was forced to leave his throne, together with his family and his country.

The Bourbons first picked Edinburgh, Scotland as their place of exile, but unhappy consequences forced them to flee.  One their way to Prague, the family received an invitation from the Count of Coronini in North-Eastern Italy and they immediately rerouted their journey. Visiting the town of Gorica (or Gorizia, it you prefer Italian lettering), the royal family decided to stay there, the cholera-free status being the key criterion of their choice.

We all die of what we fear the most, but give us something to admire in our final days…

A little too late, as it turned. Just 17 days later, Charles X was attacked by the very disease he was so scared of. Looking through the window while dying in his bed, the ex-king spent his last days admiring the church belonging to the nearby Franciscan Monastery of Kostanjevica (speak Cost-an-yeah-witzer). Moments before he died at the age of 79, which made him the only victim of cholera ever recorded in this region, he expressed his wish to be buried right there.

So, the Kostanjevica Monastery became tomb of the last French king, the only French king buried outside France and the only king ever buried in the territory of what today is known as Slovenia.

After death, we still drink wine…

Moreover, having refused to leave him alone, all the King’s remaining French Bourbon contemporaries and successors, including Louis XIX, the king-to-be, were happy to stay until their last days among those lovely vineyards of the Isonzo Valley. No wonder that the Franciscan Monastery has since been known as “Little St. Denis”, maintaining tombs of the entire French branch of the Bourbon dynasty following Charles X.

Moving bones…

Their rest was rather heavily disturbed in 1917, when Charles I of Austria visited the war-beaten Isonzo Valley and, short of any better idea how to win the war, he had the Bourbon tomb moved to Vienna. But already in 1932, the bones were re-transported to Kostanjevica.

Meanwhile, the French Monarchist Party is still active today and one of its goals is to transfer the tombs to France. This idea, however, has found a fierce opposition in the Bourbons themselves (or, better, their remaining Spanish branch). They are quite frequent guests at Kostanjevica. At one of his latest visits, in February 2017, Prince Louis Alphonso de Bourbon, the legitimate heir of the French crown, personally thanked the Franciscans for protecting and maintaining the tombs intact for such a long time – and refused any option of transferring his ancestors’ rests anywhere else.

 

To find Kostanjevica pri Gorici, just take the E70 Motorway (from south), or, if approaching from Austria, the A23, and head for Palmanova. Proceed E70 to pass the border and observe the Hill located in the southern suburbs of Nova Gorica and follow Škrab?eva Ulica.

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