Kozolec - the hallowed Slovenian hayrack
Ljubljana, 1 June - Slovenia is recognised globally as a country of abundant natural beauty with lush Alpine meadows and green forests, but its landscape is also dotted with a unique man-made feature that stands testament to its rural heritage.
The kozolec, a hayrack made chiefly of wood, featuring a roof and, often, intricate decorative elements, has been part of Slovenian architecture for centuries and remains one of the most recognisable features of folk architecture.
Born out of the need to dry hay, grain and vegetables in a farm-oriented society, the kozolec has over time evolved into a complex structure whose use today is more of a status symbol than anything else.
Unsurprising given that nearly 60% of Slovenian territory is covered by forest, the traditional hayrack reaffirms the nation's penchant for using wood as a raw material in construction.
"Slovenia is a very wooded country, hence it is understandable that farmers got the idea to use wood as a basic building material," said Rupert Gole, the mayor of the small municipality of Šentrupert, which in 2013 launched an open-air museum dedicated to the kozolec.
While traditional hay drying devices are found in many places in Europe, the level of complexity and intricacy involved in the making of the kozolec sets it apart from simpler structures found elsewhere.
Originally built as a series of racks arranged in a single row covered with a narrow roof, the kozolec grew over the centuries to two rows - this model being called the toplar - holding up an expansive roof under which large amounts of farm produce could be dried and stored.
Modern Slovenian hayracks are often full-scale buildings in their own right, requiring building permits and detailed plans to erect them in line with traditional concepts whose idea was to make them blend in with their natural surroundings.
An architect by profession, Gole came up with the idea for the museum to promote the kozolec in its various forms as an example of folk architecture in Slovenia. In this role, the museum dispenses free design templates to those looking to build it.
This way the Land of Hayracks helps to preserve rural heritage connected with the use of kozolec. "It is important for nurturing this tradition that the hayracks are built using the proper proportions, so that they fit in their surroundings as originally conceived," Gole told the STA.
While other buildings have replaced the kozolec as a means of drying and storing produce in mass agriculture, the kozolec remains a very visible part of the rural landscape in Slovenia thanks to its continued use on many small farms and, more broadly, as a status symbol for farmers.
"Today we see them mostly as means of showcasing a farmer's success and for storing valuable machinery and equipment," Gole explained.
They are also used for gatherings, as a way for the people to shelter from the elements, especially in traditional ceremonies, such as weddings and holiday celebrations.