In Slovenia, there are many legends surrounding dragons, such as the legend of Jason and the Argonauts or the legend of St George. These legends led to the beliefs that actual dragons lived in Slovenia and, more specifically, in the numerous Slovenian caves.
Dragons do not really live inside the Slovenian Caves. However, small creatures called olms are often considered as baby dragons. These dragon-looking animals are prevalent among tourists and live in Slovenian Caves, such as the Postojna Cave.
Nowadays, baby dragons can be observed in the Caves open for touristic tours, and for the first time in the last 200 years, we have been able to watch them hatch and develop. Let’s discover together everything you need to know about the dragons living in Slovenia.
What Are Exactly The Baby Dragons Living in Slovenian Caves?
Although they are a central part of the Slovenian myth, Ljubljana dragons’ story does not stop at these legends. The legends actually come from the existence of real baby dragons: Proteus anguinus, also called olms.
The baby dragons are still living in the Slovenian caves of Postojna and Škocjan, only accessible through an underground train.
It is an ancient species of blind aquatic salamanders that can live 400 feet underground, about a hundred years old, and supposedly eight to fourteen years without food.
Villagers thought they were baby dragons because of the way they looked: transparent, white, fetus like, small with no sight, and pink gills. These creatures are as fascinating as the dragons from the stories.
They stay children forever in a way because their growth is really slow, and they keep baby features throughout their whole lives.
They are about 25-30 centimeters in length. They have small and short legs with three digits on their forelimbs and two on their hind feet.
Another detail that is fascinating about olms is their reproduction. Since they always lived hidden, scientists do not know much about how they reproduce. For that reason, many biologists have been trying to study their reproduction system, successfully, fortunately, but with a lot of difficulties.
The first time they were mentioned in the scientific literature was in 1689 in a 15-volume encyclopedia called “The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola,” written by Polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor.
According to him, baby dragons were causing abnormal changes in the natural spring Vrhnika, not far from the City of Ljubljana. He was told by the villagers a dragon lived under the spring and that he would empty it whenever it was full.
After days of rainy weather, small creatures looking like baby dragons would come out of the spring. It explains the existence of the beast, according to the villagers. These baby monsters used to be sold as souvenirs for tourists during the 19th century when tourism started increasing rapidly in Slovenia.
Olms have been at the center of a competition between scientists and biologists to be the first to present the new species. It was a scientist called Giovanni Antonio Scopoli, who has been able to obtain live specimens first.
The Latin name Proteus Anguinus and the description of the species were given in 1768 for the first time.
Charles Darwin wrote about these unusual salamanders from Postojna in his work On the Origin of Species (1859)
In 2016, a female olm living in an aquarium in the Postojna cave laid eggs, giving birth to two new baby olms, which we could say are the first Dragons humans have ever seen. This makes Slovenia the home of the closest creature we have to dragons.
The Legends That Explain Slovenia’s Love For Dragons
The fact that villagers used to think actual dragons lived in their caves is easily explainable. There are many legends and myths about dragons in Central Europe, and Slovenia does not fail to tell stories about knights beating monsters.
The most important legend is the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason had an army of Argonauts that he took sailing across Europe after stealing the Golden Fleece from the King of the Black Sea and falling in love with his daughter Medea.
In the Argo, his ship, he crossed the Danube River and the Aegean Sea to enter the Ljubljanica River’s mouth. Since this River was narrow, the Argonauts had to dismantle the ship and carry it on their shoulders.
When winter came, Jason and his men decided to set camp on the Ljubljanica River’s shores. What they did not know was that they set foot in the dragon’s swamp, awakening and provoking him. The dragon opened the River and killed half of the troops of Argonauts.
Jason and Medea decided to look for the dragon’s den. When they discovered it on the other side of the forest, Medea, known for being a witch, began casting a spell to put the dragon to sleep.
Jason tied up the monster and filled its nostrils with gigantic rocks to stop it from breathing fire. The flames collected inside his body. When he woke up, he burst into a fireball and flew over Ljubljana, allowing everyone to discover the dragon and see their first-ever fireworks.
The second most famous legend about dragons is the legend of St George. It is the myth of Saint George and the dragon of Slovenske Konjice. St. George is known as the patron of the castle’s chapel.
Legend says people from Slovenske Konijce were afraid of a dragon living in the mountain because it would flood their houses by blasting the lake inside the mount. Every year six women were given to the creature in exchange for peace.
One year, the Lord’s daughter Marjetica was supposed to be sacrificed. To save her from death, St. George ran to the mountain and stabbed the dragon with a spear. The blood of the dragon formed a river that is now flowing across town.
In the chapel of St. George, you can find frescoes depicting the hero alongside his white horse fighting and beating the dragon. This is how the dragon went from medieval legend to city emblem in Ljubljana.
This symbol is represented on the Dragon Bridge. It is the most famous bridge in Ljubljana, mostly because of the four dragons adorning it.
The symbol of the dragon is the most important one in Slovenia and especially in Ljubljana. Everywhere around the city, you will find dragons: on the manhole covers, on top of the castle, on the bridges, on the tourist souvenirs, etc. It is a decoration for many Slovenian products, but also in the architecture and infrastructure of the city.
The dragon is very important in Slovenian culture, which is why it is understandable that Slovenians would try to find and believe in real dragons existing in their caves.
Olms are supposed to be the offspring of the dragons that used to live in Slovenia. These dragons are the ones from the legend we talked about.
Where Are The Caves Where You Can Observe Baby Dragons?
The caves in Slovenia foster more than 150 animal species, and the olm, or Proteus anguinus, is the largest one.
There are two main caves where you will be able to see “actual dragons.” The first one is the most touristic and most famous cave in Slovenia: Postojna Cave.
The particularity of Postojna Cave is the fact that olms live there, and you can observe them. Postojna cave is made for you if you are an animal lover since it is the karst with the most biodiversity. In one of its corridors, you will even find a vivarium.
In Postojna Cave was the first display of olms in the world in the 19th century, and a few years ago, the first hatching witnessed by mankind in the last 200 years in Slovenia (even though France was able to breed olms in 1950).
So, in 2016, small translucent eggs in Postojna Cave were spotted, and 120 days later were born 22 baby olms in the underground laboratory.
The biologist Primož Gnezda is the specialist concerning oms. He spent years in the caves to observe and study olms from head to toe.
This cave is the best one to observe olms because it is now a touristic aspect of the guided tour.
The second cave where you might see baby dragons is the Škocjan Caves. It is the second most touristic Cave in Slovenia. It also has the most abundant subterranean canyon in Europe, which is worth the visit.
Between Myth and Reality
It might be disappointing for children hearing the legends of the Slovenian dragons for the first time to learn that they do not actually exist. The dragon is a mythical symbol full of history and secrets.
Legends portray dragons as the embodiment of natural elements and tremendous strength. Fortunately, olms are here to satisfy everyone’s childhood dream to see actual dragons.
Visit Postojna and Škocjan Caves, and you will discover everything you need to know about these small creatures. With this tour and the legends in mind, you can make dragons really exist.