Svetina, a small settlement in Slovenia’s eastern Styria region just south of Štore, is known regionally for two things: its parish church which dates back to at least the early 15th century, and as the final resting place for Alma Karlin, Slovenia’s most renowned female traveler of the early years of the 20th century.
Karlin was born in nearby Celje, today Slovenia’s third largest city, in 1889, the daughter of Jakob, a major in the Austro-Hungarian army and Vilibalda, a teacher. Among other things, she had an apparent knack for languages. After completing her secondary education in Graz, she went to London where she studied languages and by the time she returned to Celje in 1919, then a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and barely into her twenties, she know more than a dozen.
She opened a local language school, put in long hours, tucked away some cash and then, beginning in November 1919, spent the better part of the next decade on a solo journey around the world with her typewriter Erika: North and South America, Australia, the Pacific Islands, Asia. She was in India when she returned home in early 1928, at the request of her dying mother.
She returned exhausted, ill and suffering from depression, and never traveled again. But she did write, a lot, work that’s part reportage, part memoir, part philosophical and spiritual exploration.
Hundreds of accounts from her travels appeared in local and regional journals and newspapers. A three-part travelogue –“Samotno potovanje”, or “The Lonely Journey”, “Doživeti svet” or “The Experienced World”, and “Urok južnega morja”, “The Spell of the South Sea”– was followed by other works, both fiction and non, which were well regarded in German cultural circles in the 1930s. (Karlin wrote in German her entire life.)
That ended with the outbreak of World War II, a period during which she spent under house arrest and shuttled around various parts of northern Yugoslavia. She died of breast cancer and tuberculosis in 1950 at age 60 and is buried in Svetina.
More? Check out:
- the Alma Karlin virtual home, with an expanding English section
- Alma Karlin on Culture.si
- Alma Karlin on Wikipedia
- And an 83-minute documentary produced in 2009.
Eleven more images below, mostly of and in the parish church, home to several somewhat creepy cherubs, reason enough to make the 13km trip from Celje. So are the views of the hills that roll out in each direction.
And to get your bearings: