I had never heard of a secret war hospital, let alone of Franja Partisan Hospital, located near Cerkno in western Slovenia.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about my visit. I’m not much into lots of history about wars, or museums and a combination of the two sounded like a less-than-ideal way to spend an afternoon. But let me tell you about these wooden cabins used during resistance movements by the Slovene Partisans.
I was in Slovenia for a hiking trip with Hedonistic Hiking and would have preferred to have spent my time doing more hiking. But to my surprise, my visit to Franja Hospital was a completely amazing experience!
Franja Partisan Hospital isn’t just a regular hospital, it was a wartime field hospital created in 1943, in German-occupied Europe. It was an extremely dangerous mission, and despite several attempts to find the hidden hospital complex, it, fortunately, remained undiscovered and operational until the end of the war.
The fact that the hospital was never discovered is to the credit of the Slovene Partisans who chose the secret hospital’s location extremely well. Located deep in the rugged terrain of Pasica Gorge, with a hidden entrance and camouflaged buildings surrounded by trees, it was extremely difficult to find either from land or air.
To ensure the hospital’s secrecy, each of the critically 578 soldiers that were treated here, was blindfolded, turned around, and then carried through parts of the river on foot – leaving no trace.
I walked along a nice path along the gorge, which didn’t exist during the hospital’s operation, and observed the fast-moving white water. I can’t imagine the strength it would have taken to carry an injured soldier upstream all the way to the hospital cabins.
Some parts of the river would be impossible to maneuver through and for these parts bridges were constructed, which could be retracted in case of an enemy invasion.
It’s difficult to fully grasp the extent of the wooden building, let alone running a hidden clandestine hospital. The self-guided tour of the reconstructed buildings (the original ones were destroyed in a flood) shows you glimpses of what it must have been like.
One of the most memorable parts of the museum for me was one of the signs. It described a patient who had to perform emergency surgery on himself with no pain meds. He was only guided by the voice of a doctor through a pipe who was in other parts of the hospital during a lockdown as enemy planes flew overhead. It’s truly difficult to grasp the bravery of the hospital staff and the patients who recovered here.
I left the museum in awe, wondering, whether I would be as brave as the Slovene medical staff and patients were. I highly doubt it. A couple of months later I still enthusiastically relay the story of the Franja Partisan Hospital and the Slovenian resistance movement to anyone that will listen. It was an exciting experience I didn’t expect and a precious reminder for me to always be grateful.
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The treacherous route through the Pasica Gorge to the secret war hospital.
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Know Before You Go to Franja Partisan Hospital
- You must walk to the hospital’s entrance along a gorge. It’s flat and an easy walk of ~15 minutes, but not accessible by wheelchair.
- The Cerkno museum is located just under 5km from Cerkno in western, Slovenia.
- Franja Partisan Hospital is open from 9:00 – 18:00 April 1st – September 30th, until 16:00 in October. From November 1st – March 31st it is only open in good weather or with a group booking. Call to make arrangements: +386 5 37 23 180
- The entrance fee is a very reasonable €4.
- It’s a self-guided tour and takes approximately an hour to tour all the buildings.
- Signs at the hospital museum are in English.
- Visit the museum’s website for further info.