Mills on the River Idrija

DSCI0080The River Idrija flows through the area of Kanalski Kolovrat. The river is 25 km long and it divides Slovenia from Italy. In the past, there were several mills on this river. Trey were the source of earnings of the millers living in that area, and had also a great influence on the economy in Kanalski Kolovrat, as well as on the locals and on the water system itself. Unfortunately, these architecture attractions do not exist any more today because modern technology has replaced them. Apart from this, the frontier, which in 1947 separated Slovenia from Italy right along the Idrija River, was also a brake on their existence. As the political regime of that time was very oppressive, the people were forced to give up this activity. Many people left their homes and went elsewhere, where they could have lived a better life.DSCI0022

Today it is difficult to precisely determine the time when these mills were built. According to the above-mentioned data, they are thought to be built in 1700. The characteristics of the mills on the River Idrija are similar to the ones that other mills in the Municipality and other valleys posses. A distinctive characteristic of the mills on Idrija is without doubt the fact that the people used to grind chestnut there, for the area of Kanalski Kolovrat has always been rich with chestnut. The chestnut was firstly dried and afterwards cleaned and grinded.

According to an oral tradition, there were 17 mills on the way from Golo Brdo upwards, but today only eight mills have been preserved. These are the following ones:

- Mlinar's Mill under Velendol belongs to Bernik. The mill had two mill wheels for grinding cereals and maize. It worked up until 1960.

- Miha's Mill belonged to Zelinšček from the village of Želinje. This mill had also two mill wheels and a stamping mill. It worked up until 1952.

- Zagorec's Mill belonged to Mr Velušček from the hamlet of Bajti. It had two mill wheels, and worked up until 1915. On the mill, there was also a stone plate with an inscription from 1782. Recently, the plate disappeared and has not yet been found.

Other mills, which were situated along Idrija, are Filej's Mill and Ivanček’s Mill, which will be described below.
All these mills belonged to millers, who lived on the right bank of the River Idrija.

While other mills, which were located in the north-east part of the river, belonged to the millers from Venetian Slovenia. These are:
- Salamant’s Mill worked up until 1970

- Klinček’s Mill;

- Melin’s Mill.

Apart from these, the following mills shall be mentioned: Matiček’s Mill, which is below the village of Srednje, Štefec’s Mill, which is on the River Idrija as well. The Mill farm used to be situated in the west of Srednje, whereas in the village of Podravno, below the village of Močila, there was Ravnik’s Mill, and below the village of Kostanjevica there was Runko’s Mill. This day you can find only remains of these mills.

The majority of these mills had only one room, which was used only for grinding up. The sole exception was Zagorec’s Mill, which also had a room with a fireplace, where the Zagorec family used to cook, relax as well as warm themselves. Mlinar’s and Ivanček’s Mills also had other rooms, where their families could live. There were no electricity inside the mills and that is why the people living there and the miller had to help themselves using splinters and oil lamps.

The mills’ activity influenced on the development of agriculture, and vice versa. The agriculture influenced on the number of mills on that area. The increasing of population contributed to the development of the agriculture and harvesting of cereals, maize and buckwheat, and as a consequence, several mills were built. Before the Second World War, the mills on the River Idrija supplied a large part of the Kolovrat area, as well as Venetian Slovenia, and during the war the mills also supplied the partisan units.

The mills on the River Idrija used to work during the whole year, even though the grinding up depended on the quantity of water in the river. During dry periods, the millers used to grind up with only one mill wheel, what greatly influenced on the quality of flour – as it was rough-grinded, it was not as good as finely-grinded flour. In contrast with dry periods, in cases of abundance of water, millers used to grind up with two mill wheels. They used to grind up cereals on one stone, and maize on the other one. In the heyday of the season, lasting from the beginning of the autumn up until late spring, up to 500 kg of cereals and 700 kg of maize were grinded up. In those times, the millers used to grind up in the night-time as well. This was not possible any more in the time when Kanal and its surroundings were under the Yugoslavian government, as the authorities supervised the millers as well as the customers, who had to bring with them a permission for dwelling in a hundred-metre frontier area. If the customers did not have this permission, they were denounced and fined. It was very difficult to grind up during the winter. If the river got frozen, they could have stopped the grinding up.

Usually it was the owner himself who grinded, but in certain occasions, he was also replaced by the members of his family. It also happened that somebody took out a lease on a mill. Large quantities of grains were taken into the mills by means of carriages or a type of sledge, whereas smaller quantities (i.e. up to 50 kg) were taken in sacks. The customers waited there until the grains were grinded up. The mill used to be the place where people met and exchanged various information and chats.

The miller used to charge for his work. Having grinded up 30 kg of flour, he could have taken one kg for himself. People could also pay for the grinding up. At the beginning, millers used to measure the quantity of grinded flour with aluminous or wooden cups, and in the time of Austrian-Hungarian government, millers had to buy suitable scales, as it was required by the finance department.

Millers, who grinded up into flour, usually also had sieves, which were very precious in that time. Whole-wheat flour had to be grinded up three times so that they could get the quality they wanted. Usually millers used to buy mill stones in the quarry near the village of Golo Brdo, where mill stones of best quality could be found.

The miller, who wanted to build a new mill or just to renovate an old one, had to draw a suitable plan of it, and afterwards, on the basis of it, he had to obtain a building permit. Once all the permissions had been obtained, a miller could start to build a mill. That was the right time for local tradesman to start working. All the external construction elements of a mill were made of beech wood, as it is resistant to weather conditions and water, whereas the internal construction elements were made of linden wood, for rodents did not start eating it. Mill wheels used to be up to three metre high and up to forty centimetre wide.

In order to be allowed to have such an activity, every miller had not only to possess an appropriate permission, but also to pay a certain amount of annual taxes to the municipality. In the River Idrija’s Valley, there was an agreement in force among millers saying that in dry periods, one miller used to grind up only cereals, whereas another miller only maize. Thus they could grind up with only one mill stone, as there was not enough water for both the mill wheels.

All the mills built on the River Idrija were typically agricultural mills and were not meant for making profit. After the Second World War, there was not as much work as before, and many millers were forced to drop their activity. The main culprit for this was the electrification, as in one day an electric mill could grind up as much flour as that produced by all of the traditional mills on the River Idrija put together. The last mill on the River Idrija closed down in 1970.

(Taken from the booklet entitled “Under the Shelter of Saint Kancijan,” translated by Pavel Medvešček)

In the past, the terrain of the Municipality of Kanal ob Soči was enriched by this type of architectural beauties. Of course, the mills were not situated only on the River Idrija, but also on the streams Ajba, Doblarec, Avšček and elsewhere.

Let us also mention some of other mills:

Ivanček’s Mill on the River Idrija nearby the hamlet of Britof

There is no precise information on when Ivanček’s Mill was built. In all likelihood, it is thought to had been built at the same time as the majority of all the other mills on the River Idrija, which are only ruins today.
The mill belonged to Bajti’s family from the hamlet of Bajti. Miller’s family had a large farm and thus had not any time for the mill. That is why they decided to rent it. From World War I onwards, it was firstly rented by a family from Goriška Brda, followed by another renter, who was known for his unfair behaviour: instead of taking the agreed amount of flour from the grinded amount as a payment, he always took more. The people noticed it soon afterwards. As a consequence, the people stopped to bring stuff for grinding in that mill. The owner of the mill dismissed the renter, and the work in the mill was taken over by miller’s older daughter, who also told us this story.

That was not an easy life for a thirteen-year old girl, who, in a short time, acquired all the necessary skills for such a demanding profession. The people loved her, and she always had plenty of work to do. Apart from knowing all the professional secrets, a good miller had to know what did the people that brought cereals to grind like. Only in this way the miller could pleased his customers. Children also came in the mill, as they were attracted by mill’s charm.

Ivanček’s Mill had two mill stones for grinding cereals and maize, and it also had a stamp mill. Only if a mill had all these three tools, the mill was regarded as a proper mill. With regard to the place where millers used to grind, Ivanček’s Mill had also a living room. The water that pushed the mill wheel came from the River Idrija as well as from other streams which flowed into the River Idrija and filled up the dam, which was used for mill’s needs. Frequently they used to grind also during the night, as the water power was three times greater because of the lower temperature. Water power depended also on animals, which drank from the river, and on farmers as well.

Ivanček’s Mill supplied the hamlet of Kovačevica, Kodermaci, Oborča, Ščubci, Lajšča, Podrob, Podrskije, Prapotno (all these hamlets being on the Italian side this day), as well as the hamlet of Britof, Filej, Strmec, Markiči, Bajti, Šeberjak and others that are on the Slovenian side today.

The miller was paid either with other goods, or with money. Paying with goods meant that the miller took a specified percentage of the amount of flour grinded from every customer. Usually the miller took the amount of flour in front of customer's eyes so that he could avoid accusation of fraud. The miller had also the duty to supervise his scale. He had to take the control over the scale annually in the village of Deskle, where used to be the Municipality building. Apart from this, the miller had also to hand over a list of people specifying who had brought cereals and maize to grind, and containing the number of quantity that had been grinded. The miller had to hand the list monthly. It was used for supervising the farmers and their real property, and not for supervising the miller himself. The owner of the mill had to pay 200 liras annually for the license and another 200 liras for the permission for using water.

Ivanček’s Mill was destroyed in 1937 because of the fatal overflow of water, which also destroyed many other mills on the River Idrija. The Municipality, facing a severe crisis in that time, could not assure the miller enough cement for the mill reconstruction. Up until the Second World War, the mill was not reconstructed, and afterwards, in 1946, it began to work again, but unfortunately this did not last for a long time. In 1947, a frontier between Italy in Slovenia was established, and the girl that during this period had already become a woman was forced to leave her mill. Despite her leaving, the mill that got a new worker worked up until 1967.

The Kašari’s Mill belonged to the Drašček family from the nearby village of Bodrež. The mill, the original name of which being ‘Kašarjev mlin,’ was later on bought by the Drašček family. The mill has worked since the Second World War onwards. In the past, it was a traditional mill with two mill wheels and a stamp mill, while in the 70s, when the mill was bought by the Drašček family, it was turned into an electric mill. But there is only a little left from the original mill. This electric mill is the only one of this type in the Municipality of Kanal ob Soči, and is the only one that still works. The family uses it for their own needs, and only with prior agreement, they grind up for others. They grind up mostly maize, barley, buckwheat and cereals, and they use the flour as fodder for animals and for making popular home-made food, i.e. hominy.DSCI0064