On the northern edges of the diverse Kozjansko Region, south of Šentjur, rises the prominent hill – Rifnik – which dominates the landscape and gives the valley by the river Voglajna a special charm with its conical shape. Hence it is not surprising that Rifnik was more or less continuously populated throughout the major historical eras. Archeological Park Rifnik stands at the location of one of the greatest Late Antique settlements in Slovenia.
The first traces of human habitation on Rifnik were discovered by Lojze Bolta in the deepest layer under the settlement remains from the Early Iron Age. In the cave dwelling from the end of the Neolithic Age, he found a variety of ceramic fragments with particular shapes and ornaments (end of the fourth millennium BC).
The settlement from the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age encompassed the entire upper plateau and the smaller terraces beneath it. On the upper plateau, Schmid and, later, Bolta, found several huts divided into three construction phases. The huts were of different sizes, but all had typical rectangular mortarless stone foundations. Basic wooden construction was placed on these foundations, which was interweaved with twigs, smeared with clay, and whitened with lime. It is likely that the gable roof was made of straw or it was shingled. The floor mostly consisted of beaten clay. Larger huts had two or three smaller rooms. One of the rooms was usually a kitchen with the central fireplace. Small, movable hearths, coils of clay, clay pots, clay pans, and numerous ceramics of various shapes were found by the fireplaces. The inhabitants were busy with hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, crop husbandry, and metal processing.
Flat cremation cemeteries were typical in the Late Bronze Age, also called the Urnfield culture. The deceased and their grave goods were burned on the funeral pyre. Bones, jewelry, and weapons were collected and placed inside the urn, which was put in a hole, covered with a slab and then buried with dirt.
The tumuli were large, artificially shaped earth formations, beneath which the inhabitants of the Early Iron Age buried their men of power, their lords.
In 6th century BC, there was a new method of burying the dead, namely they were no longer burned on a pyre, but were placed – with grave goods – into an oval grave made specifically for the deceased.
In comparison with the importance and the amount of material regarding the Early Iron Age, there is a moderate amount of Celtic items.
THE ROMAN PERIOD
The summit of Rifnik was also populated in 1st century AD. It is highly likely that a temple was built there in the next century, dedicated to Akvon, the local deity of the river Voglajna. The temple was built on the highest point of Rifnik.
On the sunny side of the southern-slope terraces, the Roman population built simple stone houses with gable roofs, which were most likely shingled. The whole settlement was protected on the gentle southern and western slope by an immense, one-meter thick wall with sentry boxes. Rifnik had no direct access to water; hence a cistern had to be built, which is one of the largest in Slovenia.
When the emperor Constantine the Great granted religious freedom to the populace, Christianity spread rapidly. In the 5th century AD, at the top of Rifnik, the most dominant position was occupied by a simple single-nave church with aisles and without an apse. In the middle of the 6th century, the church was renovated, and expanded with a baptistery and the northern room which was likely used as a storage for liturgical objects. A vestibule was added in the west side, and two more rooms in the south. On the westernmost edge of the upper plateau, a smaller Paleo-Christian church with an apse was discovered in 1991. It is highly likely the church was Arian and built in the 6th century AD.
After several battles, including the most important one – the Battle of the Isonzo in 489 when the Ostrogoth king Theoderic the Great defeated Odoacer – the lands occupied by today's Slovenia were annexed to the Ostrogothic Kingdom. Afterwards, people lived in peace for 40 years. However, after the shortlived reign of Byzantium, these terriories were occupied by the Langobards who stayed here until moving to Italy in 568. Both the Ostrogoths and the Langobards were Arians. Their religion did not approve of Christ being equal to God.
We found a plethora of grave goods in skeletal graves – women graves mostly had jewelry, while males also had weapons.
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