World War One began on 28 July 1914, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Two opposing blocks entered the war, The Allies, composed of France, Great Britain and Russia on one side and the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey on the other. At this stage Italy had not entered the war, remaining neutral until it signed the Treaty of London in 1915 and joined the Allies. Italy declared war on the Austria, Hungary and Germany on 23 May 1915.
The war was being fought on several fronts throughout Europe and now another was opened up. Running from the Stelvio Pass at the junction of the Italian, Swiss and Austrian borders, it stretched 600km across Tyrol, the Carnian Alps, and the Soča/Isonzo region to the Adriatic Sea. The 90km section of the front running along the River Soča from Mt. Rombon to the Adriatic was called the Isonzo Front (or Soča Front).
Battle raged for nearly two and a half years and twelve offensives took place. The Italians attacked 11 times but each time were unsuccessful. The 12th offensive (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Caporetto and described by Ernest Hemingway in his book, A Farewell to Arms) resulted in a major breakthrough for the joint Austro-Hungarian and German armies who pushed back the Italians to the Piave river, advancing more than 100km towards Venice. Here the advance was halted and, almost exactly a year later, the war ended with the collapse of of the Central Powers.
The grim statistics are that on the Soča Front almost one million people lost their lives, soldiers, plus men, women and children behind the lines.
Today, it is impossible to imagine the horror of it all and the hardships that the soldiers must have endured, but scattered throughout the Soča Valley and on the surrounding mountains are reminders of that terrible time. Military cemeteries can be found at Trenta, Log Pod Mangarton, Bovec, Kobarid and Tolmin and other locations in the valley. Most notable perhaps is the Italian Charnel House that stands on the Hill of St Anthony above Kobarid. Memorials are everywhere, some being simple plaques, others on a grander scale such as the Memorial Church of the Holy Spirit (sv. Duh) at Javorca, near Tolmin.
Remains of the battles can be easily spotted – it is hard to go anywhere without coming across ruined defences, gun emplacements, trenches and camps. Scenes of battle can be visited too. In order to preserve this heritage as well as possible, the Slovenian Government adopted a ten-year programme in 2000, named “The Soča Region – The Walks of Peace”, as a national and international project. The objective of the project is to preserve, restore and present the historical and cultural heritage of the First World War in the area of the Isonzo Front for the study, tourist and educational purposes. From what we have seen, we can say they are doing an excellent job!
If you would like to explore the front, there is a detailed map of the Soča Front and the many walks that visit it available in tourist offices and shops in Bovec and Kobarid.
Our Slovenia guidebook has several walks in this area and most of them pass by scenes and memorials from the war.
- Walk 11 to Vršič. The road over the pass was built by Russian prisoners of war and was used by the Austro-Hungarians to supply their front lines in the Soča Valley.
- Walk 12 – River Soča walk in Trenta. Passes by a Austro-Hungarian military cemetery in Trenta.
- Walk 15 – Krn and Batognica. Krn was one of the most important fortified mountains in the Soča region. On Batognica the front lines were at one time only a few meters apart.
- Walk 16 – the Kobarid Historical Walk. Visits the Italian Charnel House and trenches and defences of the Italian Third Defence Line.