Many people walk by them without ever noticing them. But to hikers, trekkers, and mountain climbers, blazes are an invaluable tool. These conspicuous splashes of bright pain on trees or rocks help nature lovers to stay on major trials and out of the dangers that often lurk in the unmarked terrain beyond.
Slovenia, with its mountainous terrain and a long tradition of hiking, is not only full of well-blazed trails -- it also has a blaze design all of its own. It’s remarkable in its simplicity: a white circle surrounded by a red ring, looking much like a target.
The distinctive blaze was the brainchild of Alojz Knafelc. A committed mountaineer, Knafelc had founded a local chapter of the Slovenian Mountaineering society in what is now Villach, Austria.
He was also an expert cartographer, and spent considerable time recording and marking Slovenian trails. In his youth, he developed a simple yet eye-catching blaze design. (Knafelc had been in charge of adding signage to a stretch of railroad in Slovenia, and was aware of the importance of well-designed signs.)
His blaze design which was adopted throughout Slovenia in 1922, when Knafelc became a member of the Slovenian Mountaineering Society’s executive board. The first route to bear Knafelc’s blaze was one of the most legendary – the trail to the top of Mt. Triglav, the mountain that serves as Slovenia’s national symbol. In the years that followed, trails around Slovenia were blazed with Knafelc’s design, as were many trails in other parts of Yugoslavia. They were – and still are -- very different from the blazes used in most other countries, which typically consist of lines.
Today, Knafelc’s blazes can be found in several Yugoslav successor states, but they are most closely identified with Slovenia and its network of trails. They have become a symbol of the Slovenian Alps, appearing on everything from logos to brochures and even television commercials. When a marketing team produced commercial promoting Slovenian tourism in the 1980s, a man painting a Knafelc blaze was among the iconic images of Slovenia they chose to include in their spot.
In recent years, tourism authorities in Slovenia focused on symbols that could promote the country abroad. One of those symbols is the Knafelc Blaze – a distinctive design that has symbolized the country’s spectacular scenery for more than 90 years.