Mid 17th century Europe was beset by upheavals that defined formative years of Valvasor’s life: the religious dissension and the anti-reformation backlash, the plague, the Thirty Years’ War and the Turkish incursions.
He was born in 1641, to Jernej Valvasor and his wife Ana Marija Rauber, the twelfth of seventeen children, at Stari trg 4 in Ljubljana. He was entered into Book of Births and Baptisms at the Parish Church of St. Nicholas, where it is written: »On 28th May 1641, Janez Vajkard Valvasor, the legitimate son of Sir Jernej Valvasor and his wife Marija, was baptised. The godparents were the Baron Kernard Rues and Regina Dorothea Raspora.«
He grew up like most of the children of nobility, spending time in the family’s castles Medija and Gamberk, and then began his schooling in the Jesuit Collegium in Ljubljana. He studied humanities, Latin, logic, and rhetorics. Among the professors, who guided Valvasor ‘s education three were prominent: Franc Herrer, dramatist Henrik Soeldner and Janez Ludvik Schoenleben, who had an extraordinary influence on Valvasor’s scientific work. These studies were the foundation for later development of Janez Vajkard as scholar and patriot.
When Valvasor completed his studies at the Collegium, he decided to further his education through travel. He journeyed with few interruptions for about 14 years. Through his travels he became a cosmopolitan gentleman and gave him the opportunity to pursue successfully a military career, at that time a worthy ambition for a nobleman. The first of his journeys begins in 1658 and lasts till 1662. There are no records of these early travels, we learn more about the next expedition. In the years 1663 – 1664, Janez Vajkard, as one of twenty Carniolan volunteers in the region of Slavonia, participated in Austro-Turkish war in the regiment of Testo Piccolomini under the command of Croatian “ban” Count Nikolaj Zrinjski. Apart from acquiring military experience and skills, Valvasor diligently recorded all the matters of special interest and fame, that he came upon; it was a process of shaping and directing a personality that set Valvasor on his path and all his travels, either in the native Carniola or other countries and continents: studying the animate and inanimate world, recording anything of significance, observing interesting facts and curiosities.
In 1666 when he was 25, he left home again. He started his travels in imperial Vienna, and from there conquered practically all of western Europe – Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, England, Spain. Then came the lure of Africa – the meeting of another continent. He was fascinated by different cultures and new insights. He visited the region of present day Tunisia and Libya, where he learnt particularly about the production of poison, of which the Carniolan noblemen were dying long after they were ransomed from captivity in Turkey, and of gunpowder, which could explode simultaneously in several places. We learn a great deal about the time he spent in France. Here he put on the uniform of the royal Franco-Swiss infantry regiment, and increased his military expertise. The experience came in very useful a decade and a half later in the military conflict between the Osman and Hapsburg Empires.
On his journeys, particularly while visiting places of pilgrimage, Valvasor reveals himself as a deeply religious man. He also reveals an endless interest in learning everything that could be learnt from the world: alchemy, underground caves, history, natural phenomena … In the year 1671 Valvasor published his first book in Bamberg, a translation of a French work into German.
It is during these travels that the thought of making a study of his home country Carniola is probably already taking shape.