I am in love with Slovenia. It is such a beautiful, clean country and a very young country. Slovenia was originally settled in the 6th century by the Slavs who are from the Carpathian mountains range that is found in central and eastern Europe. From that time on, Slovenia was under the rule of a foreign state mostly by the Austrian-Hungary monarchy. After World War I, it became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and after World War II, it was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In 1990, after 70 years as part of Yugoslavia, 90% of the population voted for independence. They celebrate Independence Day June 25, 1991. In 2004, Slovenia became part of the European Union and a member of NATO.
I was speaking with one lady in Piran about life under communism and she said that they fared much better than most of the eastern block countries because they were under Tito, who had made a split from communism and had a socialistic government. I, in my ignorance, didn’t understand the difference and I was too embarrassed to ask. So, I googled it when I got back to my apartment. There is quite a difference between socialism and communism. Basically, socialism is an economic system that allows people to own property under a communist government while communism controls both the government and seeks to get rid of capitalism. Both socialism and communism believe that the economy should be owned by the public and controlled by a central organization. However, the difference between the two systems is that socialism allows the majority of the people to have a say in how the economy should be run. In communism, the economy is controlled through a dictatorial government. Socialism supports the division of the wealth is dependent upon the productivity of an individual….you work hard, you will be rewarded. With communism, the division of the wealth is based upon the needs of the individuals….sorry but from my meager observations, the people in power in communist countries enjoyed more of the wealth than the worker.
Socialism appears to have worked under Tito’s reign. Today, this young country appears to be prospering. The infrastructure of the country is amazing. The roads are excellent, the buses are new, clean and run pretty much to the schedule…we didn’t take trains so not certain about the rail service. Cars are modern. There is a very strong push to recycle and everywhere are recycle bins. It is an extremely clean country with very little litter. As one waiter said to me, “I have traveled to other countries but then I realized, why do I want to leave Slovenia? We have it all – the mountains, lakes and the coast!” So true, so true!
The Old City Center
I love the old center of Ljubljana. It is so picturesque. I have been trying to think of another city that I have visited that could compare and I really can’t think of one. The whole Old City is extremely clean and a pedestrian walkway, which makes it especially nice to not have to worry about cars while looking at the ornate buildings.
The dragons are one of the most recognized symbols for Ljubljana. There are three legends about why the dragons are representative of the city. One is the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. It is believed that in his travels, Jason sailed up the Ljubljanica River eventually crashing further up from where Dragon Bridge is. The other popular legend is St George who slew the dragon, which represents St George slaying paganism. The final legend is that the dragons would fly away when a virgin crosses the bridge. They are still there today. You decide which legend is the best reason for dragons to be the city’s symbol.
As well as having the most recognizable symbols of the city; when first built in 1900-1901, this bridge was one of the largest of its kind in Europe, the first reinforced concrete structure in Ljubljana and the first to be paved with asphalt.
The dragons on the Dragon Bridge herald that you are entering the Old City.
Vodnikov Square and Central Market
Across the Dragon Bridge, we came into Vodnikov Square where the Central Market is held Monday – Saturday. It was full of luscious fruits, vegetable, dried cured meats and flowers. It has been there since the 1940s when the Slovene architect, Jože Plečnik, designed a two-storied market hall in the Renaissance style. The vegetable, fruit and flower vendors are in the open square. In the market hall are the vendors for meats, fish, cheese and baked goods.
Fridays are truly the day to visit the market as there is the Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen). It is held from mid-March to October from 10:00AM-10:00PM, weather permitting. Chefs from restaurants throughout Ljubljana offer delicious dishes from their stalls. It is a great place to test foods from around the world. We ate there Friday night and enjoyed our time watching the variety of people and their dogs.
Along the river is Plečnik’s design of a 300 meter, two storied Covered Market. Plečnik was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture and loved columns. Today, there are restaurants at one end and stalls offering souvenirs and local foods such as honey, traditional sweets and of course, there is a gelato stand.
This covered market was built between 1939-1944 in the middle of World War II. It is interesting that such a project would move forward during wartime. Our guide said that the funds had already been approved for the market. Also, to save money, Plečnik reused material from the ruins of a monastery, destroyed in an earthquake, in Vodnikov Square where the Central Market is located today.
This isn’t quite the name that comes to mind when you think of a symbol of love but that is indeed what this bridge is – Ljubljana’s love bridge. Originally, it was supposed to be an extension of Plečnik’s covered market with a wide, covered bridge decorated with statues and columns crossing over the Ljubljanica river. Due to World War II, that plan never came to fruition. I researched to see what the bridge looked like that used to be there but found conflicting information. One website said that there were butcher stalls on the old bridge and another said that there was an empty space in the covered market until 2010 when this bridge was built.
At any rate, today the bridge is lined with “locks of love,” the key ceremonially thrown into the river, as lovers confess their forever love to each other. Except maybe for the lock that our guide showed us. It was a combination lock so the “Casanova” could confess his forever love to his “squeeze of the day!”
Also, on and around the bridge are these modern-day, rather grotesque, statues by Slovenian sculpture Brdar. The one on the bridge is of Prometheus who was Titan who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to the humans. For this act, Zeus chained him to a rock and an eagle ate his liver every day but it grew back and the torture continued. He was finally released when Chiron the Centaur agreed to die for Prometheus and Hercules killed the eagle and released him.
Cathedral of St Nicholas
Behind the Central Market is the Cathedral of St Nicholas is also referred to as The Cathedral. It is the head church for the Catholics which is the primary religion in Slovenia. The Cathedral has a long history that dates back to 1262 when there was a Romanesque Church on this spot. A fire in 1361 caused the church to undergo renovations and a Gothic style ceiling was built. It is believed the Turks destroyed the church by burning it in 1469. This baroque-style cathedral was built from 1701-1706 which additions added on and new art presented over the years.
The large bronze entrance door has a motif of the history of Slovenia on it. It was designed in 1996 to commemorate the 1250th anniversary of Christianity in Slovenia and the visit of Pope John Paul II. At the bottom is the Linden tree that is in most town centers and people often gather to socialize. To the right of the tree are the masses of Slovenes coming forward to be baptized by the Irish monk. The horses and riders to the left represent the middle-ages crusaders, who passed through Slovenia, on their way to the Holy Land. The horses and riders charging along represent the Turkish Ottoman charging to capture Vienna. Amazingly, the Slovenes were never under Turkish rule. The three books represent how the Slovene language united the people. The man holding the book represents Frederic Baraga, the Catholic missionary from Slovenia who traveled to the Great Lakes region of the US in 1830.
He was an interesting and dedicated man who could speak 8 different languages. During the winter, he would travel hundreds of miles on snowshoe to minister to the people in his district earning the name of “The Snowshoe Priest.” He was an advocate for the Native American people and wrote a book of dictionary and grammar for the Ojibway language. It was from the many books that Baraga wrote that people from Slovenia learned about the Native American people and life in the United States.
Towards the top of the doors are masses of people – to the left the people with their arms behind there backs are representing the shame and heartache from war and communism. To the right, are the liberated people who have hope for a new and better life. One is handing a carnation, the national flower, to Pope John Paul II who visited Slovenia in 1996. The Vatican was the first country to recognize Slovenia as an independent country.
It is truly a beautiful church with amazing frescos by Giulio Quaglio, an Italian artist. The frescos in St Nicholas Cathedral is considered his greatest work.
Back out near the market and wandering along the market hall, we came to the Triple Bridge. Originally, there was a single wooden bridge built in medieval times. This was replaced in 1842 with a more reliable bridge. Between 1929-1932, Jože Plečnik added the pedestrian bridges on either side of the original bridge. He tore down the metal railings and added the ornate stone railings and stairs leading to a walkway along the river below. Jože Plečnik was an architect from Ljubljana who was also involved with creations in Vienna, Austria and in Prague, Czech Republic on the renovations at the Prague Castle from 1920 to 1934. It is at the Triple Bridge that you will find a very helpful Information Center is located as well as clean and free public bathrooms.
Across the river heading towards the pink church is Prešernov Square (Prešernov trg). Today it is the Old City’s main square and I think, it is one of the more romantic squares. It is named after the great Slovenian national poet, France Prešeren (1800-1849). His statue is in the square facing the statue of the love of his life, Julija Primic, who he never had a relationship with. Sigh!!!!
Above Prešeren’s statue stands a muse who are inspirational goddesses of literature, arts and science. In 1905, when the monument was unveiled, the priest from the Church of the Annunciation was not too pleased with the topless muse. According to our tour guide, one priest draped her in material that was removed by an “adoring fan.” Eventually, trees were strategically planted in front of the church and on the side of the statue to block the parishioners from seeing the topless muse.
Our guide also pointed out that it is a tribute to the Slovenian people that in the most important square a poet stands as a tribute to the character of the people who love poetry and language. It doesn’t commemorate a war hero who caused pain and death.
The large, pink church that dominates the square is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. It was built between 1646 and 1660 in the early Baroque style and is the third church to be built on this spot. Next to it is the monastery. It was once an Augustine monastery. The pinkish color is symbolic for the Franciscan order.
In the early 1900s, two buildings in the Art Nouveau style graced the square and are considered the most beautiful in Ljubljana. The Urbanc House is the oldest department store in Ljubljana. It was commissioned by Mr. Feliks Urbanc a local merchant. Started in 1902 it was completed in 1903 in the Viennese Secession style (Art Nouveau) and was designed after department stores in Graz and Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary. The statue of Mercury on top of the building is for the god of commerce and protector of merchants.
Diagonally across from the department store is the Hauptmann House which was built in 1873 and is one of the few buildings to survive the 1895 earthquake. After the earthquake, it was purchased by Adolf Hauptmann, who the building is named after today. In 1904, the exterior was redesigned in the Viennese Secession style that was famous during that time.
Town Hall Square (Mestni trg). The Robba Fountain in the foreground behind is the Town Hall.
From Prešernov Square we walked back across the bridge and straight towards Town Hall Square (Mestni trg). This was the original town square in the 12th century. The Town Hall is the main building in this square and nearby, there is the Robba Fountain (aka The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers) that was designed by Francesco Robba between 1743 and 1751. Robba was inspired by Bernini’s Four Rivers statue that he saw in Piazza Navona on his trip to Rome, Italy. The Carniolan region is a historical area that now makes up the western part of Slovenia. It has three important rivers, the Sava, the Ljubljanica and the Krka, represented on Robba’s baroque creation. The original is now housed and protected in the National Gallery. The one in the square is a replica.
One of the oldest bridges crossing the river, it dates back to the 1200s. In medieval days, it was covered wooden bridge and butcher’s had their stalls here. However, the stench was so strong that the Emporer paid to relocate them. The shoemakers moved in and the name for the bridge has since stayed with it. Between 1931 and 1932, Jože Plečnik designed and built this newer, wider bridge.
For over 900 years, the Ljubljana Castle has been standing protectively over the city on Castle Hill. It was originally a medieval fortress and was thought to have been constructed in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century. It was during the 15th century that it was remodeled the way it looks today.
The castle is open to visitors. You can walk from the Old City to the castle or there is a funicular that will take you to the top of Castle Hill. There is no entrance fee but if you want to see the museum, chapel and other displays, you need to purchase a ticket. There is a wall of defense that connects two towers. Today, it is used as a panoramic viewpoint. The courtyard and panoramic viewpoint are free to enjoy.
The National and University Library
Another creation of Jože Plečnik built between 1936 and 1944 and is considered to be his most outstanding work in Slovenia. The gray stones among the red bricks represent a woven carpet. The windows are shaped as open books. The handles on the doors to the entrance of the library are decorated with the head of Pegasus, the winged-horse that guides people towards knowledge.
Inside, the entrance and stairway are made of black Podpeč marble from the Brezovica region, south Ljubljana. As you climb upward, the marble lightens to represent the “journey of knowledge.” As one begins his journey of knowledge, he is in darkness and as he progresses along, he slowly sees “the light” of knowledge. This walk concludes in the reading room that has one wall all windows to let in natural light. The room is very bright. However, it is not open to tourist so here is a photo to show you what it looks like.
In 1946, a plane crashed into the reading room side of the building and over 300,000 books were lost. Sadly, the pilot died but since the crash happened at night, no one was in the building.
The National Gallery of Slovenia
It was a rainy day and what better place to spend an afternoon than in an art gallery? This national gallery is dedicated to just Slovenian artist. It was opened in 1920 at the Kresija Palace which is near the Triple Bridge in the Old City. In 1926, the collection was moved to the Narodni dom Palace, a Neo-Classical building with a Neo-Renaissance facade. It has remained at this location ever since.
The museum is opened 361 days a year. There are two fees, one for the permanent collection and one for the temporary collection. I wasn’t certain which one I should visit as I didn’t know if I would be able to return to see the collection I didn’t get to see on this visit. Then the lady asked if I was retired….well, yes, I have been retired most of my life….although I didn’t say that. I told her my age and that I didn’t work. Never did I think that getting older would be a blessing! As a “retired person,” I was entitled to visit both collections at half the regular price! Yippppeeee!!!
Slovenian Artist Ivana Kobilca
The temporary exhibit was by the Slovenian artist Ivana Kobilca (1861-1926). It is where I spent most of my visit. I really enjoyed her work. She did incredible portraits by capturing the expression of the person she was painting.
Ivana Kobilca was born in Ljubljana on Dec 20, 1861. At the age of 16, she decided to pursue a career as an artist. Her career took her to live and study in many of Europe’s capitals – Munich, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Sarajevo and Florence. There were exhibits in Paris as well as Ljubljana. It was at the onset of WWI that she returned to Ljubljana to live once again.
During her formative years, her style was a dark realism. In Paris, she discovered lighter and brighter colors and style. She tried many styles throughout her career from painting “en plein air,” to still lifes, to portraits which is how she mostly supported herself. All of these periods were shown in the exhibit. It was nice to be introduced to such an amazing painter who I had never heard of.
Here are some of my favorite paintings by Kobilca….
In parting, here is the original Robba Fountain that was in Town Hall Square that is now stored in the National Art Museum for safe keeping.
Today was a “street-artsy kind of day!”
I am not certain how exactly to describe this place. I guess it is all from an individual’s perspective. Some may look at this place and see dilapidated buildings with graffiti all over the place or others may look at it and see it as a “Street Art Museum.” Instead of seeing dilapidated buildings, you see studios for starving artist, creative sculptures recycling used or broken items. To look at it as a place to practice freedom of expression in a relatively new country that had been under communism for so long and had no ability to express thoughts/expressions freely for such a long time.
I chose the later. Some of the art I saw was creative and imaginative. Some of the art made me smile and some I didn’t care for at all. Isn’t that what art is all about….to evoke some kind of emotion?
I will let you decide what you think is it art or is it dilapidated buildings covered in graffiti?
Interesting to note that these buildings once were army barracks. In 1991, when Slovenia became independent from the old Yugoslavia, artist and activist partitioned the government to utilize the barracks in a creative manner rather than commercially. The commercialization of the barracks didn’t work out. Within two years time, artist and activist moved in to create a self-governing area which is considered one of the most successful “urban squats” in Europe.
There are up to 1500 events offered each year in the illegally occupied buildings. The government isn’t happy about it all but I guess, from what I have read, they tolerate it. There is an art gallery which shows art from the local university students, theater performances and nightclubs – some catering to the LGBT crowd. It is the leading place for underground music and art in the capital city.
I was there during the day and it was rather quiet. I understand that things liven up at night.
I was taking the long way back to our apartment after visiting Meltelkova. Next door to Meltelkova is the plaza that has the Museum of Contemporary Art – MSUM (not to be confused with the Museum of Modern Art which houses the permanent modern art collection for Slovenia. MSUM offers exhibits from a collaboration of Eastern and Western avant-garde artist which is represented through the Arteast 2000+International Collection.
My walk took me through part of the Old City section. Walking down Trubarjeva Street, I looked up and spied a cement head with a crown on it. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there was an entrance and the sign above the entrance said “Ghetto Sculpture”.
Curiosity got the better of me when I saw someone walk inside. I peeked in and saw that there were more sculptures of recycled material within the walls and went to explore. While wandering around, I kept seeing reference to “Rog.” When I looked closer at my photo of the Ghetto Sculpture sign, I noticed the bike above it had a sign that said “The Rog Rider.” There was another sign painted above a door – The Uni ted Colors of Rog.
What on earth was Rog? I made a note to look it up in Google Translate when I got back to the apartment. There doesn’t appear to be an English word for Rog in Slovenian but in Romanian, according to Google Translate, it means “horn.” So, I just googled “Rog in Slovenian” and got an article about Tovarna Rog and the history of this group of buildings.
In the late 1800s, Tovarna Rog was a leather factory. After WW II, it became a bicycle factory that produced Rog bicycles until 1991. They were best known for the “Pony” model. It is similar to the “Banana bikes” from the 70s in the United States, only the seat was not as long as the Banana bike seat.
In 1998, the building came under the protection of the cultural heritage sites because it was the first building in Slovenia to be constructed of steel and concrete. 2002 the entire complex was purchased by the Municipality of Ljubljana. Today, it offers two skate park, soup kitchen, a social center for disabled people, art studios and galleries, philosophy lectures and rave parties.
Thanks to a delegation from Ljubljana to the Central European project – A Second Chance: From Industrial Use to Creative Impulse, there is hope/plans for further improvements to be made to this industrial complex.
Some of the “art” that was on display……
The largest park in Ljubljana was designed in 1813 by French engineer Jean Blanchard. He connected two existing parks and linked it to central Ljubljana. In 1880, a pond was dug and people enjoyed boating and fishing in the summers and in the winters, ice skating. Nearby the pond is a small botanical garden.
Does it surprise you that between 1921 and 1939, Jože Plečnik was involved with an extensive redesign project of the park? I really think that the capital should be called “Plečnikville” or something to give acknowledgment for the man who had such an influence on the design of the city!
In his new design, Plečnik widened the promenade which leads to the Tivoli Mansion that houses the Museum of Graphic Design. The promenade is named Jakopič Promenade after the Impressionist painter, Rihard Jakopič (1869-1943). I saw his work at the National Art Gallery and just loved his work! Here are some of my favorite paintings by Jakopič.
There are several hiking trails throughout the park. We hiked many of them in search of the top of Rožnik hill. The trails are very well marked if you understand Slovenian, which is a very difficult language! One kind lady pointed out the name on a sign that we were to follow to get to the top of Rožnik hill. We were doing well until we came to an intersection where some unkindly soul had taken down the signs. We went right when we should have gone left! Thank goodness for the GPS on my phone. It got us back to the same intersections and we went right.
Eventually, we made it to the top and I am so glad that we persisted. (Honestly, I was just about ready to give up.) At the top was a Church of Visitation, which was closed.
Nearby was the Rožnik Inn (Gostilna Rožnik). Here we enjoyed a tasty lunch while sitting on picnic benches under old oak trees. It was a lovely setting with the sunlight filtering through the leaves on the trees, a cool breeze refreshing us and the church bells ringing on the quarter of the hour.
David had bread dumplings that tasted like stuffing from a Thanksgiving meal and roasted vegetables. I enjoyed a grilled vegetable salad with homemade bread. It was both yummy and filling.
This inn is known for the famous Slovenian writer, Ivan Cankar, staying there between 1910 to 1917. The innkeeper’s wife was a childhood friend of Cankar and offered Cankar a room in the attic for free. It was her hope that once people heard he was living at the inn, a more sophisticated clientele would begin to visit their establishment. However, Cankar’s appetite for food and drink took a toll on the innkeeper and his wife’s hospitality and they persuaded him to move out. He was given use of the former barn, near the inn. Today, there is a small museum in this building with some of the writer’s belongings.
Ljubljana at Night
The Old City Center is charming and beautiful but even more so at night when it looks like a fairy tale with magical lights!
Odds and Ends around Ljubljana
Here are some photos that I took that really don’t belong to any of the topics I have copied. I just wanted to share them with you….
I hope that the love I have for Ljublana was felt with my words and pictures. Until the next trip, I wish you joy and sparkles! ❤️✨✨✨