After we have already introduced you to Zagreb and Belgrade, two beautiful cities in Southeastern Europe, we are taking you to Slovenia today, more precisely to its capital, where we want to introduce you to the most beautiful Ljubljana sights. For centuries the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian sphere of influence and was, in a sense, at the point of contact between German and Slavic culture. This has been especially evident in the architectural history of the city, but also in the everyday life of the city inhabited by Germans and Slovenes. The result is an exciting mix that continues to shape the Slovenian capital to this day.
The history of Ljubljana
The area around Ljubljana was already settled in prehistoric times, with people at that time settling mainly in the Ljubljana Marsh south of the present center. In the late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age there were migrations and the influx of tribes, among others Illyrians and Venetians. At about the same time a settlement was established at the foot of the castle hill high above the town, which was easy to defend due to its natural features.
The old Emona
According to legend, it was later the legendary Argonaute Jason who founded a city that would henceforth bear the name Emona. Since Jason supposedly killed a dragon here, that dragon is still part of the city’s coat of arms and can be seen as a mascot everywhere in Ljubljana. Towards the end of the first century B.C., the Romans entered the scene and shaped the following centuries. Emona was officially renamed Colonia Iulia Emona. The settlement was extremely advanced, for example, it had a sewage system and was integrated into the Roman water and road network. Emona had up to 5000 inhabitants in its heyday (before a plague outbreak in the 2nd century claimed many victims) and existed until the 5th century.
Downfall and new beginning
The Migration Period had a serious impact on the local population. In particular, Emona was not to recover from a Hun attack in the 5th century. The inhabitants moved on and the town fell into disrepair. Subsequently, Slavs settled in the region, from the 7th century in greater numbers. Laibach, as the city was called in German and is still called in Austria, was first mentioned in a deed of donation in the middle of the 12th century. In it a certain Rudolf is being mentioned, who was in possession of a castle on today’s castle hill. As a result, the city grew rapidly.
The Habsburgs enter the scene
In 1270 Ljubljana was conquered by the Bohemian king Přemysl Ottokar II, who was also the duke of Carinthia and Carniola and of Austria. Later, Ljubljana became the property of the Habsburgs via detours. Apart from brief interruptions, they were to set the tone in the city from then on until the end of the First World War. For Ljubljana, belonging to the Habsburg dominion was a stroke of luck, as it opened up new trade opportunities and new markets. As a result of the boom, many Jewish and Italian merchants moved to the city, which was already home to many Germans.
In 1511, Ljubljana was hit by a devastating earthquake. At that time Ljubljana was already a considerable small town with about 6000 inhabitants. The Reformation was to prove particularly drastic; soon two-thirds of the town’s population no longer followed Catholic teachings. The Thirty Years’ War and an outbreak of plague caused a deep crisis from which Ljubljana could not recover for a long time.
Years of flowering
In 1754 an official census was taken for the first time, which showed 9400 inhabitants for Ljubljana. In terms of culture, Ljubljana flourished in the 18th century. It was not only thanks to the introduction of compulsory education in the empire in 1774 that the level of education of the citizens rose, theaters were also established and music played an increasingly important role in the public life of the city. From 1807 France began to conquer the territories on the Adriatic and to shape them according to its ideas. The return of the city to the Habsburg fold was relatively smooth. As a result, many new buildings were built in the city.
In 1821, the attention of the whole of Europe was then to be focused on tranquil Ljubljana, for at that time the Ljubljana Congress was held in the city, which presented the city with logistical challenges and caused several crowned heads to set up their quarters in the city, including, in addition to Emperor Francis I, Tsar Alexander I and King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. By far the most drastic event in those years was the great earthquake of 1895, which destroyed around 10 percent of the historic buildings. It was none other than the famous architect Max Fabiani, who subsequently had numerous buildings constructed, including in Art Nouveau style.
However, the years before World War I were also marked by the growing antagonism between the German-Austrian and Slovenian populations, each of which maintained its own set of cultural and political institutions, many of whose headquarters still exist today and are among the most beautiful Ljubljana sights.
Ljubljana in the 20th century
The lost First World War and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary had a massive impact on old Laibach as well. The city was now called Ljubljana and in October 1918 became part of the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Subsequently, the city underwent significant reconstruction by Fabiani’s confidant Jože Plečnik, who had worked mainly in Vienna before the First World War and changed Ljubljana forever. During the Second World War the town experienced occupation by Italians and Germans. Later, Ljubljana became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1980, Josip Broz (“Tito”) died in the University Hospital of Ljubljana. In 1991, Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia was declared here.
In 2004 Slovenia joined the EU and NATO. Today, Ljubljana presents itself as a modern city where the historical heritage is being preserved. In addition, the concept of sustainability plays a major role, which earned Ljubljana the title of “European Green Capital” in 2016. Today, the many Ljubljana sights attract tourists from near and far, and the city is especially popular with guests from Germany and Austria.
Town Hall Square (Mestni trg)
One of the most beautiful places in the city is located on the right bank of the Ljubljanica River, which flows through the city area. The name square is perhaps a little misleading, because it is rather a long street, along which magnificent historic houses are strung together like a string of pearls. One of the eye-catchers on the square is the historic town hall. It was built in the 15th century, but was later baroqueized. In the courtyard there is a fountain depicting Narcissus, designed by Francesco Robba, who was also responsible for the Fountain of the Three Rivers of Carniola (Vodnjak treh kranjskih rek), modeled on the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona in front of the Town Hall.
A famous resident
Directly opposite the town hall stands a building which, in view of the many magnificent buildings on the town hall square, may at first seem somewhat inconspicuous, but it had a famous inhabitant. Between 1881 and 1882, the Krisper House (not to be confused with another building of the same name) housed its most famous resident, the composer Gustav Mahler , who stayed here with the family of his childhood friend Anton Krisper. Mahler had his first ever permanent position here, but moved on shortly thereafter.
Old Market (Stari trg)
There is hardly any other place where you can still immerse yourself in the past as much as at the Old Market, which has retained its old character and where a walk is like a small journey through time. Just like the town hall square, which it adjoins to the south, it is also elongated. One of the most famous and at the same time most beautiful buildings on the Old Market is the Schweiger House (Schweigerjeva hiša). Beautiful is also the Stiški Court (Stiški dvorec), which forms the southern end of the square. In front of the Stiški Court stands a statue of Hercules fountain. The inhabitants of the city had to do without them for a long time, because already in the 18th century. its baroque predecessor was torn down before this modern interpretation was installed here in the 1990s and the original was brought to the town hall.
Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski Grad)
Through a network of alleys and walkways (or by funicular!) you can reach the mighty castle hill from the eastern part of the old town. From here you have a fantastic view of the city! Little is known about the exact beginnings of the complex, but it owes its current appearance to Renaissance-style reconstructions. From the middle of the 18th century the castle was used as a prison. During the First World War, the castle was then used as a transit station for Italian prisoners of war. At times, up to 4500 prisoners were interned here at the same time, although they were able to govern themselves and enjoyed some freedoms. There are several exhibitions in the castle, among other things you can learn about Slovenian history.
Nowhere is Ljubljana more beautiful than by the water. The Ljubljanica river divides the old town into a western and an eastern part and is characterized by beautiful buildings on both banks. But the most worth seeing are the many bridges that cross the river. The Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most) stands for Ljubljana like no other structure and is one of the most popular photo motifs in the city due to its Art Nouveau character and sinister looking dragons.
Unusual is also the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), which lives up to its name, because it actually consists of three bridges that connect the Town Hall Square with Prešeren Square. The building (as well as many others) was designed by Jože Plečnik, who left his mark on the city like no other.
He was also responsible for the design of the Cankar Embankment (Cankarjevo nabrežje) and the Adamič Lunder Embankment (Adamič-Lundrovo nabrežje), both of which are inviting places to stroll and, in the latter case, also have a beautiful market hall.
Prešeren Square (Prešernov trg)
In view of the multitude of sights in the square, one does not know at first where to direct one’s gaze first, there is so much to see here. The Franciscan Church (Frančiškanska cerkev) is also known as Annunciation Church and was the name-giver for St. Mary’s Square before it was renamed Prešeren Square. This commemorates France Prešeren, for whom a beautiful monument was also erected here. He is considered the most important representative of Slovenian Romanticism and wrote his works in both Slovenian and German. Behind the monument, there is the Urbanc House (Urbančeva hiša), a magnificent Art Nouveau department store, and the Mayer House (Mayerjeva palača), a magnificent pharmacy.
The perhaps most visually outstanding building, however, can be found on the other side. The Hauptmann House (Hauptmannova hiša) immediately catches your eye due to its unusual shape resembling a flattened arrowhead. In addition to its shape, it stands out in particular for the many colorful ceramic tiles that architect Ciril Metod Koch had installed here, giving the building a playful lightness.
Congress Square (Kongresni trg)
South of Prešernov trg is the Congress Square. The north side of Congress Square is dominated by the massive casino building , which once served as an entertainment venue for the upper class. One of the most spectacular facades of the city is undoubtedly the baroque Ursuline Church (Uršulinska cerkev) on the western side of the Congress Square. The columns and many windows that characterize the façade are probably intended to recall Venetian noble palaces. However, the most characteristic feature is the undulating gable that crowns the facade. Inside, the church presents itself almost snow-white, an interesting visual counterpoint is provided by the works in black African marble. Jože Plečnik had the stairs redesigned in the 1930s.
Just opposite the Ursuline Church, at the eastern end of the square, stands one of the most interesting buildings in the city, the Municipal Philharmonic (Filharmonija). Adolf Wagner created a neo-Renaissance masterpiece here. Wagner always had the baroque Ursuline Church directly opposite in mind and applied rounded forms here as well, so that the two buildings form a harmonious overall picture. In the main hall of the Philharmonic Hall, a statue commemorates its most famous conductor, Gustav Mahler, who presided over the orchestra between 1881 and 1882.
On the south side of the square stands the Kranjski deželni dvorec . It was built, like so many buildings, after the devastating earthquake of 1895 and once housed the Krainer (Carnolian) Landtag, i.e. in a sense the regional parliament. Jan Vladimír Hráský created a magnificent neo-Renaissance building with Gothic elements and a spectacular facade with a balcony. The Landtag and the governor appointed by the emperor met in the building. The 14 coats of arms of the towns of Carniola can be seen on the facade. After World War I, the newly created University of Ljubljana moved into the building, where it still has its headquarters.
Admittedly, the “Skysracper” does not reach New York standards, but when it was inaugurated in 1933, with a height of 70 meters it was the tallest building in the Balkans. The idea for the construction of the skyscraper came from the influential Slovenian architect Vladimir Šubic, who significantly influenced the modernist movement in Slovenia. His architectural design is a prime example of early European modernism and is characterized by clean lines, functional simplicity and geometric shapes. The facade of the building is interspersed with horizontal and vertical lines and gives a timeless, elegant impression.
National and University Library (Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica)
The history of the NUK dates back to the 18th century, when the Jesuit Library was founded in Ljubljana. In 1774, the library was transformed into a public institution, laying the foundation for what would later become the NUK. The main library building, built between 1936 and 1941, is another masterpiece by Jože Plečnik.
The architecture of the building combines elements of Baroque and Art Nouveau and is a symbol of the fusion of tradition and modernity. The building is also a tribute to Slovenian culture, as it incorporates elements of folk art and folklore into its design.
Tivoli Park (Park Tivoli)
Tivoli Park, west of the center, is still the largest park in Ljubljana and one of the most beautiful oases of peace in the city. It is thanks to Field Marshal Radetzky von Radetz that it was made accessible to the public. Avenues, fountains and spacious staircases – nothing is lacking here.
One of the most beautiful places in Tivoli Park is located in the eastern part of the area, and due to its elevated position and the central visual axis, it is easily recognizable even at the entrance of the park. Radetzky von Radetz had Unterthurn Castle (Tivolski Grad) remodeled here into his retirement residence. Today exhibitions are held here. On the eastern edge of Tivoli Park, north of Tivoli Castle, stands another magnificent building from the time of old Ljubljana, the Sequin Palace (Cekinov Grad) , originally named Leopold’s Rest. Today here is the Museum of Contemporary History is housed.
How did you like our trip to Slovenia? Have you ever been to Ljubljana? If yes, what are the most beautiful Ljubljana sights for you? Let us know and drop us a comment!