What to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia
I arrived to Ljubljana, figured out where to put my luggage, and then went to go walk around town. First stop was of course lunch! I went to et at Julija, where I ordered zlikrofi, a pasta filled with potato inside. I had it with mushroom bacon sauce. It was really tasty! I quite enjoyed the meal.
Next stop, I thought I had to go to the walking tour an hour earlier than I actually had to, so I walked around town a bit more. I got some ice cream and stumbled upon what looked like a food truck area. I learned later during the walking tour that it’s actually the open kitchen festival, which occurs only on Fridays during the summer. Restaurants from all over the country come sell their food. I noticed that Chinese food was quite popular! Not sure why.
Anyway, I walked around a bit more, then went to go sit near the walking tour starting point to wait.
The walking tour started and the tour guide gave an overview of Ljubljana. The city used to be a giant lake, and people lived mostly in wooden houses. The main jobs of people were fishing, farming, and hunting.
In 50BC, the Romans established a military post there and it became a trading town. It got burnt down though, and in the 6th century when the Slavs arrived, they established a government there. For 150 years, Ljubljana was under foreign rule; from the 14th century and onward, it was ruled by the Hapsburg family of Austria. This is why some of the architecture looks a bit like Vienna! From 1869-1918, Ljubljana was under Austrian/Hungarian rule, and from 1918, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia.
In 1895, there was a big earthquake that destroyed much of the city. The city was rebuilt in Vienna succession style, which basically imitates nature. On the other side of the rive however, most of the buildings are Baroque.
Preseren Square has the famous Preseren statue. Preseren the national poet of Slovenia, and he was a romantic who wrote ballades and songs. He was a poor farmer’s son, and he became a lawyer. When he was 42 years old, he met a girl who he fell in love with. She was 16, and her name was Juliet. The direction of his eyes on the statue actually looks towards a statue of Juliet on a nearby building!
Above his head is his muse, a Greek character who gives inspiration to writers. The tour guide noted that the nakedness of the muse is very interesting, because the city was a small conservative place, and this statue is right in front of the church. The priests wanted to remove it, but the people insisted on not. So, the priest would put a veil over her body to cover her, but people would always climb up there and take it off. So, the church planted trees around itself so people coming out from church can’t see the statue.
Preseren actually wrote the national anthem of Slovenia in 1991. It’s the only national anthem that mentions other nations, and the end of the anthem talks about existing peacefully with other nations.
The red church, more properly named the Franciscan Church, is the third church in its spot. It used to be an Augustine church, but it got disbanded. It’s built in the early baroque style, and there’s a monastery next to it, still in use to this day.
We then walked over the triple bridge, which was the main entrance to the city, and it was also here where the people would pay their taxes. It was made from wood before, and it got burned down. When it was time to rebuild the bridge, it got built from modern fire-proof materials. There used to be only be one bridge, but in the 1920’s, cars, trams, and such, were introduced into the city. There were too many pedestrians and vehicles, so the city decided to build two more bridges next to the main bridge.
But the current mayor of Ljubljana mandated that the city be a pedestrian-only zone, so the three bridges didn’t really do much good.
We then walked across another bridge, the butchers bridge. It’s the newest bridge, and there was no bridge there for almost 70 years; during WWII, the bridge got burned down. The intent to rebuild the bridge was to extend the market to the other side of the bridge, but this didn’t really happen. It got built using modern materials, including glass panels. And there are boats going underneath the bridge…
This bridge is also the bridge with the locks of love, which originated from Belgrade, Serbia. There was a solider who went to fight in Greece, and he decided to stay in Greece for a girl he met. His ex-wife wasn’t very happy with this decision, so she jumped off a bridge. From then on, when soldiers went to war, they would take their wife to the bridge to put a lock on it, representing that they’ll always return after the war.
Next we saw the farmers market. Apparently the food at the farmers markets is quite pricey but they are all locally grown; since Slovenia is quit small, the farms are quite small too.
We also walked by the covered market. It was built by Plečnik, the architect ofLjubljana. He was born in 1872, and he was sent to Vienna to study architecture. He also did a bit of woodwork. Although he lived most of his life in Ljubljana, he did go to Prague for a bit, and he did the castle there. He moved back to Ljubljana while it was still under Yugoslavian rule. Apparently he really liked pillars.
The covered market was built from 1938-1943, which was an interesting time. Ljubljanawas the city ghetto, and there were walls built around it to prevent people from entering. So, how did Prichnik manage to get all the materials and funding? He got the funding from before the war, and he got the materials from the fallen down Franciscan monastery (which used to stand where the farmers market is now).
Next was yet another bridge, the famous dragon bridge! It collapsed during the great earthquake, and during its rebuilding, reinforced concrete was used; it was one of the first uses of reinforced concrete. The bridge was of course built in Vienna succession style.
The reason there’s a dragon protecting the city goes back to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. Story goes he wanted to be king but his uncle was in charge, and his uncle said if he wanted to be king, he would have to bring back sheep skin. Sheep skin was very difficult to find and Jason had to go very far to steal it, and when he did, soldiers kept chasing him. In order to make them lose track of him, he went through a very convoluted path to get back home. On the way, he encountered a dragon, and of course he defeated the dragon and got home safely. Even though the dragon lost the only battle of its life, the city still decided to instate it as the protector of the city.
A more realistic reason for a dragon is that there’s a chapel in the castle, and St George reprints Christianity over Paganism, and St George is associated with dragons, so that’s why there’s a dragon on the bridge.
Our next stop was St Nicolas’ Church. Another name for St Nicolas is Santa Clause! He was from turkey, and he was a rich merchant’s son who went to live a a hermit. So as a tribute to him, they named this church afar I him. The church was funded entirely by volunteers to build, and it was built in the 13th century. It started out as an ordinary church, but in the late 15th century, a bishop moved in, so, it became a cathedral. There wasn’t originally a dome but it was illusioned to have one, but now it actually has a physical dome.
Next was the Ljubljana city square, location of the original market. The baroque fountain has three streams coming from it, representing the three rivers toLjubljana. The original plan was to make the entire fountain using marble, but the boat with all the marble sank before it got to Ljubljana, so all but the statues aren’t made of marble. There used to be guards around the fountain – that’s how valuable the marble was!
The current statue is not the original, which has been taken down for restoration work.
Next to it is a government building with three flags, the EU flag, Ljubljana flag, and Slovenia flag. The Ljubljana flag has a unique coat of arms: the peaks represent Mt Triglav, the highest mountain in Ljubljana. The tradition is to climb the mountain at least once if a person is from Ljubljana, and also to get baptized from the top. The two blue lines represent the river and lakes, as well as the coastline. The stars represent the family brave and wealthy enough to battle the Hapsburgs.
We then walked to yet another bridge, this one was for punishing bakers for cheating. If a baker was caught cheating, he would be put into a cage and continuously dipper into and out of the water for a long time. The point of this wasn’t to kill the baker but to humiliate him, and as a result, people probably wouldn’t be going to that baker for bread anymore.
The tour guide also talked about how the Carniolian Sausage came to be. The Austrian emperor came to town and got hungry, so he ordered his servants to get him some food. They went out and bought him some sausage, and the emperor really enjoyed it. He asked his servants where they got the sausage from, but they didn’t really know. So, he deemed it the Carniolian sausage!
We then walked over to congress square. This was the location where important people from all over Europe convened to decide what to do after Napoleon’s defeat. Because there must be some form of entertainment for these decision makers, the square was designed to have a military parade go through and entertain them.
In the same square was the Philharmonic Institute, which was built in 1701. It’s one of the oldest institutions in Europe, and composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Mahler went there before they all headed off to Vienna.
We also saw the governors mansion, which is part of the university now. The university is one of the oldest and biggest in Slovenia, and it’s mostly free. During the communist times, university got subsidized, so it is still being subsidized. There are 270k people in Slovenia, and 35k students from other places in Slovenia. There are apparently a lot of students from Germany and Spain.
We ended our walking tour in the open-air theater, which was quite cool space. There’s three different performance spaces there, although the tour guide did tell us that the locals usually just go behind the theater to a grassy area to enjoy the music (although they can’t see the actual performance).
The tour ended there, and I walked up to the castle. I mainly went up for the view, which turned out to be alright. I walked back down and got the famous 7-layer gibanica cake, and then I was off to Gostilna Stari Tisler for dinner. I ordered the Štruklji with mushroom sauce and it wasn't the best, but it wasn't bad either. I headed off to the bus station soon after, but the bus was almost an hour late! In any case, I boarded the bus just fine, and I was off to my next destination.
Quite a small place, but very relaxed. There’s a lot of cafes and outdoor restaurants on the street surrounding the castle, and it’s really nice. It’s also a lot prettier than I thought it would be (probably because of the rivers there). Not a bad place, in glad I decided to stop by!