Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to deep lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Ljubljana, Green Capital of Europe 2016

During this week trip to Slovenia, I almost forget to visit its capital city, the green and lovely Ljubljana (which I can write the name without having to look on the web now!). Indeed, I often spend almost too much time outside a large city or capital which act more as a starting point for my trips, so I sometimes do not have the opportunity to do everything I have planned to do… But in such cases, I have the best reason to come back again, for visiting Ljubljana is to see only part of Slovenia (it also works for other countries), but quite an attractive and exotic part, at least for me! As usual, I can not recommend you enough to get lost in the streets, then sit on a lovely terrace if the weather allows it, and talk to locals, a must! You would be surprised how many entertaining things you can learn over a beer or two!

It is useless to say that I make the most of the two days I had planned to visit the city, wandering, eating (although with difficulty due to ambient heat), discuss and finally enjoy every minute. My accommodation, a small apartment located 5 minutes from the historic center was very convenient in many ways and I have not hesitated to use the small kitchen to prepare delicious “Swiss-Slovenian” dishes by supplying me directly from the market stands on the other side of the Ljubljanica river.

  • Small appartment with everything you need (small kitchen, fridge, phone, double bed, free WiFi, etc.)
  • Pick up from the airport included in the reservation.
  • Close to the historic center and to all the attractions of the old city and the new one. Can’t imagine being closer to any of the city’s attractions!
  • Everything is in the same room: kitchen, bathroom, dining room, etc., but it didn’t bother me too much
  •  There is a parking right outside, in front of the entrance door, so it may a bit noisy in the evening and morning.
  •  No air conditioner, heat and stifling humidity in summer. No way to vent hot air and it’s even cooler outside than inside!

It is a beautiful sunny morning when I left my pied-a-terre to explore the city. I take advantage of the cool morning to visit and walk the streets before it gets too hot and before the streets are clogged with many groups of tourists. Camera? Ready. Water bottle, sunscreen and hat? Ready. Kevin? Well, he’s already gone!

Unique at every step

It’s early, just shortly after 7 am and as you would expect, the streets are almost empty. Only a few other local and motivated tourists roam, like me, the streets of downtown. Talking about the weather, I’m lucky because it is going to be very nice, but also very hot! Well, I must say that it was kind of planned: in fact, this trip to Slovenia was decided at the last minute when I realized that the weather would be ideal in the country for at least a week. At the end, cheap flight tickets and a very well located accommodation have convinced me to go! But let’s go back on our tour of Ljubljana. I head to the historic center and more precisely to Prešeren Square which is, in my opinion, the best starting point to visit the center, because everything is just a small walking distance from this place.

This square developed itself at the crossroads of several medieval streets formed in front of what was once the fortified entrance to the city. In the 17th century, the Franciscan Church Mary of the Annunciation was built there, then it was the turn of the new bourgeois homes at the edge of the square. With the addition of the Triple Bridge by Plečnik, the square finally obtained the configuration we see today. The monument to France Prešeren, the work of architect Maks Fabiani and sculptor Ivan Zajc, was accomplished in autumn 1905 and represents Prešeren, to whom we owe the poetic text of the Slovenian national anthem, crowned by the muse poetry holding a laurel branch. This place is the most famous and most visited in Ljubljana, by both locals and tourists. The Church Mary of the Annunciation is closed as it is still early, but it does not prevent me from admiring it from outside.

The ancient shrine that was there was demolished in the 15th century and is in the early 17th century when a small chapel was constructed. The construction of a larger baroque church began in 1646 and was completed in 1660. The high front facade passed through many changes, most of which took place in the 19th century. At the top is a copper statue of Goldenstein which replaced in 1858 the old wooden statue of the Black Madonna. Just in front of the Church and in the middle of the square, a few water jets were installed in height and provides a welcome refreshment to counter ambient summer heat. I also love the humor of the signs like “beware of showers” and “mandatory umbrella”!

Also on Prešeren Square and facing the Church is Tromostovje (“The Triple Bridge” or “Three Bridges”), the unique architectural feature of Ljubljana. The set consists of the old stone bridge dating from 1842, called the Spital Bridge and two other bridges over the river, designed by architect Jože Plečnik and built in 1931. All three bridges allows entry in the old city, the ancient gate of Spital, and is known as a great touristic “landmark”, as is for example Charles Bridge in Prague or the Kapellbrücke in Lucerne. Bridges are many in Ljubljana and this is easily explained by the presence of the Ljubljanica river which I admire for the first time from the Triple Bridge. Reflections of trees and buildings around the river are beautiful, calm water and no roaming tourist boats making this possible. I also realize there is another church on the other side of the river, as well as the castle of Ljubljana on the hill behind it. Instead of crossing the river here, I head towards another bridge a little further, the one of the Butcher.

Built in 2010, this bridge connects the halls of Plečnik to Petkovško nabrežje bank and is located at the exact place where the construction of a bridge had been planned by the architect Jože Plečnik 100 years ago. With a modern artistic design, the Butcher Bridge is decorated with statues of Jakov Brdar, contemporary Slovenian sculptor. This bridge is the heart of the old halls of butchers, from which it takes its name, and the sculptures are reminiscent in their own way of the history of place. The Petkovško nabrežje bank is enhanced by a large statue of Prometheus, while playful miniatures laid on the parapet and allude to scenes from the life of the markets. All of this allows some nice and interesting photos! Oh, and like many known bridges, it did not escape the famous “love padlocks” tradition. You know it, right? Couples hang them on ropes or barriers of famous bridges to symbolize their love. It is then customary to throw away the key, usually in the river flowing under the bridge, as is the case here. The view of the halls is beautiful, again with beautiful reflections in the Ljublanica waters.

I linger somewhat around the bridge, then move on a bit further. Indeed, I save the crossing of the river to the next bridge, as known and iconic as the previous ones. It is on the edge of the medieval heart of the city and was built to celebrate the anniversary of forty years of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Designed by the architect Maks Fabiani and officially opened in 1901, the single concrete arch connecting the two banks is decorated with balustrades and elements like plants and inscriptions. The concrete construction, which at the time was very innovative, was designed in Vienna.

The bronze candelabra, to which were added glass balls, are very nicely stylized and were also created in Vienna. Finally, let’s not forget to mention the dragons made of copper iron, symbols taken from the Ljubljana coat of arms and placed around the bridge. They were manufactured in the decoration goods factory of Mr. A. Beschorner, still in Vienna and are known as an important reference point in the city. The dragon is also the famous mascot of the city, and can be found almost everywhere, especially in souvenir shops and even in some cultural films about Ljubljana. This is certainly not the most touristic bridge because it allows transition to cars and buses that follow the “loop” around the medieval core of the city. Just quickly cross the bridge and turn right to find yourself again in a pedestrian area devoid of cars.

This is in fact Vodnik Square, located just opposite the Halls (a large covered market) and not far from the station of the funicular leading to the castle. The name of this place comes from the monument to Valentin Vodnik, carved in 1889 by Alojzij Gangl and from where is also the start of a path leading to the castle, but by ready to use your legs! On the square stands today (and like every morning) the central market in Ljubljana, which extends from the Dragon bridge to the Triple Bridge. The commercial offer is very diverse and there are particular fruits and vegetables, and many handicrafts.

After a tour in the different market stalls, I continue my journey and came face-to-face a few minutes later with the Cathedral of Ljubljana, located in the heart of the medieval city. The building is one of the most interesting model of maturity of Roman Baroque in Slovenia, surrounded by the palace of the archbishops, the seminar and a large parish. I admire the exterior facade and especially “The Gate of the Bishops”, which represents the Christ and various known Slovenian bishops. A visit of the inside is required, but I still have to find the front door which is not located on the main street but along a small lane on one side of the cathedral. The inside is beautiful with its colorful frescoes, its organs and golden decorations and some very beautiful paintings present around the building.

I then left the church, now that I know where is the main gate, then continue my way to the town hall. The first building built here in 1484 was amended in 1718, following the plans of the architect Gregor Maček. It contains many elements that are part of the cultural memory of Ljubljana with, among others, the fountain of Hercules and Narcissus (the work of Robba’s workshop) and a Gothic room where the people of Ljubljana attended for the first theatrical performances of itinerant comedians in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, the Municipal Council headquarters in the city that can be visited for a small payment, but I’ll just take a quick look at the interior courtyard and a few ancient tapestries that decorate the lobby.

Near the town hall is the Fountain of Rivers of Carniola, the most precious stone fountain dating from the second half of the 18th century. This fountain is made of symbolic personified sculptures and numerous decorations by the sculptor Francesco Robba who worked there until 1752. Three subtle figures of Carrara marble support domed vases from which water trickles into the pool, which represents Krka, Sava and Ljubljanica rivers. The obelisk overlooking the fountain is drawn from a reddish limestone from Lesno Brdo and the cistern from a gray limestone. The set thus form a very nice element that integrates well in the square and is a famous meeting point among locals.

Now I’m heading to the east of the city, along endless streets full of shops and restaurants, always with the Ljubljanica river not far from me. Its edges are also covered with trees and other green places, enough to fully justify the title of “green city” of Ljubljana! I see some tourists climbing aboard a small boat which calmly follow the river. I tell myself that this kind of excursion will be welcome in the afternoon, why not after eating, for example. Meanwhile, this walk is making me hungry and knowing that I haven’t had breakfast this morning, I think it is time to take my first break! I go slowly back toward the cathedral because I have spotted earlier a small restaurant letting out a delicious smell of grilled sausages! The place is called Klobasarna and is located between the Cathedral and the City Hall. You can not miss it because the window of this small restaurant is topped by a huge sign featuring the favorite dish of the place: the Kranj sausage which recipe comes from an ancient pagan tradition.

Expect to pay €3.50 for a half sausage and €5.90 for the whole one, both being served with horseradish, mustard and bread. In winter, go for the “spoon sausage” at €4.90, which is cut into pieces and served in a very nourishing soup. Remember to accompany this meal with a glass of wine or a cold beer in the summer! For dessert, taste a Štrukelj, delicious Slovenian pastry with a little taste of “get-me-another-one-please”!

After this meal quite nutritious even if not very healthy, I decide to climb the hill where the castle of Ljubljana is located. I could take the funicular for a small fee, but I’m not in such a hurry and this is an opportunity for me to digest quietly! Fortunately, I already know where is the path leading to the top of the hill, tucked in a very old street. During the climb, I enjoy the beautiful view of the city, but I would have the opportunity to see more of it from the castle walls and a little later today from the top of another known “observatory” of the city.

I finally face the castle gates and enters through a small bridge. Once inside the walls, I have to say that I am a little bit disappointed. Indeed, after a long restoration period (which continues today), the medieval castle has become a totally different place, a kind of big modern center hosting many cultural events gallery, concerts, theater performances, exhibitions, ceremonial receptions and conferences. Not much to do with the idea we might have of a castle, but that does not stop me from climbing on the walls and admiring the panorama of the city. I also visit a few rooms which are open for free to the public, including a former torture chamber and its instruments, two art exhibitions, the ancient dungeons and chapel, the latter being one of the few original rooms having undergone little change.

There is evidence that the hill on which the castle stands was already inhabited in the 12th century BC., as tombs and relics of ancient times were preserved and found there. The medieval fortress is dating back to the 9th century and is mentioned for the first time in a document written between 1112 and 1125. The present castle, larger than the previous ones, was built in the second half of the 15th century by the Duke and later Emperor Friderik III. With the exception of the backbone of the Gothic chapel Saint-Georges consecrated in 1489, all other main buildings of the present castle were built and modified in the 16th and 17th centuries.

After this somewhat disappointing visit, I begin my descent of the hill taking a different path from the one used to get on top of the hill. The castle is an interesting place to see, at least for the panoramic view, but I expected something more ancient and authentic, too bad… Back at the foot of the hill, I reach the edge of the old town and then retraced my steps through other streets and alleys. Back near the Triple Bridge, I then embarked on a small “cruise” on the Ljubljanica. It is the perfect opportunity to rest my little legs and admire from another point of view the buildings bordering the river. Well, we don’t see much from down there, but the “cruise” is refreshing nevertheless. We pass under the Triple Bridge, the Butcher Bridge, right under the Halls and then we continue until we reach the Shoemakers Bridge, probably the oldest medieval bridge of Ljubljana.

Dating from the 13th century and originally made of wood, the bridge was named after the workshops of shoemakers closeby and connect still today the banks of the Ljubljanica between Tranca and Jurčič Square. In 1867, it was replaced by an iron bridge, unglamorous and very narrow and in the early 1930 it was replaced by the current concrete bridge with its six pairs of pillars built according to the plans by Jože Plečnik. After the river trip, we get off close to Jurčič Square and I then took the opportunity to discover this part of town. A particular building catches my attention, the national library.

This is a work of outstanding architecture of Plečnik built between 1936 and 1941 and shaping the streets of Vegova, Gosposka and Turjaška. The location was chosen for its location at the edge of the medieval heart of the city, where was situated the former Palace of the Prince and today we can admire its symbolic facades decorated with red brick and Podpeč limestone. I love this architectural style, as well as the windows of the upper floors: it’s very original and changes the sometimes monotonous appearance of some downtown buildings.

At a street corner, I finally reach Jurčič Square. It is not early afternoon and restaurant terraces of the square are filled… At least those that offer some shade to tourists! Indeed, it is very hot and I can’t imagine anyone willing to sit in the sun right now, even to enjoy a nice cold drink. An orchestra adds a nice note of music and the atmosphere of the place is very friendly. Moreover, at the end of the square, next to the river, we can see a beautiful view of the hills and the castle, and a small flea market is present. I walk though it, more for the delight the eyes than to buy anything and finally continue my walk to Congress Square.

Here is situated the University building on the south side, which replaced the old provincial palace in which took place, in 1821, the Europeans Sovereigns Congress which put a political end to the Napoleonic wars. The neighboring building is the Slovenian Philharmonic built in 1891 on the foundations of the old theater of the province, which was destroyed by a fire. This building, founded in 1701, is among the oldest in Europe and worldwide. Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms were its honorary members, Franz Schubert postulated as a music teacher and Gustav Mahler was appointed conductor between 1881 and 1882. Not far away is the Biedermeier house, seat of the oldest Slovenian edition house “Matica Slovenska” and founded in 1894. The casino, fine example of classical architecture, dominates the northern part of the square and the Star Park which contains the ruins of the ancient city wall occupies the rest of the place.

All that green area, I love it! Before leaving the place, I pass in front the Ursuline Convent and the Church of the Holy Trinity, unfortunately closed for the rest of the day. I continue my walk in the sweltering heat and comes shortly after on Republic Square, the largest square in Ljubljana which was constructed between 1960 and 1981 between the Parliament on the Šubičeva Street, the Ursuline convent on Slovenska street and Erjavčeva and Valvasorjeva streets. For its construction, the city has unfortunately decided to sacrifice the Ursuline garden, a large green area carefully kept since the 17th century and qualified to be the largest garden in Ljubljana.

Instead of a charming green space, we can see today two squat towers located on a raised platform. What a shame… But you’ll see below by another example that these tree cuts are far too common. Economic reform in 1965 has dampened the construction of the towers, only 12 floors were built and their tops were completed by various large cornices, lined with copper sheets. The west side of the square was decorated in 1975 with the monument to the revolution and in 1981 with the monument to the politician Edvard Kardelj. The last large building here was the Ivan Cankar Cultural Centre, established and furnished between 1976 and 1984.

I then reach the western part of the city which I would describe as “the museum district”. Indeed, the Natural History Museum, the Art Museum, the Modern Art Gallery and even the Opera are all located in the area within a few minutes walk of each other. I had already looked on the Internet for the content of current exhibitions and as some of them seem quite interesting, I will go there tomorrow for a visit. Meanwhile, I cross a small sub-channel and enters Tivoli Park, the largest park in the capital located in a vast plain and at the foot of Rožnik and Šišenski hrib wooded hills.

The origins of the current park dates back to the late Middle Ages when Turjak planted the gardens outside the city walls. In the 18th century, the manor Leopoldsruhe (today the manor Cekinov grad) was built and was surrounded by a Baroque parterre with tree-lined fairways. In the 1930s, the chestnut trees on the shady Latterman walkway were cut and a wide gravel promenade with a row of concrete lampposts and benches on the sides was constructed… It is so shameful to slaughter trees just to pour concrete afterwards… Despite this meaningless act (and others which I’ll spare you voluntarily), Tivoli park remains a pleasant green setting for walkers and a meeting place for locals.

During my walk in the park, I stop repeatedly along the avenue to admire the different pictures of a current “Round the World Pictures” exhibition. Some of them are just amazing and may have taken hours to take! I wish I had such talent, but at least I can fulfill my dreams by travelling like them! I continue to Cekinov grad manor, located at the end of the walkway. Built in the early 14th century and owned by the Jesuits until the 17th century, it then became the summer residence of the Bishop of Ljubljana, then the property of the dignitaries of the province. In 1852, Emperor Franz Joseph bought it and gave it to Marshal Radetzky, who made many changes, giving the building its current appearance. Now completely renovated, it host the International Centre of Graphic Art which is unfortunately closed during my visit. I then return slowly but surely towards the city center, still marking many breaks under the trees of the park. I carefully observe the foliage in the hope of spotting a squirrel or two, but nothing happens… With such a heat and in mid-afternoon, they might be sleeping!

Among the famous viewpoints of Ljubljana is the one of the castle, which I have seen. However, there is another viewpoint equally known which offers a quite impressive panorama of the city center. I am talking about the Nebotičnik tower, the first building in Ljubljana to have exceeded the Baroque silhouette of the bell towers. This “skyscraper” houses on its top a café-bar-restaurant and a panoramic terrace where I take a well-deserved rest and take some photos while sipping a delicious iced coffee, a drink that I really appreciate and that I taste as soon as I get the chance to do so!

The construction of the thirteen floors building was a technical feat that requested a new method of laying foundations and a precise execution. This building has long been the highest in Ljubljana. Its development was completed by the sculptor France Gorse, whose heads of household gods are in the inlet and by Lojze Dolinar, who created the symbolic female figure on the facade. The cafe located above the building was transformed several times and the individual apartments on the lower floors have recently been converted into offices and library.

The heat eventually becomes too unbearable, so I decid to visit the first museum in front of which I will pass and take advantage of its air conditioning, without forgetting to admire the various collections, of course! Thus I enter a few minutes later in the Natural History Museum, where I end my day of sightseeing. The collection of animals is impressive, both in terms of size and realism in the achievements of stuffed specimens. When the museum closes its doors, I finally return to my flat to take a good shower and freshen up before going for a night walk later in the evening, followed by a small meal in a restaurant near the Triple Bridge. No pictures here, because none of them are good… I’m very bad at taking night pictures, but I’m sometimes lucky and sometimes not at all. The next day, I return to see some places I greatly appreciated the day before and visit some museums, where the freshness will be keep me inside a good part of the day! This concludes my visit of Ljubljana, a cozy charming city which still surprises its visitors, myself included of course!

With a rich tradition and a great cultural creativity, it is a greencity with a youthful pace, which can entertain young and old (who said Disneyland?). More seriously, the city is home to relics that trace five thousand years of history, including the heritage of the ancient Roman town of Emona, the old town center and the medieval castle overlooking the city, as well as the pediments rich baroque mansions, the ornamented portals and the uneven roofs of the old town. The picturesque bridges over the Ljubljanica river and the vast Tivoli Park which stretches to the center of the city only add to the now undeniable beauty of this capital which you have to see with your own eyes! No doubt you’ll love it as I did!