Slovenia may be one of the world’s newest countries having gained independence in 1991, but Ljubljana’s history goes back much further. The city has an interesting back story at the hands of historical conquerors. Romans used Ljubljana’s strategic location as a stronghold, Turkish incursions were conducted during the 15th century, Napoleon’s armies marched through here and, during World War 2, the city was annexed by Fascist Italy and occupied by Nazi Germany. Ljubljana has history. But, it is so much more than history.
But firstly, let’s get the simple pronunciation sorted – loo (as in, I want a toilet), blah (as in, blah blah blah you are talking too much) and nah (as in, nah, I don’t want to spend time in any other stinking city)!
Since Slovenian independence, the city has reinvented itself, particularly along the city’s riverside of the Ljubljanica. It has come to life with restaurants, bars and markets. Ljubljana had some newfound energy.
Ljubljana has subtle beauty. It is a city that is easily digested. It can be walked at a leisurely pace in less than an hour. Ljubljana follows the curves of the Ljubljanica. It is blessed with atmospheric streets, narrow cobblestoned laneways and long and open squares. This is a place where you can easily be at peace. Ljubljana has a pleasant and modest vibe.
Despite its compact size, Ljubljana is best explored and immersed in over several days. The pace of life in Ljubljana is such that an entire afternoon can easily be spent in a small cafe by the river, sipping wine, sharing local cheese and meats and chatting. But, let’s start at the top…
Each time you look up in Ljubljana you’re greeted by the castle, a medieval fortress with a modern twist. With Ljubljanski Grad (Ljubljana Castle) perched above the city centre, it is from here that you can truly admire the Old Town sprawled out below with its collection of Baroque and Secession influenced buildings. You soon appreciate its compactness and how brilliantly the styles meld together.
As you descend from the castle, you will walk through several of the city’s smaller squares, namely Mestni Trg, Stari Trg and Gornji Trg – three narrow cobblestoned pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants. These squares afford a vision of Ljubljana that has been faithfully restored. It also allows for a leisurely amble around the Old Town. In this part of Ljubljana, you will find the Town Hall, cathedral and the marketplace. The Old Town also hosts a market, in Vodnikov Trg, as well as flower stalls next to the cathedral and the central market along the colonnade that runs adjacent to the river. Outside the Town Hall is a lovely fountain of the three rivers (representing the three Carniolan rivers – Sava, Ljubljanica and Krka).
You are never far from the Ljubljanica River in the Old Town. The river is crossed by several bridges including the Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, Butchers’ Bridge and the Shoemakers’ Bridge. Across the river, using Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), you can visit Presernov Trg (Preseren Square) with its statue, church, and colourful Secession buildings.
Preseren Square has a statue of France Preseren, Slovenia’s most famous poet. Above the statue, is a ‘poetic muse’, holding a laurel above his head. Symbolically, in a far corner of the square, mounted on the facade of a building, his lover gazes across at him.
The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings such as the salmon pink Franciscan Church, the oldest department store in Ljubljana, a beautiful art nouveau building with a statue of the god Mercury on its roof and several beautiful ornate and colourful buildings. Further along from the square are a number of Secession buildings.
And finally, there is…Metelkova. This is a cultural zone, a former military barracks that isn’t all that inviting to be honest. An urban squat of sorts. BUT, the whole place is one big art show with ‘graffiti central’ and the museum for contemporary art next door.
To explore Ljubljana, forget about creating an itinerary. Wander randomly, without a plan. The beauty of Ljubljana is in the detail. It could be a carving of a face on the wall, a fountain or a sculptured drain embedded into a cobble-stoned alleyway. Stand in Preseren Square, lean against the walls of the Triple Bridge, watch the people pass by and glance up at the castle, listening to the accordion music being played. This is a city with likeability. A city that is compact and beckons you to sit and soak in her vibe and vibrancy. A city that feels like home. The essence of ‘sLOVEnija’.