Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia and the city of dragons
Ljubljana divides the Balkans from Central Europe through the Ljubljanica River. It is just 140 km away from Zagreb and the road is mainly the highway. By Croatia Bus you arrive in merely a couple of hours while taking into account that you also have to pass the customs for only 10 euros per way. Still, it is a fast and comfortable journey. I took a one-day trip in Ljubljana and honestly, it is enough to see the important sites. It’s strange and funny how two cities which were in the same country for decades are now separated by a border and a customs. But… it’s not for me to judge. Ljubljana has almost 300 000 inhabitants and lies between the mountains. The central part of the city is crossed by the river Ljubljanica, which in some areas in the city center has terraces on the shores and is arranged in a navigable manner. You can make excursions by boat and admire the ducks, swans and beavers (seriously! I’ve seen beavers!)
Located in such a place, at a crossroad, it was part of several empires and kingdoms. Influences are Germanic, Latin and Slavic coming from all sides. This is seen on the street in the architecture of the buildings and in the people on the street. It is the capital of Slovenia since 1991 when the country declared its independence and is full of young students. The city has 22 faculties, three academies and a college, thus being an important university center. Do not be surprised if next to a table of tourists who eat on a terrace on the bank of the Ljubljanica River, a young woman is studying and enjoying a coffee with milk.
Where does the name Ljubljana come frome?
Inhabitants like to say that Ljubljana is the city of love, as the name itself is derived from the Slavic word “luba”, which means “loved”. But the etymology is rather uncertain and there are many opinions. Back in the days, instead of the city, there was a swamp, and the name could come from the Latin “Aluviana”, especially that during the Ottoman Empire was an important city. Other opinion would be the old name “Laburus” transformed in time. What’s certain is that for hundreds of years the current name is Ljubljana. Also called “the city of dragons”.
Why the city of dragons?
Because the symbol of the city is represented by dragons. There is also a bridge, of the many crossing Ljubljanica, which has at its end two dragons each. The story (at least one of them) says that Iason and its Argonauts, after finding the gold wool, came back through here. After arriving in the city’s premises, they found in the swamps back then a dragon which they killed. Another story says that Saint George killed the dragon right here in these surroundings. Who knows the actual truth? The certain thing is that the dragons are now the symbol of the city and are almost everywhere present.
Sightseeing in Ljubljana
In 1895 a huge earthquake destroyed the city from the ground. A mayor immediately elected after the disaster stood in charge for 40 years and rebuilt the city! Everything you see now is due to his thoughts and plans, helped by a genius architect, Joze Plecnik. Together, they gave a new face to the city and brought it to the wonderful state in which it is nowadays.
I was telling you that it is a small city. Small and extremely stylish and clean. It was designated “the green capital of Europe” in 2016 because of this and because are obsessed with recycling. In Ljubljana, 95% of waste is recycled. 95%! Separated by Ljubljanica River, it stretches along it and offers a wide array of points of interest.
The city center. The city’s ground zero is at “Three bridges”. A market where there is not one, but three bridges situated next to each other. The market once sheltered, on one side, a Franciscan church and the statue of the national Slovenian poet France Preseren, and on the other side the cathedral and city market, the new city hall and the road to the funicular which takes you right at the castle. .
One of the poet’s most famous poems is basically a unique love statement. If you take the first letter of each verse, you come up with a sentence that goes like this: “I love you, my Juliette”. In Slavic language, of course…
The bridges over the Ljubljanica River
There are around 12 bridges which connect the banks of the river, but some of them are truly fabulous. I was telling you about the triple bridge in the city’s central market, but there is also the dragon bridge, built in 1901, being a tribute to the emperor Franz Iosif, or the bridge of the butchers, now full of lovers’ locksmiths, the iron bridge built in the same time and style with the Eiffel Tower or the New Deck, modern and stylish which was built in 2008. Walking along the river, you will get to see every one of them.
Boat trip on the Ljubljanica River.
There are a few points where you can take a boat for a 45-60 minute trip on the Ljubljanica River. Thus, you get to see the city and all the bridges being on water, you get to wave the tourists who sit at the terraces on the banks and then you get to go out from the city for a while to a greener area. You will definitely meet swans, ducks, different water birds and beavers. You will also see a lot of people practicing Kayak. As far as I know, there are a lot of champions at his sport in Slovenia. Families, lovers or tired travellers rest or walk on the banks of the river… a ticket for a boat trip costs between 10 and 15 euros and in this price only the ride is included.
The old city
The old city is made up of streets with perfectly aligned buildings and resembles much with small Austrian or German cities. I was telling you that the influence is huge. A rule imposed by the government at the moment of reconstruction stated that every building must have at its façade only three rows of windows. If you take a closer look you will notice that there are also buildings which dodged this rule, the explanation being that owners with money could bring an exception! Nothing new, right?
Here you can find the City Hall, Saint Nicholas Cathedral built around 1701-1708 with an absolutely stunning black door in the right side of the building. Go and see it! Walking along the river, passing the Sentjakoski Bridge, then immediately left, you come across an amazing neighborhood. Krakovska. A neighborhood which is a few hundred years old and were owners cultivate flowers and are so passionate about their roses that they cover the flowers with a net so that the insects, by pollination, do not mix them with the neighbors’ flowers. Houses here never get sold by owners, it is quiet, clean and if you pay enough attention you can find traces of the plague epidemic from past times.
Back in the city, passing by the literature museum, with its architecture symbolizing books and windows open to the future you come across the street which at one end has the column of Napoleon, and at the other end the Congress Square with the First Philharmonics of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, founded in 1701. This was practically the outskirts of the old roman city and on the edge of its wall this street was made, which resembles Calea Victoriei in Bucharest. If you look for the four columns in the Congress Square and look beyond the street of Vegova, you’ll see Napoleon’s column in the center. A beautiful axis which frames a multitude of wonderful buildings.
If from the square you go on Subiceva Street, you reach several museums. The modern art museum, the National Museum of Slovenia and the Natural Museum are only three of them. Then immediately around the back it’s the Tivoli Park.
I didn’t have the chance to visit, but I understood that it is the city’s main park, has an outstanding garden with roses, lakes, alleys full of greenery and is generally local people’s favorite place. Next time I will definitely visit it …
Coming back in the city, you must ascend to the castle. It is seen from all parts of the city, being the one that guards over Ljubljana. You can ascend by foot in a 20-30 minutes hike or you can take the funicular which gets you there in one minute. It is simply a castle from another time crooked on a mountain peak, surrounded by walls and a spacious yard in the inside. The castle is so big that you can get lost in its basements and climbing in its main tower offers a panorama of dozens of kilometers. It was recently refurbished as tourist objective and looks very well.
With over 900 year of history, rebuilt for countless times, it was a fortress, a military center, the governor’s residence, prison for noble men and now it’s the main attraction of the city. You can’t miss it, you can’t skip the visit!
Apart from panorama observation points, there is a cinema where you can hourly watch a movie on the history of the fortress, exhibits from ancient times attesting the purposes of the castle, restaurants and a library, as well as a souvenir shop.
The best thing you can buy in Ljubljana is the Ljubljana Card. It can be bought in the Central Market from the Triple Bridge where there is a Tourism board Agency