Sunday, June 23, 2013

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA

Ljubljana (loob-lee-AH-nuh) is the capital city of Slovenia, has a population of only 272,000, and has a very walkable old town.

Preseren Square lies at the center of the city. When we were there, a rock concert was just getting underway in front of the main building of the University of Ljubljana, which faces the Square:
Preseren Square, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles



At the center of the square is the monument to France Preseren (1800-1849), a Ljubljanian attorney-turned-poet of the Romantic era who is to Slovenia what Shakespeare is to England or Pushkin to Russia. Apparently he spent a lot of time at Lake Bled getting inspiration for his poetry. I'm not sure if that figure above is his muse protecting or blessing him, or if it is one of the many women he loved and left during his life. Although he fathered several children, he wasn't exactly a family man.
Note the street musicians playing for tips at the base of the statue.
Monument to France Preseren, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

On another side of the square is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, which was locked:

Down the road a bit is the Robba Fountain, made in 1751 by sculptor Francesco Robba, who was inspired by fountains by Bernini and Barigioni in Rome.
Robba Fountain, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

Just around the corner from the square I had my first gelato of the trip:

The city lies along the Ljubljanica River, which flows so lazily and peacefully that it looks more like a canal than a river:
Ljubljanica River, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

A unique bridge near Preserin Square was originally a single span built in 1842, but the bridge traffic was so heavy that two more pedestrian bridges were built next to it in 1932. Collectively, it is now known as the Triple Bridge:
Triple Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

In Ljubljana, we had our first exposure to one of the big cottage industries of the Balkans: honey production. Honey is as common in the Balkans as olive oil is in Italy, and many small farms have a stand at the side of the road where they sell honey alongside their fruits and vegetables.

The first time we rounded a corner and saw this, we were stunned. We thought it might be a prank, but then we saw the same thing on street after street.
Shoes Dancing on the High Wire, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles
While most of these unusual decorations are near the area where shoemakers used to have their shops, apparently these bedecked phone lines are a relatively recent phenomenon with no agreed on explanation.
Perhaps the best explanation is that the strands of shoes give the tourists something to talk about.

I love this three-dimensional relief springing out above the entry of one of the churches:
In fact, Ljubljana seems to have a thing for art popping off the walls:

The Ljubljana Cathedral, or St. Nicholas Church, was built in 1701-1706:
The cathedral has two of the most incredible bronze doors I have ever seen. They were installed in 1996 prior to a visit from Pope John Paul II. This side door, the Ljubljana Door, is decorated with portraits of the 20th-century bishops of the city gazing benevolently at the body of the crucified Christ, their shepherd's staffs gently grazing his body. Again, they are popping right off the surface:
Bronze Door, St. Nicholas Church, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

Bronze Door Popes, St. Nicholas Church, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles


The front door of the church is known as the Slovene Door. It depicts the history of Christianity in Slovenia over the past 1250 years:
Slovene Door, St. Nicholas Church, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles
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I especially love this depiction that I take to be the Tree of Life. It reminds me quite a bit of the story of the Iron Rod. The shiny gold heads are a result of the frequent caresses of passers-by. We would see this same "touch effect" many more times in the coming weeks.

Who is that peering down over the course of history? (Note: Don't be deceived by the change in color caused by a change in lighting. This is the same door that is pictured above.)

Why, it's Pope John Paul II! I'm sure he was pleased to see himself here.

Various saints stand in the niches around the exterior of the church, including St. Joseph, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Buenaventura.


A cathedral's paintings are usually inside. These of the annunciation and the baptism of Christ were on the outside walls. It's a good thing because we didn't get inside THIS church either. Apparently the Slovenian churches are actual churches and not just tourist sites.



Many European cathedrals have ornate clocks on their exteriors. Ljubljana's St. Nicholas Church has one of the most original--a vertical sundial:

Again--art springing out from the wall.  I think nescitis diem neque horam translates as "You do not know the day nor the hour," referring to the second coming of Christ.

Another notable pedestrian bridge in Ljubljana, and one of the newest, is Butcher's Bridge, opened in 2010.  It is decorated with thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing sculptures created by Jakob Brdar, an artist from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The first was easily identifiable: Adam and Eve on their expulsion from Eden.  I love Adam's anguish and the blinding mud over Eve's left eye.
Adam and Eve, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles















Okay, I thought this was another man, maybe another Biblical figure, but then I walked around it and discovered the tail of a satyr. Eww. 
Satyr, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles
I had absolutely no clue what this running, dismembered torso with legs was supposed to represent, and there was no signage to help me. Research after I returned home revealed it to be Prometheus being punished for giving fire to man.
Prometheus, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles
In addition to the three main sculptures on the bridge, there are little grotesque figures on the bridge walls.  These two are behaving suspiciously like ten-year-old boys, one sticking out its tongue and the other blowing a bubble.

A fad all over Europe is for a young couple to put a lock on a fence on a bridge or by a river and throw the key into the water as a symbol of their undying love for each other.  The Butcher's Bridge has fallen victim to this practice, not just on the fence . . .

. . . but also on some of Brdar's bizarre creatures:


After that, something like a dragon feels pretty tame, doesn't it?  Well, there is a bridge for dragon lovers too.  This one was completed in 1901 when Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today it is used primarily for automobiles, although it does have a narrow sidewalk. 
I didn't get a very good picture of its length, but it is considered the most beautiful bridge in Europe built in the Vienna Secession style.
Why dragons?  Historians disagree.  Some think it is because Jason (of Argonaut fame) journeyed through here and killed a nasty marsh dragon in a terrible battle nearby. Others say it is because of St. George, the patron saint of the castle chapel, who is often shown killing a dragon, a symbol of pagan beliefs being conquered by Christianity.  A third group believes the dragon the represents the god Veles of Slavic mythology.


Whatever the source, the dragon is the symbol of the city and appears on Ljubljana's coat of arms:
Well, the sun was slipping over the horizon, which meant our intense day of touring Slovenia was coming to an end. I would have liked to stay in Ljubljana for a little bit of shopping . . .


. . . but we still had to drive back to Zagreb, and Bob was adamant that we needed to get a good night's sleep and an early start for Sarajevo in the morning.  Now that I'm thinking about it, that sounds a bit suspicious to me.

Overall, we were surprised at how much there was to see in this tiny little country. If you plan on going there, you really need a minimum of two days to do it justice. There is plenty to see in just Ljubljana to fill an entire day.

3 comments:

  1. I'm voting that the woman over Preseren is his muse--but who really knows?

    I think the locks on the bridge sculptures make them look even more grostesque. Does that mean the people who put their Locks-of-Love padlocks there are goths? Hate their sweetheart? Think they are clever?

    Great visit to this unpronounceable little town, with a great town square. Thanks.

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  2. I think when you give the events for the next day you will agree we needed a good start.

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  3. Wow, lots of crazy, wacky, interesting things in this city! But seriously! You finally get to gelato and have only a toss-away mention? What kind did you get?? How many scoops??? Was it as good as I remember??????

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