Like any other capital city, Ljubljana offers a free walking tour. However, unlike the other cities, this one is only offered a few times a week in the off season. Seeing as we hadn’t seen much of the city yet, we decided to take the free walking tour to learn a little more about the city, the country and its history.
Here are some of the things that I saw while in Ljubljana:
The tour started off at Ljubljana’s main square, named for Slovene famous poet, France Prešeren. There is now a statue in his honour in the square. He is facing a window where his “muse” use to live. Now there is a statue representing her on the building. On one side of the square, runs the river Ljubljanica. Crossing the river, is the famous Triple Bridge. Originally only one bridge was built here, but with increasing traffic over the bridge, plans were made to add two additional pedestrian-only bridges on either side. Now, the whole area is a pedestrian only area. At night, these bridges are all lit up with lights, making for a very pretty scene – and in many ways, looks a bit Italian.
The Butchers’ Bridge
Butchers’ Bridge, connects the Ljubljana market (seen above on the left) with the other side of the Ljubljanica river. This bridge was originally planned to be installed in the late 1930s, but with the start of World War II, the plans for the bridge were never fulfilled. Nearly fifty years later, the plans were revisited, and the bridge built. Originally the bridge was to be covered and be a part of the market, but now its a pedestrian-only crossing.
Despite its name, many local and foreign couples have chosen this bridge to be one of the world’s ‘love bridges.” Dotted along the steel cables, are padlocks with initials and names etched in. Couples come and place their lock on the bridge, throwing their key into the river, symbolizing their undying and forever love. This practice of latching padlocks engraved with the names of couples in love isn’t unique to the Butchers’ Bridge in Ljubljana. There is a tree in one of the parks in Budapest that have a number of locks on it, but perhaps the most famous is the Pont des Arts in Paris.
The Dragon Bridge
On one end of the market lays the Dragon Bridge. Originally it was named after Franz Josef I, but was renamed shortly after as the Dragon Bridge due to the 4 dragons that perch on the four corners of the bridge. The Dragon, is actually a common motif found around Ljubljana; it can be found on the coat of arms for Ljubljana.
Where does this dragon come from? According to legend:
Greek hero Jason and his Argonaut comrades stole a golden fleece, the coat of a golden ram, from the King of Colchis on the Black Sea. On board the Argo they fled their pursuers and found themselves at the mouth of the River Danube instead of going south towards the Aegean Sea and their Greek homeland. There was no way back, so they went on, up the Danube and then along the River Ljubljanica. They had to stop at the source of the Ljubljanica and overwintered here. They then took the Argo apart and in the spring carried it on their shoulders to the Adriatic coast, where they put it back together again and went on their way. According to the legend, on their arrival between what is now Vrhnika and Ljubljana, the Argonauts came across a large lake with a marsh alongside. Here lived a terrible marsh dragon that Jason killed after a heroic struggle. The monster would have been the Ljubljana dragon. It is said that Jason should have been the first real Ljubljana citizen. (source)
The Ljubljanica River
The Ljubljanica River is the main river that runs through Ljubljana. It divides the medieval centre with the rest of the city. The river had becoming an area for lost treasures, with many relics and artefacts found within its waters. Why there are so many artefacts is unknown, but most historians believe it may be related to how the locals treated the river as a sacred place and offered their items to the river in celebration and times of trouble. The Slovene government has now declared the river a site of cultural importance and have banned diving in the river without a permit.
Despite all this, the river is so nice to look at, as it winds through Ljubljana. The vast number of bridges that crosses the river are each so unique. It makes me feel like I’m in Italy – a little bit of Florence perhaps.
Ljubljana’s castle is perched on top of a hill in the centre of the city. It can be seen from all over the city. From the top, you can see all of the medieval centre and surrounding areas. The castle was built by the Habsburgs in the second half of the 15th century. Its main purpose was to defend against Turkish invasions and peasant revolts. In the 17th and 18th century the castle became a military hospital and an arsenal. Later it was used as a prison, but because it was not a home of a ruler or another important noble person and because a fortification in the area was no longer required, the castle started to lose its importance and it started to crumble. In the 1950s, the castle was used to house poor families. But soon after, the castle was renovated to become a location for weddings and cultural events.
We were able to wander the grounds of the castle, but did not go inside as they were all museums and required a purchased ticket. From the top, you really can see all around the city. It quickly becomes very apparent how high the castle really is! Everything is tiny below you.
All in all, I really enjoyed the city of Ljubljana. The city is small and easily walkable. There were so many bikes whizzing in and out of pedestrians and there are bike lanes everywhere. Its fairly quiet and very clean. It isn’t over run with tourists and I felt the whole country is not as expensive as some of its neighbours (Italy – ahem!). Walking along the river makes me feel like I’m in Italy almost and its so pretty. There are some draw backs though – things tend to close rather early and everything is closed on Sundays. Despite those small inconveniences, the city is very picturesque and nice.
Not convinced about Ljubljana? Check out this recent post from another travel blog I read.
This is part 4 of a 6 part series on my recent road trip to Croatia and Ljubljana. To read about the rest of my trip, click here.