Ljubljana

The Slovenian capital Ljubljana is a small, romantic city where nature and architecture are intertwined and both are surrounded by music, rivers and bridges.

When the great Slovenian poet France Preseren was writing poems for his hopeless love, Jilija Primic, he could not have known of course that the people of Ljubljana would immortalize their epic romance. As if to preserve the memory of those star-crossed lovers, Presernov Square, smack dab in the middle of the old city, is a meeting place today for the lovers and young people of Ljubljana as well as for tourists.

This small city of the Adriatic and the Balkans, whose name contains the root of the word ‘love’, is without a doubt one of the world’s most romantic. With its tiny squares, ornate buildings, pavements streets and tree-lined streets, it seems to have been designed for lovers. The three- and four-story attached houses along the river, the more ornate homes with cafes, small shops and florists or antique dealers below them, the lovely bridges each one more beautiful than the last, and the squares decked with sculptures make it at the same time a city of art and culture.

WHEN ARCHITECTURE BECOMES A PASSION…
Ljubljana, whose history dates back to the earliest times, acquired its present-day texture at the beginning of the 20th century. The city today harbors many architectural masterpieces in styles ranging from the classical and Baroque to the Vienna Secession, Art Nouveau and postmodern, making it a virtual open-air museum. While we’re on the subject of architecture, we should mention Ljubljana’s pride  and joy, architect Joze Plecnik.

Plecnik, who completed his architectural training in Otto Wagner’s Vienna, was invited by his contemporary and colleague, Vurnik, to Ljubljana as a professor in 1920. Returning to his birthplace, the master builder immediately set to work drawing up new city plans for Ljubljana.

Plecnik put his signature on a number of works of architecture, such as the triple bridge which is regarded as the icon of the city today, the chamber of commerce building, the central market buildings, and the churches of St. Francis and St. Michael. Another of his masterpieces is the National and University Library. When you enter the building, you will see at every step how the space is further illuminated by daylight as you pass by the magnificent black columns and up to the reading rooms. This structure, in whose design the master builder makes a reference to the Enlightenment, occupies an important place in the city’s cultural and touristic life and is definitely one of the spots to be visited.

LIKE NECKLACES...
Its bridges grace this tiny city like necklaces. A large number of them crisscross the Ljubljanica River, which runs through the center of the old city. The most famous is again Plecnik’s work, the Tromostovje or ‘triple bridge’. This very charming stone bridge,  actually three parallel bridges, two for pedestrians and one for cars, lends a Venetian air to the city’s romantic  atmosphere. Located in the center of the old city, the triple bridge connects to a long, narrow market. The former fish market, built as shopping arcade with many columns on top, stands next to the Trznice river. This market, whose colonnaded facade faces Vodnikov Square, the city’s marketplace, is where you can purchase Slovenian handicrafts, particularly items made of wood. Also available here are bouquets of flowers, each an exquisite work of art, arranged with their own hands by elderly Slovenian ladies.

When you leave the triple bridge behind and proceed to the long market, you will encounter another famous Ljubljana monument at the end of the road. The Zmajski, or Dragon Bridge, adorned with sculptures of the mythological dragon regarded as the protector of the city, was built by architect Juri Zaninovic in 1900-01. The bridge is considered to be a marvelous example of the Vienna Secession style.

LIKE A STAGE SET
But architecture of course is not the only treasure of this city which gives visitors the sense that they are strolling around a stage set. Ljubljana also boasts a vibrant urban life. Its population of around five hundred thousand swells day by day thanks to the tourists and, especially, to the Slovenians that flock to the city on weekends. The crowded cafes and restaurants, where you may have trouble finding a place, occupy an important niche in the city’s social life. Besides shops, numerous restaurants also line the narrow streets. Be sure to duck into one of them for a cup of coffee when you are weary of sightseeing. If you’re hankering for a snack, you can try the sandwiches made with homemade bread in one of the tiny cafes under the Hribarjevo Bridge. You can also find a number of places to choose from on the opposite bank. Plus, there are cafes and restaurants in the Gallusova and Cankarjevo pedestrian zones. And the Stari and Mestni back streets are chock full of restaurants with tables thrown up on the cobblestone pavement. You can find other alternatives as well in the square in front of the fish market. Meanwhile the pastries and seafood items offered by itinerant vendors are quite fresh and cheap.

EVERY MARKET AN ANTIQUE DEALER
Another treasure of Ljubljana is the antique market which is set up every Sunday on the river and bridges. The dealers, who come to the city from all over Slovenia, sell antiques of every variety from original oil paintings to small figurines and clocks. But music is the city’s sine qua non. In addition to classical, you’ll also notice that a different kind of music rises from every corner of the old city. And these performances by traveling musicians are truly worth fa listen.

Tivolska Street opposite Tivoli Park is home to the city’s major museums. The National Museum and the Museum of Modern Art are both located in this area. Recently, at the initiative of Turkey’s Ambassador to Slovenia, these venues have also been hosting a number of art and cultural events from Turkey.

AN ECO-CITY
A city so dominated by architecture, Ljubljana is at the same time an extremely green city and its design could therefore be characterized briefly as ‘green architecture’. When he was redesigning the city, the architect Plecnik virtually added nature to it. The result? An eco-city swathed in green as far as the eye can see.

The finest example of this is the recreational areas that were created along the banks of the Ljubljanica River that flows through the city. This riverside park, which begins the minute you cross the Sentjakob Bridge, attracts Ljubljanians every hour of the day.

If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a jaunt on the river in one of the canoes available under the Cevljarski Bridge. As an added boon, canoe tours are free of charge; all you have to do is get your name on the list. You can also discover this beautiful nature-embraced city by taking a lovely two-hour city cruise on one of the 20-30 passenger tour boats.

THE HIGHEST POINT IN THE CITY
Ljubljana Castle, or Ljubljanski Grad, is situated at the highest point in the city with a panoramic 360-degree view. The property of the Karinthian dukes in 1220, it was later used as a temporary residence by the Habsburg emperor. A military garrison in the 15th century, the fortress was enlarged with new walls following raids on Ljubljana and took on more importance. Restored in the 1970s, it became a major venue in the city’s cultural world.

If it’s canoeing, rafting or skiing you’d like to do, Ljubljana is also quite near several summer and winter sports centers, all accessible by organized tour. Thermal tourism may be another alternative. Or you may prefer a day tour to Lake Bled, a famous natural wonder with an historic fortress to boot.

In whatever season you go to this romantic city suspended between dream and reality, be sure you have the one you love beside you.