Central European identity is alive and well again. Come and convince yourself in Ljubljana. It will charm you with it’s human scale and picturesque pattern language. Stroll along the river Ljubljanica with densely built historical buildings and then climb up to the Ljubljana castle to enjoy the Alps view and you will realize how harmonious this city is.
Ljubljana centre is a perfect example of eco-compact city. It’s old town is car free and walkable – something a world known urban activist Jane Jacobs would be proud of (apart from the gentrification process). Varying lot sizes and housing typologies, abundance of small retails on the ground level, efficient public transport, walkable distances, humane scale and pleasant aesthetics will make you cosy in Ljubljana.
The best way to meet the city is to see it from above using the funicular on Krekov Square 4. Climb Ljubljana Castle that has been renovated and it has some interesting architectural details. Start in the morning as the sun will be behind your back so you can take better photo’s of the Ljubljana panorama.
Here you can notice the axial composition of the Triple bridge is oriented almost directly at the castles tower. You can notice a lot of interesting details here, like the usage of rusted steel columns to improve the statics or glazed additions to extend the medieval halls.
Do you wanz to see a secret baroque pearl at the centre of the city? No, it’s not the cathedral – it is the Seminary Library placed across the market at Dolničarjeva Street 4, just behind the cathedral. Before you visit this baroque gem it is necessary to make a phone call or send an email here to be granted a guided tour. The Seminary Library was the first public scientific library in Ljubljana whose construction began in 1708. Notice the elaborate baroque portal at the entrance and enjoy the quiet small baroque hall with painted ceiling and beautiful fittings.
Art Nouveau and Downtown
One of the most imaginative art nouveau buildings is Čudnova Hiša (Čuden House) at Cigale Street 3. It has a giant column at the corner topped with a copper sphere.
If you want drink beer or gin and tonic while enjoying the city view you should visit Nebotičnik Skyscraper at Štefanova Street 1. Be sure to come here at afternoon because this way the sun will at your back if you want to take a photo of the old town and the castle.
The 13 storey high (70 meters) Skyscraper was designed by Vladimir Šubic and finished in 1933. At the top three floors you can find a bar and a restaurant with a fine vintage atmosphere. Just take an elevator and it will bring you directly to the top.
What makes Ljubljana different than any other Austrian city? Apart from some socialist apartment blocks, and a different language it is the most famous Slovene architect, Jože Plečnik. While many of his contemporaries like Mies van der Rohe were trying to establish a new style using boxy design with steel and glass Plečnik decided to continue the classical tradition. If you are a student of architecture and you detest modernist boxes you should study Plečnik.
As you enter Prešern’s square (central city square) you might notice there is a Triple bridge (Tromostovje) at the bend of the river Ljubljanica whose imaginative design with concrete lamps and balustrades became one of the symbols of the City. Please, stroll across these bridges to feel the soul of the city.
Adjacent to the bridge there is a wing of Ljubljana’s Central Market. It is an elongated building following the river bank finished in 1944. Walk along the colonnades and porticoes filled with stalls selling local honey liquors or arts and crafts products. This Plečnik’s building is a stage to the Open Kitchen food market (Odprta Kuhna). Every Friday the food here is prepared by Slovenian chefs just in front of you.
The Triple Bridge and the Central Market speaking such a rich architectural language are definitely the Crown of the City.
Visit Plečnik’s library in Turjaška street 1. It’s a building of grand scale, something like Florence’s palaces. There are some interesting details here like bricks and uneven stones or door handles shaped as horse heads.
Try entering the entrance hall and you will notice students running in and out because the library is in use. Here you will find a monumental staircase and a lots of beautiful craft like vibrant marble benches or elegant lamps. You can find out more about Plečnik HERE.
Ljubljana is very good at blending the old and the new. Just as Plečnik seamlessly integrated his Triple Bridge into the old city centre so does the new neighbouring bridge completed in 2014 blend with the surroundings. Ribja Brv Footbridge was designed by Ahitektura d.o.o. and it was featured in world know architectural magazines like Archdaily. The bridge is really thin and glazed railing offers an unobstructed views on both sides.
Tourist guides will point you to Tivoli Park or Botanical Gardens which is completey fine, but I would like you to see the other park. This elegant contemporary structure is placed on a lake Koseški Bajer (Koseze Pond) behind the Tivoli Park. It is a wooden platform floating on water where local residents can sit and enjoy the viewpoint. It would be lovely to see it gliding on water.
Central European Patterns
There are some certain patterns that architecture enthusiasts may recognize in old cities of this part of Europe. Mostly, there is a hill containing either a castle (Schlossberg) or a church administration town for the elite and a merchant’s downtown, then there are lots of Italianate, mostly yellowish eye candy low rise buildings with clay roofs. (Bieber tiles). Try to climb somewhere uphill and you will always see a charming red roofs landscape. In the downtown there are neoclassical (historicism) apartment blocks, again mostly in pastel colours. Marketplace is usually situated next to a cathedral (often counter reformation baroque or gothic) and a well-off German speaking elite lives in a street called Herrengasse meaning Gentry Street. This architectural tuning is a trademark of Central Europe and you can feel it in Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is definitely a city break with a taste of Architecture.