Ljubljana City History

If one is to believe the legend, then the founder of Ljubljana was the Greek prince Jason, together with his companions, the Argonauts. Fleeing from King Aites, from whom they had stolen the golden fleece, they sailed from the Black Sea up the Danube River, into the Sava River and from there into Ljubljanica. Here Jason encountered a terrible monster, which he fought and slew. This monster was the Ljubljana dragon, which now has a permanent abode atop of the castle tower on the Ljubljana coat of arms.

Ljubljana's colorful past is definitely a consequence of its geographical position and a brisk migration of nations has flowed through the Ljubljana Gateway. The first settlement is known to have existed about 2000 BC, on the Ljubljana Marsh, where the people lived in wooden dwellings built on stilts. These people, of unknown origins, were mostly hunters, fishermen, stockbreeders and primitive farmers, who used dugouts to get around. In the late Bronze Age, they were followed by Illyrians, and around 300 years BC the Celts settled in the Ljubljana Basin. All these people left behind few traces of their existence.

The Romans left more evidence of their presence in these parts. They arrived here in 50 BC and established a settlement that they called Iulia Aemona (Emona) south-east of today's Ljubljana. Emona soon developed into a typical Roman city with between five and six thousand inhabitants, who were mostly merchants, craftsmen, war veterans and state officials. They built a wall around the city, which in parts was up to four meters wide and more than eight meters tall. The city had a water system, sewerage and centrally heated houses built of brick, and because of its strategic position, played an important role in a number of wars. It became a booming early-Christian trade center with its own deity, the goddess Equrna, which was worshipped on the Marsh.

The decline of the Western Roman Empire meant the end of Roman Emona. It was finally brought to ruin by Attila the Hun in 452, and it remained in this state for decades.  

6th - 15th CENTURIES
The early Slavs arrived here at the end of the 6th century and started building a settlement on the safe haven of the castle hill. A medieval city gradually emerged below the castle although little is known of their first few centuries in these parts.

The first feudal lordship in the area was formed, with Ljubljana as its center, by the local Breže-Seliški family, approximately 1000 AD. At the beginning of the 12th century, Ljubljana, together with Carniola, came under the ownership of the Carinthian Dukes of Spanheim. The first written reference to Ljubljana appeared in 1144 when it was referred to as Laibach; the Slovene spelling, Luwigana, appeared two years later, in 1146.

In the 12th century Ljubljana comprised Ljubljana Castle, and today's Stari trg and Florijanska ulica. The city was walled with the first town hall, complete with a fountain, standing in the middle. It had only one bridge, the Butchers' Bridge, which is known today as the Cobblers' Bridge. This old part of the city probably included St. James' Church.

The city developed rapidly in the 13th century when it became the capital of the province of Carniola. Three separately-walled suburbs, all of which still exist today, emerged: Stari trg, predominantly a suburb of craftsmen; Mestni trg which housed the secular and church governments; and Novi trg, home to the nobility. Five gates led to the city and the banks of the river were connected with two bridges - the Lower (Špital) Bridge and Upper (Cobblers') Bridge. In 1220 the city started to coin its own money at the castle and it was granted its town ordinances and privileges. The city authority comprised citizens' representatives, the city judge and the governor, and its citizens, especially the craftsmen, were divided into guilds. By the 16th century, cobblers' workshops were on both sides of the Cobbler's Bridge and it became the center of their guild.

Cheating bakers were punished by being dunked into the Ljubljanica from the Cobblers' Bridge. A special dunking device, a big basket attached to the end of a wooden beam, was used for the purpose. Dishonest bakers were put in the basket and repeatedly dunked in the not-so-clean Ljubljanica by city bailiffs.

In 1335 Ljubljana, with the rest of Carniola, came under direct Hapsburg rule, where it remained (with the exception of the Illyrian provinces) until the end of World War I. The Hapsburgs granted Ljubljana as many as 39 very important trade and other privileges, which attracted merchants and craftsmen from all over Europe to the city. Germans, Italians, the Spanish, even the English and Swedes moved to the city and a Jewish quarter emerged next to Novi trg. Ljubljana developed into an important trade centre and a centre of various forms of cultural creativity: from sculptors' and painters' workshops to a school of music.

In 1461 a diocese was established in Ljubljana and St. Nicholas' Church became a cathedral. 

16th - 17th CENTURIES
After an earthquake in 1511 the city took on a Renaissance appearance. Brick houses replaced wooden ones and the city was again walled in to protect it from the Turkish siege. During this time Ljubljana also gained prominence in the art field principally due to a sculpting workshop and the well-known painting workshops of Janez Ljubljanski. When The Reformation arrived (the Protestant period) the city had a population of 5000, of which approximately 70 per cent spoke Slovene. Ljubljana made significant spiritual progress and became the centre of Slovene Reformation and culture. Two important residents of the time were Primož Trubar, who published the first two Slovene books, Katekizem (The Cathechism) and Abecednik (A Spelling Guide), and Jurij Dalmatin, who translated the Bible into Slovene. During the Protestant period, Ljubljana got its first secondary school, public library, and printing house. In 1597 the Hapsburgs settled Jesuits in the city in order to re-Catholicise it and upon their arrival they established a grammar school, which later developed into a college.

The city expressed its devotion to the Latin culture in the 17th century, with the foundation of Academia operosorum Labacensis, a society of Ljubljana's scholars under the Italian influence. It initiated the first public library and invited master builders and sculptors from abroad to Ljubljana. In addition to their own work, these masters educated local artists and builders and introduced the baroque style to the country, which began to mask the Renaissance appearance of the city. Third floors were added to buildings, houses were given new, baroque frontages, interiors were decorated with arcaded courtyards and staircases. Many churches were refurbished in the baroque style. The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers which was made by Francesco Robba and placed in front of the magnificent new Town Hall, is considered the jewel of the city's baroque works. 

At the very beginning of the 18th century, in 1701, the first music association in Slovenia, the Academia philharmonicorum, was founded. It was a vehicle for baroque in music and also facilitated the development of musical production in this region. A small orchestra, one of the first ones outside Italy, was also founded. The honorary members of the Philharmonic Society, which towards the end of the 18th century stemmed from the traditions of this orchestra, were composers Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, distinguished musicians such as violinist Nicolo Paganini, and between 1881 and 1882, at the very start of his career, Gustav Mahler was its resident conductor. Between 1708 and 1714 the seminary library, which has preserved its original appearance to this day, was built.

In 1809 the French army occupied Ljubljana and the city became the capital of the Illyrian Provinces. The French occupation (1809-1813) stimulated the development of both the city and the Slovene culture. During this period the city expanded considerably and the Slovene language made its way into schools, the administration and local culture. It also became one of the official languages of the Illyrian Provinces. Ljubljana also opened its first college, the predecessor of the Slovene university.

The city's most important event in the first few years following the restoration of Austrian rule was the Holy Alliance Ljubljana congress, held in 1821. Several European sovereigns, including the Austrian emperor and the Russian tsar, attended the congress as did numerous statesmen. The congress intended to prevent the efforts of other nations to introduce constitutional and political reform and freedom. In memory of this event the square where it took place still bears the name Kongresni trg (Congress Square). The cultural prosperity of the city, in the first half of the 19th century, was largely due to the poet France Prešeren and his associates. The city saw a number of architectural changes; the embankments along the Ljubljanica were refreshed, and stone and iron bridges replaced old wooden ones.

In 1849 the first train arrived in Ljubljana from Vienna and eight years later the connection with Trieste was finished. A new era in the city's development started as both the importance and the appearance of the city changed. The area between the old city and the railway was cleaned up and developed. The city had a college, a grammar school, a school of commerce, several primary schools, a theatre, four printing houses, two bookshops, two hospitals and an orphanage. It was known for its wineries, beer halls, inns and coffee houses. In the 1860's the Slovene Literary Society was established and several newspapers began to be published. Increasingly Ljubljana became the cultural centre of the Slovenes and in 1882 it got its first Slovene mayor.

In 1895 another, far more severe, earthquake befell Ljubljana and the majority of the city was destroyed. Austrian and Czech architects oversaw most of the reconstruction and many Art Nouveau buildings were erected. Today this style successfully combines with older, baroque buildings, reinforcing the view that Ljubljana is indeed a dialogue between the North and the South. Alongside the reconstruction, civil commodities such a new water supply system in 1890, electricity (1897), sewerage (1898) and a tramway (1901) were introduced.

The Ljubljana tramway started operating on 6 September 1901, without any special ceremony. Initially it was a first-rate city attraction. People from far and near came to Ljubljana to marvel at this technological miracle that moved by itself; no horses, smoke or soot. Amazed Ljubljana residents rode it for amusement rather than from necessity. But there were also accidents and mishaps such as the one where two city workmen were spraying the road at Krekov trg. The water jet came into contact with the above-ground electrical-supply cable and the electric shock threw one of the workmen on the ground. Thinking that it was his mate who had hit him, he retaliated. The matter was only resolved when a city rail electrician, who had been watching the whole spectacle, interceded.  

World War I only affected the city from a distance, with hardship and hunger, although its end finally brought a break with the Hapsburg dynasty. With the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Slovenia and its capital joined the new state, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Ljubljana officially became the administrative and political centre of Slovenia. At that time it had nearly 80,000 inhabitants and had acquired some central institutions of the national culture: the University (1919), National Gallery (1918), Academy of Science and Art (1938). New residential suburbs emerged, especially in Bežigrad, where Slovene architects realized their modern functionalist views.

Between the two wars, today's Ljubljana was designed by the Slovene architect Jože Plečnik, who, with great love and immense talent, shaped Ljubljana and captured its spirit. In his work he achieved a reconciliation between the Latin baroque and Germanic Art Nouveau styles, creating a uniquely Slovene appearance of the capital. He had such an impact on the city that architecturally, this period is called Plečnik's Ljubljana.

During World War II the city was at first under Italian, and later under German, military occupation and it became the center of the liberation struggle. In 1942, to quell the resistance, the occupying forces enclosed the city within a 30-kilometre-long barbed-wire fence. Today, a path has replaced the barbed wire creating a pleasant walking trail called the Green Ring.

After World War II Ljubljana became the capital of Slovenia, one of the six republics of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, later renamed Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Industry, trade, banking, tourism, etc. were intensively developed. Rapid industrialization drew large numbers of people to the city, which grew considerably.

At a national referendum held on 23 December 1990, the people of Slovenia voted for independence and sovereignty and on 26 June 1991, the Republic of Slovenia declared its independence. Ljubljana became the capital of the new state.


100 B.C. Roman military camp
14 Roman city of Emona
1144 first written mention of Ljubljana
1335 capital of the Province of Carniola under the Hapsburgs
1415 successful defense from Turkish siege
1504 elects the first mayor
1511 earthquake demolishes the city
1701 establishes the Academia Philharmonicum
1754 has 9.300 inhabitants
1797 publishes the first Slovenian newspaper
1809 capital of Illyrian Provinces under Napoleon Bonaparte
1821 the Congress of the Holy Alliance
1849 gets a railway connection with Vienna and Trieste
1881 electrifies street lighting
1890 finalizes city waterworks
1897 makes first telephone calls
1901 gets street car network
1918 Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
1919 founds the University
1941 Italian occupation
1942 Italians surround Ljubljana with barbed wire
1943 German occupation
1945 liberation by partisans, capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia within Yugoslavia
1958 gets first regular TV program
1980 escorts Marshal Tito to his final journey
1991 proclamation of independence, capital of the Republic of Slovenia
1991 celebrates Slovenian independence
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