Ljubljana's history

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Legend about the origin of Ljubljana © Dunja Wedam

Legend about the origin of Ljubljana

Legend has it that Ljubljana was founded by the Greek mythological hero Jason and his companions, the Argonauts, who had stolen the golden fleece from King Aetes and fled from him across the Black Sea and up the Danube, Sava and Ljubljanica rivers.

At a large lake in the marshes near the source of the Ljubljanica they stopped and disassembled their ship to be able to carry it to the Adriatic Sea, put it together again, and return to Greece. The lake was the dwelling place of a monster, which Jason fought, defeated and killed. The monster, now referred to as the Ljubljana Dragon, found its place atop the castle tower depicted on the Ljubljana coat of arms.

World's oldest wheel © M. Paternoster

World's oldest wheel

In 2002, the remains of the world's oldest wheel, made between 3350 and 3100 BC, were found by archaeologists at Ljubljana Marshes. The wheel, measuring 72 centimetres in diameter, was made from ash wood and its 124-centimetre-long axle from oak wood. The wheel is kept at the City Museum of Ljubljana. It is currently being restored and is not on view to the public.

Lake dwellers

Lake dwellers

Around 2000 BC, Ljubljana Marshes were settled by lake dwellers living in wooden dwellings built on stilts driven into the marsh ground or lake bed. They were hunters, fishermen, stockbreeders and primitive farmers. To get around, they used dugout canoes made by cutting out the inside of tree trunks. As the Ljubljana Gateway has since ever had a key geographical position, it saw migration flows of numerous tribes and peoples. The site of the present Ljubljana was first settled by the Veneti, and later by the Illyrians, the Illyrian-Celtic tribe of Iapydes, and, in the 3rd century BC, by the Celtic tribe called Taurisci.

The time of the Roman Emona © Dunja Wedam

The time of the Roman Emona

Emona, the earliest known name of the present Ljubljana, is probably of Celtic origin. Until the 1st century BC, when the Ljubljana Basin was conquered by the Romans, it was part of the Celtic kingdom of Noricum. Emona, a strategic stronghold which played an important role in numerous wars, was fortified with massive town walls. It had a population of five to six thousand people, mainly merchants and craftsmen, government officials and war veterans. Its streets were paved. Its brick-built houses with plastered and painted walls and mosaic floors were furnished with sewage facilities and central heating.

Emona, the Roman predecessor of Ljubljana © Dunja Wedam

Emona, the Roman predecessor of Ljubljana

Emona had its own goddess, Equrna, worshipped at Ljubljana Marshes. In its latter days it was an important early Christian centre with flourishing trade. Its decline was simultaneous with the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. In 452 AD, Emona was sacked by the Huns under Attila. For long decades during the Migration Period it was wrapped in darkness. The Slovenians' Slavic forefathers arrived in the area at the end of the 6th century and began to build a settlement under the shelter of the present castle hill. The settlement gradually turned into a medieval town.

Middle ages © Dunja Wedam

Middle ages

During the 9th century, Slavic settlements gradually fell under the rule of the Francs. The period saw frequent Hungarian raids. Around 1000, the Hungarians were defeated by the Germans and their territories were ceded to various German noble families. Between 1112 and 1125, the nobleman Rudolf of Tarcento gave a small estate near Ljubljana's castle hill to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. The document evidencing this represents the earliest known mention of Ljubljana. Later the Ljubljana Basin passed into the hands of the Carinthian family of the Dukes of Spanheim.

Ljubljana is granted town privileges © D. Mladenovič

Ljubljana is granted town privileges

Ljubljana's rapid growth began in the 13th century. The town, called Laibach at the time, consisted of three urban cores including Old Square (Stari trg), Town Square (Mestni trg) and New Square (Novi trg), each surrounded by a wall. It was entered by five town gates and its three urban cores were connected by two bridges, the Lower Bridge (Spodnji most, also known as Špitalski most) and the Upper Bridge (Zgornji most). The latter, later renamed the Butchers' Bridge (Mesarski most), is currently known as the Cobblers' Bridge (Čevljarski most). In 1220, Ljubljana was granted city rights. Its own money was minted at Ljubljana Castle. Its residents, mainly craftsmen, were organised in guilds.

In 1270, Ljubljana was conquered by the Czech king Premysl Otakar II. In 1278, it fell under the Hapsburg rule as part of the Province of Carniola, Having been granted as many as 39 trade and other privileges, it began to attract merchants and craftsmen from around Europe. In 1461, the Ljubljana Diocese was founded and Ljubljana's Church of St. Nicholas became a cathedral.

The flourishing of Slovenian culture

The flourishing of Slovenian culture

In the 15th century Ljubljana became renowned for its art. Particularly well known were the two painter's workshops run by Johannes of Ljubljana and the so called Ljubljana Sculptural Workshop. After the earthquake of 1511, the city was rebuilt in the Renaissance style and surrounded by a new town wall. In the 16th century, when Ljubljana had a population of 5,000 people, 70 percent of them speaking Slovenian as their mother tongue, it became the centre of the Slovenian Reformation movement and culture. 1550 saw the publishing of Primož Trubar's Catechismus (Katekizem) and Abecedarium (Abecednik), the first two books ever written in Slovenian, and Jurij Dalmatin's Slovenian translation of the Bible. At about the same time, Ljubljana got its first secondary school, public library and printing house. The period of Reformation was followed by a period of renewed dominance of the Catholic Church and Counter-Reformation.

The city assumes its Baroque appearance © Dunja Wedam

The city assumes its Baroque appearance

In 1597, Jesuits arrived in Ljubljana and founded a gymnasium, which later developed into a college. The end of the 17th century saw the foundation of the Academia operosorum, a scholarly society modelled on Italian associations of the kind. The Academia attracted architects and sculptors from abroad and Ljubljana's Renaissance appearance disappeared under Baroque façades. New frontages, arched courtyards and staircases, and third floors were added to originally two-storey Renaissance buildings. Most churches were renovated or built in the Baroque style. A jewel in the crown of Baroque Ljubljana was the work of the sculptor Francesco Robba.

The establishment of the Academia philharmonicorum © Jakše, Jeršič

The establishment of the Academia philharmonicorum

1701 saw the establishment of the Academia philharmonicorum, one of the first institutions of the kind to be founded outside Italy. Honorary members of its immediate successor, the Philharmonic Society, included composers such as Josef Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, and the violinist Niccolo Paganini. Gustav Mahler was one of the Society's conductors between 1881 and 1882. The 18th century saw a manufacturing boom in Ljubljana but its economic importance still lay in its being a transit point.

The time of Napoleon and the Illyrian Provinces © Dunja Wedam

The time of Napoleon and the Illyrian Provinces

Under French occupation (1809-1813) Ljubljana was the capital of the French Empire's Illyrian Provinces. Slovenian became one of the official languages and Ljubljana's first college was founded. In 1821, after the re-establishment of Austrian rule, the city hosted a Congress of the Holy Alliance which brought together several European rulers determined to put a brake on emerging nations' endeavours to achieve political freedom and constitutionality. To commemorate the Congress, one of the city's main squares was named Kongresni trg (Congress Square).

Prešeren and Romanticism

Prešeren and Romanticism

In the first half of the 19th century, Ljubljana's appearance changed considerably. The banks of the Ljubljanica river were landscaped and several new stone and iron bridges were constructed. During that period, Ljubljana was home to the greatest Slovenian poet, France Prešeren (1800-1849), who made a name for himself for his Romantic poetry and endeavours to modernize the Slovenian language. He is particularly famous for his sonnets and the poem A Toast (Zdravljica), later adopted as Slovenia's national anthem.

The arrival of railway and rapid progress © Dunja Wedam

The arrival of railway and rapid progress

1849 saw the arrival of the first train from Vienna. Eight years later, a railway connecting Ljubljana to Trieste was completed. In 1869, the population amounted to 22,593. The 1860s saw the foundation of the Slovenska matica national society. Ljubljana was becoming the nation's cultural centre. In 1895 it suffered a devastating earthquake. Afterwards, it was rebuilt to designs by mainly Austrian and Czech architects. Several new streets and a large number of Art Nouveau-style buildings were constructed.

Ljubljana at the turn of the 20th century

Ljubljana at the turn of the 20th century

At the turn of the 20th century, Ljubljana was provided with several new services including water (1890), electricity (1898), modern sanitation (1898), tram system (1901) and cinema (1907). World War I affected it only indirectly. In 1918, after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, and Ljubljana its administrative, political and cultural centre. The years to follow saw the foundation of the University of Ljubljana (1919), the National Gallery (1918) and the Academy of Sciences and Arts (1938).

Architect Plečnik leaves a mark on the city © Dunja Wedam

Architect Plečnik leaves a mark on the city

By the mid-1930s, Ljubljana had a population of over 80,000. New residential quarters were being built on the principles of modern functionalist architecture, particularly in the suburb of Bežigrad. Between the two World Wars, the city's appearance was thoroughly changed by the architect Jože Plečnik, who managed to strike a balance between the Romance Baroque and the Germanic Secession. He put such a distinct personal stamp on Ljubljana that the term Pelečnik's Ljubljana was coined to refer to a whole period in the city's architectural history.

The World War II and post-war Yugoslavia © Jakše, Jeršič

The World War II and post-war Yugoslavia

During World War II, Ljubljana was occupied first by the Italian and later by the German army. In order to break its strong resistance movement, in 1942 the occupiers surrounded it with a 30-kilometre barb wire fence, whose course is now the course of a recreational path. After World War II, Ljubljana became the capital of Slovenia, one of the six republics constituting the socialist Yugoslavia. It witnessed a rapid economic development, which attracted numerous immigrants and resulted in the city's expansion.

The capital of the independent Slovenia © Dunja Wedam

The capital of the independent Slovenia

On 23 December 1990, the citizens of Slovenia voting in the independence plebiscite decided in favour of an autonomous and independent state. The independent Slovenia was declared on 25 June 1991 and Ljubljana was named its capital. In May 2004 it entered the European Union.

2000 BC The earliest lake dwellings appear at Ljubljana Marshes.
1200 BC A new peoples, the bearers of the Urnfield culture, arrive from the east.
1000-700 BC Illyrian and Veneti tribes settle the area.
400 BC Celtic tribes arrive.
50 BC A Roman military stronghold is built in the area.
14 AD The Roman city of Emona (Iulia Aemona) begins to be constructed in the south-western part of the present Ljubljana.
600 The Slavs arrive and Emona falls into ruin.
800 The area falls under the rule of the Francs.
1112-1125

Ljubljana is first mentioned in written records.

1200 City rights are granted to Ljubljana, called Laibach at the time.
1243 Ljubljana is first mentioned as a city.
1270 The Czech king Premysl Otakar II conquers Ljubljana.
1278 Following the fall of King Premysl Otakar II, Ljubljana passes under the Hapsburg rule.
1335 Ljubljana becomes the capital of the Duchy of Carniola under direct Hapsburg rule.
1415 A Turkish invasion is successfully repelled.
1442 Ulrich II of Celje attacks Ljubljana using missile throwing machines.
1461 The Ljubljana Diocese is founded and the Church of St. Nicholas becomes a cathedral.
1504 The first mayor of Ljubljana is elected.
1511 The city is struck by a devastating earthquake for the first time.
1536 Protestants found a professional Latin school ranking as a gymnasium.
1597 Jesuites arrive in Ljubljana and, two years later, establish their own gymnasium.
1693 The Academia Operosorum is founded as a society of eminent scholars from around the Duchy of Carniola.
1701 The Academia Philharmonicorum musical society is established.
1754 Ljubljana has a population of 9,300.
1773-1781 The Gruberjevega prekopa channel and Gruber Palace are built.
1797 The first Slovenian newapaper begins to be published.
1809-1813 Ljubljana is the capital of the Illyrian Provinces.
1821 A Congress of the Holy Alliance is held in Ljubljana.
1849 The construction of a railway connecting Ljubljana to Vienna is completed.
1857 Ljubljana is connected by railway to Trieste.
1861 Gas street lighting is introduced.
1890 The city's water supply system is completed.
1895 Following a devastating earthquake, Ljubljana assumes a more modern appearance.
1898 Electric street lighting is introduced.
1901 Trams begin to run through the streets of Ljubljana.
1918 The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians is established.
1919 The University of Ljubljana is founded.
1941 The Italian army occupies Ljubljana.
1942 The city is surrounded by a barbed wire fence.
1943 Ljubljana is occupied by the Germans.
1945 The liberated Ljubljana becomes the capital of the People's Republic of Slovenia as part of the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia.
1958 The first TV channel begins broadcasting regularly.
1991 Ljubljana celebrates the declaration of Slovenian independence.
2004 Slovenia joins the European Union.
2008 Slovenia holds the European Union's presidency.