Ljubljana Castle, Cathedral, and Skyscraper

This morning in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as the title of this entry makes clear, I visited Ljubljana Castle, Cathedral, and Skyscraper. The tour book I use recommends two of those as providing good views.

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to take in the two views today because the weather forecast called for rain every day after today until the day I leave. I thought views in pouring precipitation might lack a certain panoramic panache. The forecast for today, on the other hand, called for some sun.

I wish forecast called more loudly. The weather apparently didn’t hear. This morning continued yesterday’s completely overcast skies. But I saw no rain and the cloud ceiling seemed high enough to still afford views. So I didn’t change my plans.

Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle sits atop a hill. There are at least three ways to get up there: drive, walk, or take the funicular. I took the funicular up and down.

Ljubljana Castle Funicular

Ljubljana Castle funicular
Ljubljana Castle funicular

The Ljubljana Castle funicular is a spiffy, new, glass-wall and glass-ceiling device. In contrast, most funiculars I’ve been on have been older, quaint contraptions.

To enter the funicular, I scanned my ticket. The glass gate opened for me. I then joined a few other people in front of a glass door. Shortly thereafter, the glass door opened and let us into a glass room. I thought it was a waiting area they use to restrict the number of people to only as many as can fit into the funicular car. It wasn’t until it started moving that I realized I wasn’t in a waiting room, but the funicular itself.

A lot of funiculars have two cars linked by a cable. One goes up when the other goes down to act as a counterweight. This one doesn’t. A flat counterweight runs close to the slope.

The four glass walls of the funicular provide nice views on the way up and down.

Inside the Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle courtyard
Ljubljana Castle courtyard

I won’t lie to you, my walk through the castle underwhelmed me. I expected more of the big castle atop the hill. Those were my precise thoughts as I headed back to the funicular to go back down to the centre of town after finishing my visit of the castle.

Apparently, I’m not the only one to feel that way, but I’ll get to that later.

The castle that stands today is not the original. Medieval folk built a fortress there circa the 11th century. Later, others expanded and reconstructed it a number of times. It served a number of purposes over time: a fortress, an arsenal, a prison, and I forget what else.

A view from the castle
A view from the castle

Sometime in the 19th century, it served no purpose any longer. Because maintenance costs were too high, the owner didn’t keep it up and it started to crumble. A major earthquake in 1895 greatly assisted the crumbling process.

In 1905, the mayor of Ljubljana of the time said, “Hey, I know. The city will buy the castle.” (I don’t know who owned it then.)

The people of Ljubljana told him, “What? Are you meshuga? Why are you going to waste our tax dollars on that pile of rubble?”

The mayor responded, “Trust me. We’ll do something nice with it. You’ll see.”

(I paraphrased some and hypothesized other parts of that conversation from a documentary I saw at the castle. I’ll mention a bit more about that documentary anon.)

The mayor prevailed and the city bought it.

The city accepted one or two (I forget which) proposals to develop the site. The plan(s) didn’t come to fruition for reasons I forget.

An artifact in the Slovenian history museum
An artifact in the Slovenian history museum

Then, in the 1930s, they got around to rebuilding the castle, but I don’t know how close they came to the design as it was before it crumbled. They renovated it again in the 1970s.

Today, the castle’s central courtyard looks very modern and contains a café. The castle also houses a couple of restaurants and a performance venue. For sightseers, there is access to the prison cells, a Slovenian history museum, a few archaeological features, a tower and terrace to take in the surrounding views, a small theatre that displays the above-mentioned documentary, and probably a few other things I forgot.

The Slovenian history museum is small. It mostly tells its story through some video screens with actors telling stories with English subtitles and a slew of touch screens where visitors can call up information in a variety of languages about aspects of Slovenian history. Each touch screen provides information about a different topic, so if a screen discusses a subject that interests you and someone else is using it, you have to wait.

The museum has a few artifacts, including what it purports to be the oldest wooden wheel and axle ever found.

That documentary I mentioned above is titled “The Virtual Castle.” It uses simple animation to cover the history of the castle and surrounding settlements from the earliest days of settlement, predating the castle, up to the 20th century.

The narrator of the video claims he is the Ljubljana dragon. The dragon is a major icon here. Ljubljana has a Dragon Bridge down in the central part of the city. Four large dragon statues are posted on either side of the road and either end of the bridge. And there are also two small dragons on each of the lampposts on the bridge.

One side of the Ljubljana Castle
One side of the Ljubljana Castle

There is considerable debate as to whether St. George or Jason of Jason and the Argonauts (I think Jason and the Argonauts was an ancient bebop group) slayed the dragon. The dragon narrator said neither myth could be true because if either of them slayed the dragon then he wouldn’t be here today narrating the film. Colour me highly skeptical. It’s obviously ridiculous. I don’t think dragons have vocal cords. So how can they narrate films? George or Jason almost certainly did him in. The narrator is a fake.

All that said, the castle is okay, but it’s not terribly exciting, except for the views. And if you look at the castle’s website, I think it’s clear that their focus is on experiences available for a fee at the castle, not the castle per se.

As I mentioned above, apparently I’m not the only one to hold these views. When I was almost at the funicular to leave, an English-language tour group must have just arrived on the funicular. They assembled in a small open area just past it. As I passed them, the tour leader started his opening remarks with, “I have to start by telling you to lower your expectations. When you hear ‘castle’ …” I don’t know what he said after that because I left to get on the funicular. But, yes, Mr. Tour Group Leader, I agree.

Ljubljana Cathedral

Ljubljana Cathedral exterior
Ljubljana Cathedral exterior

From the outside, the Ljubljana Cathedral is pretty, but, to my tastes, I don’t think it comes anywhere close to spectacular.

That said, a couple of exterior elements did particularly impress me: the cathedral’s two elaborately sculpted bronze doors.

The Bronze Doors

Bronze door on the end of the Ljubljana Cathedral
Bronze door on the end of the Ljubljana Cathedral

The door on the end of the cathedral is smaller, but it has a lot going on. My tour book tells me its linden tree of life depicts the story of the Slovenes.

The door on the side of the building, which is the one tourist have to enter through, is bigger and its relief sculpting is bolder, by which I mean more raised and easier to make out.

Rather than me trying to describe the iconography on the doors, failing, and being called out for it by any art historians who happen by (you know who you are), I posted pictures of the doors here.

Bronze door on the side of the Ljubljana Cathedral
Bronze door on the side of the Ljubljana Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Interior of the Ljubljana Cathedral
Interior of the Ljubljana Cathedral

My tour book tells me that the inside is in the Italian Baroque style. Okay. Whatever. Maybe a certain reader can look at the accompanying picture and confirm or deny that.

It is not a particularly large cathedral, but it is richly decorated and quite attractive.

Small side chapels line both sides of the cathedral. Most of them have a painting hanging in the front. And they all have paintings painted directly on, rather than hanging from, the side walls, including on the arched pillars between the chapels and the main part of the cathedral.

I included a picture of a small segment of one of those paintings on a pillar. I know it looks like a small stone shelf hanging off the pillar and only the feet in the painting above it. But that’s not true. It’s a trompe l’oeil. In fact, it’s all painting, including the shelf.

I didn’t realize this until I passed one of the pillars on the way out and said to myself, “Whoa. Is that …” So I took a closer look. The shelf and its shadows are painted on.

Yeah, yeah. Simple things impress me. I leave art history to other people.

Painting on a pillar
Painting on a pillar

The Skyscraper

Before I came to Ljubljana, I read in my tour book that the two great vista points in Ljubljana are from the Ljubljana Castle and the Skyscraper. That’s all it’s called, the Skyscraper. Or in, Slovenian, Nebotičnik.

I figured, it will be easy to find. A skyscraper? It’s got to be at least 40 or 50 stories, right?

When I got to Ljubljana and looked around, it immediately became apparent that their idea of a skyscraper differs from mine.

It turns out that the Skyscraper is 12 storeys tall. When built in 1933, it was the tallest tower in Eastern Europe. Today, the top two floors are a café. The penultimate level has an outdoor area that’s part of the café. (The top floor is fully enclosed.)

View of the castle from the Skyscraper
View of the castle from the Skyscraper

I don’t think anyone enforces it, but there is a sign in the café that says the views are for customers, not for free pictures.

It was close to lunch time. Being an obedient Canadian, I bought a cappuccino and a sandwich for lunch. Lunch wasn’t anything worth writing about. In fact, I regret writing these sentences.

To my eye, the views frrom the castle are better, except for the view of the castle from the skyscraper.

Programming Note

Yesterday, I told you that I booked a day tour to what’s supposed to be a scenic wonder not far from Ljubljana. And because the forecast called for all-day rain on all three of the days I considered, I booked it for the middle day (Friday, today is Wednesday). I figured that if the tour company scrubs that one, I’d still have a chance to go on Saturday.

When I looked at the long-range forecast today, it now says that, rather than rain all day on Saturday, there’s supposed to be some sun and only a chance of rain. Thursday and Friday still say rain. The tour allows me to change the day of my tour up to 24 hours before the one I booked. So that’s what I did. I’m now scheduled to take the tour on Saturday, the day before I fly home.

Yeah, yeah. I know. If the meteorologists changed the forecast once, they can change it again. And if the Saturday tour gets scrubbed, I’m now out of luck. But your pay your money and you take your chances.

Because I’m me, I’m not hopeful. But, we’ll see.

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