Wandering in Ljubljana, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum
October 20, 2023
I know I’ve kvetched about ethnographic museums before, such as when I was in one in Dubrovnik on this trip. So you might wonder why the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum is in the title of this post. Well, reasons.
The Sun God, blessed be He, She, or It, smiled on me this morning. Not wanting to waste my remaining sunny weather in Ljubljana by being indoors, I took advantage of the Sun God’s grace and did some more wandering here.
I didn’t know how much comfortable wandering I’d be able to do because the forecast called for the rain to return before the morning was out. I firmly resolved to play it by ear.
My ear eventually led me to the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. Which is an odd thing for an ear to do. Maybe it was my tinnitus talking. So, blame my ear, or possibly the ever-present tinnitus in it, for directing me there.
Wandering in Ljubljana
I restricted my wandering mostly to the old centre of the city. In doing so, I reaffirmed my deep appreciation of its charm and warmth.
I walked around it before and described it in my post on my first day here. So I don’t know how much more I can say about it here. It’s beautiful and there’s so much to enjoy.
There are plenty of quaint cobblestone streets, with paving stone sidewalks. Although, the separation between street and sidewalk probably outlived its usefulness as the city now restricts the space to pedestrians and restaurant tables.
Only a few cyclists pedal through. It’s not that the city lacks cyclists, there are lots, but they seem to mostly use the streets outside the old core. I suppose they want to avoid interactions with pedestrians.
Old Ljubljana also offers a number of statues, fountains, beautiful buildings, and public squares that cleverly disguise themselves as rectangles or, in one case, a circle. (I mentioned that circle in my first Ljubljana post.) There’s also a large open-air fruit and vegetable market with several vendors.
And, because a river runs through it, bridges cross the river. At least two of those bridges receive note in tourist information sources, the Dragon Bridge and the Cobblers’ Bridge.
I mentioned the Dragon Bridge in my post about Ljubljana Castle, but I didn’t post any pictures of it. Here, I use the dragon picture as an excuse to bore you with some repetition.
The Ljubljana dragon is a really big deal here. It’s on the city coat of arms and flag. It’s the city mascot. I saw at least one dragon shop. It’s on some buildings. And it’s on the Dragon Bridge.
Four large dragon statues sit on the bridge, one on each side of the road and at each end of the bridge. Plus, four lampposts sit on the walls on each side of the bridge, making eight total. Each lamppost has two small dragon statues at its base. That’s twenty dragons in total. Like I said, the dragon is a big deal here.
My walking tour app helpfully informs me that the Cobblers’ Bridge is also known as the Shoemakers’ Bridge. Why, thank you, walking tour app. I wondered how that whole synonym thing worked.
A little before 11:00, I felt my first few raindrops of the day. It was only a few, but the sky darkened and the forecast did call for rain to start at some point. Plus, the wind picked up, which would have rendered my umbrella useless in the rain.
I decided to move to my backup plan and try to get to an indoor site before the rain started in earnest. That plan was to visit a museum that I held in reserve because, to be honest, despite my tour book highly recommending it, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum.
Slovenian Ethnographic Museum
I’ve been to at least a couple of ethnographic museums before, including the one in Dubrovnik I mentioned above. They generally had old timey local ethnic costumes, furniture, tableware, farm implements and the like. Descriptions of the local ethnic culture accompanied the objects.
I found them excruciating boring. So, I hadn’t planned to go to the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum at all, but the rain changed my mind. It was the last indoor site I hadn’t already seen that got a high rating from the tour book I use.
As it turned out, by the time I got to the museum the sky lightened and no longer looked threatening, but it was about a 15 or 20 minute walk away from the centre. I was already there, so I decided to go in.
The Slovenian Ethnographic Museum (click here for its website) is different from the other such museums I’ve been to. I didn’t hate it.
The museum’s exhibits span three floors. The top floor offers the most content because the next two down are both in the process of adding exhibitions to some of the space on them.
The ticket seller suggested I start at the top floor and work my way down. Being an obedient Canadian, that’s what I did.
Top Floor, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum
In contrast to the other ethnographic museums I’ve been to, this one isn’t specifically about Slovenian culture. The first area on the top floor presents information on, and old objects from, North American indigenous people.
This is embarrassing, but the first sign about a specific North American First Nations people, was about the Ottawa people. It’s embarrassing because I’m Canadian, but that’s one I hadn’t heard of. I’m quite familiar with Canada’s capital, Ottawa, but not a First Nation of that name.
According to the signage, the Ottawa people lived in the area of the Great Lakes, but mostly on the United States’ side of Lake Huron. Their language and culture were Algonquin, which is a First Nation I had heard of. A pair of moccasins accompanied the text about the Ottawa people.
This section also mentions the Ojibwa tribe and displays some snowshoes for them. There are also other objects I’ve since forgotten.
In the North American section, indigenous people from all three countries in the continent are represented.
South and Central America then gets a similar treatment to North America, but, having more countries, not all of them are represented in the displays.
Then on to Africa, with a similar treatment there too.
I think the next exhibits on this floor are all about Slovenia and old-time society and culture there. But I’m not 100 percent sure. Elsewhere in the museum, pretty well all signage is in both Slovenian and English. Not here.
This section contains some signage with general information about the culture, agriculture, and whatever presented in both Slovenian and English. But the museum presents the detailed information in the following format: The first line contains a title in a large font, only in Slovenian. The next line contains an English translation of the title in smaller font. That is followed by a large section of body copy only in Slovenian. Not a word of English.
After that the probably Slovenian exhibits, the exhibits move on to the broader world again, with Oceania getting a treatment similar to those on the Americas and Africa.
So ends the top floor.
Middle Floor, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum
The middle floor of the museum contains an exhibition titled “Man and Time: The First 100 Years.” Apparently the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum has operated for 100 years. This exhibition celebrates that.
The space is very brightly lit and contains an exceptionally eclectic collection of cultural objects. For example, there’s a beautifully decorated old wooden crib, a fancy green dress decorated with a lot of, I think they’re daisies (I’m not good at identifying flowers), and a very brightly coloured papier maché dragon from Mexico, to name just three of many.
First Floor, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum
The first floor contains an exhibition titled “Between Nature and Culture.” It displays another wide variety of objects, but this time they’re connected to cultures through a variety of vectors, such as religion or hunting and gathering, among others.
This floor also contains an exhibit designed for people who are easily impressed by flashiness (raises hand).
When I walked into one section, a fog machine mounted on the ceiling produced a wall of fog that descended toward the floor. I don’t know if a motion detector triggered it or if I just happened to walk in at the right time. Still images of people doing a folk dance were projected on the fog wall. Cool, eh? (Like I said, I’m easily impressed by flashiness.)
When I left the museum, which is a bit of a walk away from the old town, the skies had cleared. I decided to walk back to the old part of town for lunch. The route I took was along the river, starting a bit before where buildings line its banks. It’s very pretty there.
I had lunch in the old town under sunny skies at a restaurant table on one of the lovely pedestrian retail streets there.
Lunch consisted of grilled salmon on a bed of grilled vegetables, a glass of wine, and an espresso. It was delicious.