emona ruins ljubljana

Emona: The Roman Settlements of the Ancient Ljubljana

The history of Ljubljana is among the most colorful in the world. Before how it is today, the Old Town was once Emona, a small merchant outpost of the Holy Roman Empire. The history of Emona shows a different Ljubljana to how it became centuries later.

Emona or Aemona was originally known as the Colonia Iulia Aemona. It was a Roman castrum, the original location of which lay on parts of the Ljubljanica River nearest Castle Hill. It served as a trading hub between the locals of Roman Italy and the entire empire.

There is a lot to discover about Emona and how it built itself to what is now Ljubljana. An expert guide will have all this knowledge with them, but here’s what you need to know about Emona and Ancient Ljubljana.

The Pre-History of Emona

The original Roman encampment existed in the first century BC, long before the locale was called Iulia Aemona. Many historians detail its existence starting on 50 BC and offered a strategic foothold of the locale.

The encampment encircled what is currently Erjavčeva cesta and Prešernova cesta. It was right below Castle Hill, at the time a simple forested terrain. Archaeological findings suggest two military encampments near the Ljubljanica River.

The two encampments meant that proto-Emona had two camps on either side of the river. Doing so allowed trade to cross the Ljubljanica and help the movement of goods. 

Behind the first camp were two defensive ditches to prevent backdoor cavalry attacks. Along the west side was a defensive line that stopped attackers from cornering the soldiers. Much of the encampment’s soldiers relied on tents to live.

The Romans were not the first settlers of the general area that is currently Ljubljana. Thousands of years before, stone age farmers settled the region. 

For example, many pre-Roman settlers stayed under Castle Hill, which is known today as Prule. The proto-Ljubljana settlement emerged in the 10th century BCE and had proper construction practices. Eventually, Celts settled in Slovenia but were conquered by the Holy Roman Empire.

At the beginning of the first century CE, many of the defensive positions were filled in. People erected walls, and a large part of the general area underwent reconstruction. The area developed for wooden housing for the soldiers.

In the first decade of the first century, the soldiers established the colony of Iulia Emona.

Settlement of Emona

The settlement of what we know as Emona completed around 14 to 15 CE. Inscriptions note that emperor Augustus and Tiberius ordered the construction of large public buildings. The building eventually became a walled fortification with towers around it.

The walls built around the colony were strong, thick enough to prevent outright invasion. It was also strong enough to handle archers protecting the walls on top. The building of strong walls created a growing interest within settlers from Northern Italy.

At the time, Emona was the farthest settlement from the Holy Roman Empire. Many people used it as a trading hub due to its proximity to many resources. Once the encampment walls built up, families from Northern Italy moved to populate the area.

The families were mostly merchants, artisans, and craftsmen, and eventually had a population of 5,000 to 6,000 people. Much archaeological evidence shows that Emona, as a settlement, was an orderly locale. Since many were builders and craftsmen, they followed modern architectural practices at the time.

Living in Emona

Emona, and what is likely proto-Ljubljana, came from the effort of the people who settled the encampment. Many of the builders planned the settlement carefully, creating grid streets for starters. The streets also got a gravel layer to prevent mud.

Along the streets, wooden buildings and homes lined the streets. Every home had at least one or more rooms in them, which also underwent several reconstructions. The settlement also had a cemetery on the other side of the Ljubljanica River.

Emona, as a settlement consistently grew, with many living within the walls and outside of it. Living in Emona allowed people to receive the advantages of what we call “modern civilization.” People received urbanization, literacy, and even residential culture.

Emona flourished throughout the first few centuries of the modern millennia. The settlement was rectangular, with a town square right in the middle. Under each street was modern plumbing called a cloaca, running waste down to the Ljubljanica River.

The area had ditches full of water, together with different quarters for different crafts. Potters were prevalent in Emona, together with many different Roman cemeteries.

The main activity for the inhabitants of the settlement was primarily agriculture. The lands around the settlement were fertile, and many held lands to signify social standing.

Emona was a great center for early Christianity. It integrated many pagan practices from the people who lived near the pile — many practiced worships to the goddess Equrna. Equrna was the winged goddess of the pile dwelling tradesmen of Emona.

Homes in the locale had central heating, which helped keep the people warm during the harsh winters. Emona boasted a modern Roman hypocaust heating that used a pillar system from one room. From there, hot air circulated and allowed to warm the walls of many homes.

The Decay and Fall of Roman Emona

As the Roman Empire collapsed at the end of the 4th century, Emona underwent a drastic change. Between the late 4th century to the late 6th century, the settlement became a bishopric. Even then, Emona started to die as the Holy Roman Empire died too.

Much of the trade in Emona died down, with some entrances filled in. The cloaca and the hypocaust heating underwent major neglect from the locals. Any new valuable architecture were ecclesiastical buildings instead of civil or secular.

As the Holy Roman Empire decayed and died, the Emonan thinking changed too. Emona came into heavy disrepair. Many tribes like the Visigoths, the Huns, Langobars, Avars, and Slavs settled and invaded Emona.

By the second half of the 6th century, Emona had no inhabitants. It was a ghost town ruled by the Ostrogoths, destroyed by Attila’s Huns. While invaders and locals lived side by side for decades, the death of the Empire meant the death of Emona.

Giving Yourself An Emona Tour

Traces of what we know as Emona today still exist in Ljubljana. Many archaeological findings of the past two decades are found near the current City Museum of Ljubljana. A good tour guide can give you a good walking tour of all the recent archaeological findings of the settlement.

When you begin your Emona tour, the first place you visit is the Kongresni trg square. Here, you’ll find the Zvezda Park that houses many historical ruins.

In Zvezda Park, you’ll find the walls of historical Emona, together with the gilded statue of an Emonan citizen. They stand alone on a tall stone column where the gates of the settlement used to be.

Along the area, archaeologists discovered three thousand Roman graves along a kilometer stretch of land. Many of the graves carried ash, amphoras, pottery, and even sarcophagi.

As you go on, you’ll find a model of Emona, a miniature that shows the once sprawling town’s splendor. You will see how the people built the settlement and how they used modern techniques to improve it. 

From the miniature model of Emona, tourists can also see the northern town gate of Emona. Moving to the southeast edge of Zvezda Park, tourists can also see a Roman well. It was the central location that collected water for the citizens of the settlement.

From Zvezda Park, visitors can visit the City Museum of Ljubljana. Many of the artifacts dug through excavations that came to the museum. The museum itself sat in an area that was once the eastern gate of Emona.

The basement of the museum itself contains many structures that existed in ancient times. These include a Roman bread oven and pottery, together with Roman cloaca.

The Emona House Archaeological Park will show the site of Emona’s public baths. The Emona House itself was a multi-unit residential building, likely under the ownership of a wealthy Emonan.

The Emona house had all the amenities for many wealthy Emonan housing. It included indoor sewers, heating, and had floors covered with various precious mosaic.

Several other locations include the Roman Wall in Mirje, Emona’s central sewers, and Emona’s forum. The Early Christian Center Archaeological Park contains much of the modern architecture that Emona added in the latter centuries of its existence.


Today’s tourists in Ljubljana don’t know much about Emona or its existence. The once busy settlement of more than 6,000 artisans and their family is no more than a shadow of what it once was. The best tribute that modern visitors can do is to see the ruins of the once-thriving civilization.

If you find yourself visiting Ljubljana, A tour around Emona is a great tour to see. It’s best to find yourself a tour guide that can help you go around Ljubljana. Beyond the modern and contemporary architecture, a look around Emona’s ruins can inspire a greater interest in history.

Are you looking for a historical tour in Ljubljana? Look into an Emona Tour. It will be an eye-opening experience of people who once walked the same Earth.

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