Grand Hotel Union: Austro-Hungarian Architecture in Ljubljana

If you are a tourist in Ljubljana, you cannot miss the Grand Hotel Union, an impressive building situated in the heart of the Slovenian capital, two minutes away from the old town, and Prešeren Square.

Besides being a four-star world-class hotel, the Grand Hotel Union is a true architectural gem. The Hotel opened in 1905 when the city of Ljubljana was embracing the modernity of the new century. It has been designed by Josip Vancaš, an Austro-Hungarian architect, following the aesthetic of the Vienna Secession art movement.

Whether you are passionate about art history or want to know more about Ljubljana buildings, here is what you need to know about the Grand Hotel Union. Let’s take a look at its particular architecture, its creator’s fascinating life, the history behind its walls, and the general touristic information.

About the Hotel

From the outside, the building is an impressive block adorned with a few ornaments. It shows a vast façade of almost 100 meters that granted it the title of Ljubljana’s most prominent building at the beginning of the 20th century.

A rounded tower can be noticed on the corner. On the first floor, you will want to sit at the Grand Union Café, a charming and quite fancy place where you can enjoy a coffee or some dessert. Inside, you can find, along with 87 bedrooms and suites, an indoor swimming pool, a gym, a sauna, a sophisticated restaurant, and other facilities, a magnificent hall.

The Union Hall is a great reception place to host concerts, essential meetings, dances, or other cultural events.

Generally, the Hotel is of classical elegance, and, despite the renovations it underwent through time, it has not lost its Art Nouveau, or more precisely, secession, design, and atmosphere.

Josip Vancaš: from the influence of the Austrian master to Bosnian style

The Hotel’s architect, Josip Vancaš, was born in 1859 in Hungary, of Croats parents. First, he studied at the High Technical School of Zagreb, then moved to Vienna to study architecture at the Technical University, before graduating from the Vienna Art Academy.

During this time, the Austro-Hungarian capital was one of the most important and dynamic European cities, particularly intellectually and culturally. After his passage in Zagreb, Vancaš spent most of his life in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where most of his work can be found.

He designed more than 200 buildings in this country, back then a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, just like Slovenia. For instance, if you were to wander around Sarajevo, you may notice those two important buildings: the Sacred-heart cathedral and the Presidency building. Both are masterpieces of Josip Vancaš.

Away from the Bosnian capital, you can also find some of his buildings in Croatia. For example, the first Croatian savings bank in Zagreb is one of them.

Of course, you can see some of his creations in Ljubljana. Besides the Grand Hotel Union, you will want to pay attention to the Saint Stanislas Institute Building, the City Saving Bank, and the People Loan’s bank. In terms of influence, Josip Vancaš learned from various Austro-Hungarian masters.

In Sarajevo, the Sacred-Heart Cathedral is considered neo-gothic, mostly because of some elements like the adorned rosette, two symmetrical towers, and arches. When he was in Vienna, Josip Vancaš studied gothic architecture with Friedrich von Schmidt, to whom we owe some gothic revival buildings in the Austrian capital, such as the spectacular town hall.

Vancaš also worked for Fellner and Helmer, an architect’s studio based in Vienna, that built a significant amount of buildings. Among them, many resplendent theatres across the Austro-Hungarian empire in the late 19th century and early 20th. 

Aside from his studies and practice in Vienna, Josip Vancaš added his stone to the Bosnian patrimony building. Indeed, when he was a representative in parliament, he impulsed a law to protect cultural monuments.

He is also a main and one of the first figures of the “Bosnian style” architecture movement, which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. This movement mixes modern secession inspirations with the traditional Bosnian architecture.

Those architects aimed to keep and preserve the Bosnian particularity, especially during the time of Austro-Hungarian hegemony.

Focus on the Vienna Secession movement

Quite similar to Art Nouveau, the Vienna secession movement began with a group of artists. Among them, the architects Joseph Hoffman and Josef Maria Olbrich, and the famous painter Gustave Klimt. He wanted to escape the vanishing and traditional Beaux-arts classicism and start anew.

To break with the conventional artistic circles, they reunited in 1897 and launched an official revue: “Ver Sacrum,” which means sacred spring in Latin.

This artistic movement aimed to exchange with artists beyond the frontiers, renew decorative arts, and create a “total art.” This concept, known as “Gesamtkunstwerk” in German, is the will to create masterpieces that include various forms of art, like architecture, painting, and sculpting, to make art and life merge.

The Stoclet Palace in Belgium is a building part of this movement. It was designed by Joseph Hoffman and is considered one of the most accomplished secession artworks. Aside from its unique and conceptual structure, rooms inside include artwork pieces, such as Gustave Klimt mosaics.

The furniture is also part of the artistic conception. Music plays a role too: the rooms are designed for the best musical experience. A dress was even made for the owner’s wife, so her clothes would be in harmony with her interior. This tiny detail is the perfect illustration of the secession artists’ will to make art and life be one.

On an aesthetic level, even though the movement claims freedom and diversity, some standard features can be highlighted: curves, organic forms, a lack of perspective, and natural themes. In architecture, the buildings’ mains lines are often geometrical and straightforward, complemented by pieces of ornaments with curvy lines and vegetal elements.

The secession building in Vienna was created to be an exhibition hall for all secession artists. It is the perfect example of this aesthetic in architecture.

Regarding the Grand Hotel Union in Ljubljana, the Vienna Secession influence can be seen on the façade, its curvy corner and its ornaments, the inside decoration, the furniture, and on some of its entrance signs.

Indeed, the typography and the inclusion of text plays a big part in the secession’s movement. All these elements make it a “total art” masterpiece.

The Grand Union Hotel through Ljubljana history and social life

In 1895, a terrible earthquake dramatically destroyed almost 10 % of Ljubljana’s medieval buildings. After this tragedy, the city had to be rebuilt. The mayor, Ivan Hribar, launched a reconstruction program to recover from the catastrophe.

This urban reform also contributed to modernizing the city. Streets had to be thought wider. Modern buildings were built, a significant part of them according to the Vienna Secession style.

Today’s historians seem to think that the earthquake aftermaths contributed significantly to shape Ljubljana into the city that it is nowadays. It was during that time of development that the Grand Hotel Union appeared in Ljubljana’s landscape.

At the time of its opening, it was the only modern hotel in the city and its highest building. It quickly became an essential place for the political and intellectual elite. Indeed, the Union Hall was the perfect place to hold important meetings.

In those days, the Union Café was also the place to be if you were a Slovenian intellectual: there, you could cross paths with some local painters such as Ivan Čargo, or writers like Ivan Tavčar and Ivan Cankar.

In 1934, the Union Hall was even turned into a modern cinema, making the Grand Hotel Union an even more important cultural place. Nowadays, this Hotel remains a hotspot for the Slovenian political and social life. On its official website, the Grand Hotel Union even boasts about receiving many celebrities and influential people, including the British Queen.

It is Your Turn to Enjoy the Grand Hotel Union

In case you would like to enjoy your time in Ljubljana by staying in a fancy, art nouveau and historical place, which also offers luxury facilities, you can book a room at the Grand Hotel Union.

About the budget, count about 100 euros or more per night for a classic room, 300 for a presidential suite. Some of the rooms offer a lovely view of the Ljubljana Castle for a little extra.

Otherwise, if the price does not fit your budget or you chose another great place to stay, you can always take a closer look at it over a coffee and slice of cake at the Union Café, or appreciate a delightful meal at the Union restaurant that offers an enchanting terrace.

To book a room in the Grand Hotel Union, it is easy. It is available on most of the touristic and booking platforms. You can also check their website for more information and to take a look at their offers.

Grand Hotel Union
Address : Miklošičeva cesta 1, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Phone : +386 1 308 12 70

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