For tourists visiting Ljubljana, most of your lists will likely have the Ljubljana National Library at the bottom. Who goes abroad to visit a library, right? The truth is that the historic library is not only a repository of knowledge but a perfect tourist spot too.
The National and University Library of Slovenia is among the oldest institutions in Slovenia. It contains many of the wisdom and knowledge of the nation but is also an architectural marvel. It has many secrets that many visitors usually don’t know.
If you’re in Ljubljana, why not visit the national library? Here’s everything you need to know about this wonder of Slovenia and its many of its secrets.
The History of the Ljubljana National Library
The Ljubljana National Library, formally known as the National and University Library of Slovenia (Narodna in Univerzitetna Knjižnica), started in 1774. The library was established by a decree released by Empress Maria Theresa during this time period.
Among the first books that came to the library were 637 books spared by a fire. These came from the previously dissolved Jesuit college in Ljubljana. The library immediately made the tomes available for public use in the new library of the Ljubljana Lyceum.
The Lyceum library received legal entitlements to receive legal deposit copies from the province of Carniola in 1807. This continued through the decades, even as the locale changed leaderships.
During the French occupation, this edict was applied to all of the Illyrian provinces. Once the Lyceum was abolished in 1850, the library became the central reference for the province. It became more significant compared to its original purpose.
By the end of World War I, the library was renamed the State Reference Library in 1919. The state detailed as such, making it the central library of Slovenia with the right to receive legal deposit copies from its general region.
In 1921, the library became the State Library. During the same period, a deposit of publications from various regions of the former Yugoslavia poured in.
The Slovenian University in Ljubljana was founded around the same time period. The library also served as the central university library, becoming a primary reference location for its student body.
Unfortunately, it started its provisional operations in an adapted area of the Lyceum in Poljane Street. The space was unbelievably limited, which prevented too many readers at a time.
To underscore the fact, Ljubljana’s library only had an 18-person capacity at the time. For a university city, this was a woeful number that limited the chance for learning. The government had to add new policies to improve the issue.
The University Act and General University Decree allowed a rename for the library. The facilities renamed the University Library in 1938 and kept pushing limits to how a library works. Around the same time, the plans for the new university library have started.
The New Library Architecture
Between 1930 to 1931, famous architect Jože Plečnik prepared the plans for the new University Library of Ljubljana. Many people were excited to have an immense library, but many protested the action too.
The time period was close to both the first World War. The degrading economic stability of the world was in question, especially that of Europe. Many people worried about the cost of a new architecture that offers little economic value to the people at the time.
Much of the resistance also came from authorities – mostly those who come from Belgrade. Persistent student protests and demonstrations nevertheless brought an end to it.
As a result, the University Library moved into a new monumental building in the immediate vicinity of the University in 1941. Plečnik’s Library is an exquisite cultural monument.
By the end of World War 2, the country liberated in 1945. The University Library received legal recognition as the Slovenian National Library. It renamed again as the National and University Library, Ljubljana.
Understanding The Architecture of the NUK
The current library has two buildings existing in Old Town due to existing space constraints. Much like the University’s botanical gardens, space is becoming a premium for the locale.
The main building is located in the center of Ljubljana at Turjaška ulica 1. This is a few blocks away from the Ljubljanica River, giving it easy access. The main building houses most of the books, tomes, and records for the city and the country.
The library also has premises on Leskoškova 12 in the Moste industrial zone. These act as offices for the general administration of the library.
Around 1987, several attempts to initiate the construction of a new Ljubljana University Library started. NUK II would’ve erected along Askerčeva Cesta, which stopped due to various reasons.
The Beauty of Plečnik’s Masterwork
The main building for the library is an architectural wonder built between 1936 and 1941. It was the former site of the late Renaissance Ducal Court (Knežji dvorec). The auspicious building went down during the 1895 earthquake of Ljubljana.
For fans of Jože Plečnik’s secessionist art Noveau architecture, it became his largest work. As early as 1927, he created plans for the building and tried to make an irregular rectangle. His plans added four-story tracts, and the materials were representatives of his skills.
The building’s facade is brick, and its stone squares and convex windows added texture to its beauty. The large reading room seats 236 people and houses thousands of books.
It uses an open floor plan for all four floors, illuminating the walls on the east and west sides. Among the best visual features of the library is the statue of Primož Trubar. Trubar is a pioneer of written Slovenian literature.
Finding The Secrets of The National and University Library
The Ljubljana National Library has a few secrets that you should know. If you’re visiting its vicinity, you would want to make sure to see everything first.
The library itself is open to tourists over a certain period of time. Non-students can visit via group tours, with a small entrance fee for both adults and children. Every July and August is the best time to visit when students are not around.
Visitors are free to visit the facade of the library at any time. The facade itself is a wonder for locals and visitors alike, mostly due to Plecnik’s architecture.
The building’s exterior offers Italian and Viennese influences by Plecnik himself. Its façade took its inspiration from the Palazzo Zuccari in Rome.
The handles on the main entrance door have heads of Pegasus in each. It shows his flair for the dramatic, as Pegasus is a symbol of knowledge.
The Majestic Sight Of The National Library
If you plan on visiting the library alone, non-students can do so every Saturday, 14:30 to 18:00. Visitors are free to admire the majestic lobby of the library.
From the lobby, you will see a door leading to the monumental central staircase. It has 32 black Podpeč marble pillars, offering a fairy-tale vista to onlookers. As you move further, you can visit the library’s grand reading room.
The reading room’s most outstanding details are the Plečnik’s chandeliers. The glass walls are beautiful, illuminating wooden reader desks and books from two sides.
For students, the library is a boon for everyone. It contains some of the foremost knowledge and records within Slovenia. The library also has many old prints dating as far back as 1501 – 1850, including much of Slovenia’s history.
Library Exhibitions For Everyone
Another secret of the National and University Library includes many of its exhibitions. The library has a variety of exhibits that they show off every year. While the pandemic stopped this, the exhibits will be available again once operations resume.
Among their many exhibitions, the library features picture books from local authors. They also exhibit cartographic images of Slovenia and the life and times of famous Slovenians.
In 2018, the library featured the life of Ivan Cankar and Louis Adamic. They also showed off rare books from the renaissance, including tomes from the 17th century.
The NUK Cafe
If you love the coffee culture in Slovenia, the NUK Cafe is for you. The NUK Café is among the many crown jewels that decorate the crowning achievement of Jože Plečnik.
The NUK Cafe lies inside of the National and University Library of Ljubljana. Its image came from Plečnik’s renowned student, the architect Mušič. The cafe came during the complete renovation of the library in 2000.
Outside the silence of the main reading room, the NUK Café offers much-needed socialization. Students and visitors can enjoy relaxing minutes with some of the best coffee in Ljubljana.
They offer sweet and savory snacks to visitors, especially Ljubljana’s famous pastries. For students, a student lunch offer is also available. The cafe is open to all visitors, and it’s a great way to relax and discuss your visit.
The Ljubljana National Library is a citadel of knowledge and secrets. It contains many of the country’s wisdom; More than a library, it is a jewelry box of magnificent secrets waiting to unveil itself.
Why not give the national library a visit in your spare time? We’re sure you’ll discover more secrets as you go along. Whether you’re looking for more knowledge or you want to spend an idle afternoon in silence, this is the place for you.
If you’re looking for more places to visit, we have the best places in Ljubljana you will surely love. Check out our picks and see everything there is to love about Slovenia.