The Ljubljana’s Castle History of a Medieval Stronghold

When you go to Slovenia’s capital, the first thing you’ll notice is Ljubljana’s Castle. This fortress at the heart of the city is witness to the many ups and downs of Ljubljana. From its opulent and imperial moor, the history of Ljubljanski Grad is hard to deny.

The history of Ljubljana’s Castle is among the proudest Slovenians have. Everything started during the Bronze and Iron Age, where Castle Hill became famed for its geographical advantages. The fortress went up anywhere between the 11th and 12th century, and it became Ljubljana’s watch ever since.

If you’re planning to visit Ljubljanski grad any time soon, knowing the history of this beautiful castle can help your visit. Enough knowledge of the place you’ll visit can give you more appreciation for it. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Ancient History of Ljubljana and Castle Hill

The history of Ljubljana’s Castle goes as far back as the 11th century. Even then, understanding its importance means we need to go back as far as the Bronze and Iron Age.

During these epochs, the Ljubljana valley offered safeguards to settlers. As early as late 2000 BC, the first settlers came to the locale. By 1300 BC, people started settling what is now Castle Hill. The ethnicity of these people are unknown, only that they buried their dead in urns.

The first settlers built their first settlement along Ljubljanica River, but there is no information on how these look like. The basic shape of ancient forts consists of two asymmetric areas, divided by a mound.

The Castle Hill became the strongest bastion for Ljubljana’s predecessors. The forests gave the locals wood and deer, while the lands were fertile for farming and pasture. The moor also had birds, and the river had enough fish to support local living.

The prehistorical settlement of Ljubljana was strongest in the 9th to 8th century BC. Settlement weakened over time due to bigger civilizations lording over the locals.

Ljubljana offered little to the Celts or even the Romans, whether it’s economic or cultural advantages.

Emona and the First Ljubljana’s Castle

The earliest large-scale civilization that came to Ljubljana are the Ancient Romans. On the left bank of Ljubljanica, a military post for the empire stood ground between 100 to 50 BC. As time went on, the military post grew into a city that we know historically as Emona.

The Colonia lulia Aemona or Emona eventually built its walls at around 14 to 15 AD. The city had a population of 5,000 to 6,000 people, mostly made of merchants and tradespeople. The city became a trading post for the region and also became a crucial hub for early Christians.

The city also had its own patron goddess, Equrna, who was the goddess of Ljubljana and its marshes. She was also the goddess of the pile dwelling tradespeople.

Emona lasted between the 100 to 400 AD, as the Huns razed down the city in the 5th century. After the razing, there was a gap in the history of the locale. The known history for Ljubljana’s Castle starts in 11th century AD.

The Spanheims and Habsburgs of Ljubljana

The oldest part of Ljubljana Castle goes as far back as the 11th century. Sources say that the fort is the seat of the Carinthian Dukes of Spanheim. The Spanheims (or Sponheims) handled the duchy of Carinthia after they inherited the dominion from the house Breže-Saleški.

During the early middle ages, the moor held a wooden fortress. During the early half of the 13th century, the dukes bestowed town privileges to the local Ljubljanica River.

At the same time, a fortress went up on Castle Hill to serve as the protector of the town. This castle became the Spenheim Castle above the City Square, which was the entire town at the time.

By 1269, the Spanheim family’s holdfast ended, completing a 150-year dominion over their territory. The current castle we all know as the Ljubljana Castle is, in actuality, the third iteration of the fortress.

In 1335, the Habsburgs took over the area of what we know today as Slovenia. They tore down the fortress that the Spanheim built.

The current one came from Duke Frederick III, who eventually became the Emperor of Germany.

Utilization of the Fortress of Ljubljana

The castle stood in the 15th century after the fortress before it razed to the ground. The outer walls, castle chapel, two entrance towers, and corner towers came from this 15th-century construction. Everything else for the castle went up during the 16th and 17th centuries.

During the 15th century, Ljubljana’s Castle underwent heavy fortification. The invasion of the Turks tested the City Gates, knocking them down in 1415. Ljubljana itself got wall fortifications in four different years: 1416, 1448, 1436, and 1478.

By the time the new castle built up, its fortifications adapted to new firearms of the era. An irregular style of medieval fortress added the Pentagonal Tower and other expansions. The tower itself connected the castle to the outer world through a traditional drawbridge over a moat.

The purpose of the reconstruction was to provide an efficient defense against the invading Turks. The invasions were almost never-ending, with frequent attacks during the 15th and 16th centuries.

There were also peasant rebellions that put the safety of the castle at risk.

The oldest preserved part of Ljubljana Castle is the St. George’s Chapel from the 15th century. The newer parts, like the Inner Ward, went into use for noble military gatherings.

The construction works for Ljubljana’s Castle came from different rulers. For tourists who want to see the ones responsible for the construction, there’s an easy way to see these. On the ceiling of St. George’s Chapel is the 60 coat of arms painted by all the rulers until 1747.

Repurposing and Reconstruction of the Castle

By the mid-17th century, the Ljubljana Castle is deteriorating slowly. It is now unsuitable as a residence and a fortress, so the local military made it into a munitions warehouse. The people of Ljubljana were afraid of a potential fire on Castle Hill because of this.

In the 18th century, the Carniola States argued against breaking the castle apart. By 1797 and also in 1809, the French occupied Ljubljana. They then used the castle as a barracks and military hospital.

By 1815, the Austrians returned and made the castle into a penitentiary for the people of Carinthia and Carniola. The prison operated consistently except from 1848 to 1868.

By 1895, an Easter earthquake demolished the castle, pushing Ljubljana Castle into heavy reconstruction and adaptation. By the first World War, the castle became a prison for political prisoners. Some of these prisoners include Ivan Cankar, a renowned poet and political activist.

By the second world war, the castle became an Italian prison first, then came under the operation of the Germans.

The old defense tower for the castle underwent reconstruction, changing it to a viewing tower with a clock, receiving renovations in 1980. By 1905, an important event happened for the future of Ljubljana Castle.

The Modern History of a Medieval Stronghold

At the time, the town mayor Ivan Hribar purchased the castle for the town. The people, tired of its utilization for war, turned it into a center of cultural organization.

During the housing shortage, the castle also underwent reorganization as apartments. What we know as the castle today should experience renovation plans of famed architect Jože Plečnik.

Even then, the plans did not pull through. By 1964, renovations started after people who lived there moved to the city.

Since 1988, the municipality of Ljubljana has carried consistent archaeological digs in the castle. Among the most recent renovations between 1964 to 2004 came from Majda Kregar, Miha Kerin, and Edo Ravnikar.

The renovations added a much more stiff roofing area, together with a higher watchtower. There are also new access and defensive corridors, linking all the structures altogether.

By the end of 2006, the city itself connected Ljubljana Castle with the urban center through the funicular railway. Many tourist guides now take advantage of this railway by riding up the slope of Castle Hill.

The lower station of the funicular railway is at Krekov trg (Krek Square) next to the city’s open-air public market.

See The History Ljubljana’s Castle Yourself

For tourists planning to go to Ljubljana Castle, knowing the history of the castle gives you a better insight into how beautiful the locale is. The castle now offers tours of the viewing tower, virtual museums, and even various exhibitions.

Tourists can visit cultural areas like the Rocks Hall, Palatium, Hribar’s Hall, Pentagonal Tower, Estate Hall, Erasmus Tower, Archers’ Tower, Pipers’ Tower, and White and Blue Halls.

Visitors can do so many things with the historic castle, from watching film screenings, eating Ljubljana delicacies in the castle restaurant to playing Escape Castle within its premises.

With so many things to do, it’s hard not to enjoy Ljubljana’s Castle. Its history precedes the many things tourists can do in it. It is still a part of local culture, underscoring the beauty of Castle Hill.

Visitors old and new can visit and venture Ljubljana Castle, armed with a deep understanding of its history. You’ll find that every wall in the castle has its own history, and marks the colorful past of Ljubljana and the people who lived in it.

If you plan on visiting Ljubljana Castle soon, find a tourist guide who knows the castle’s history by heart. You’ll indeed find many more interesting facts when you hire a tourist guide.

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