‘I could really do with an apple,’ I think to myself as I climb the wooded trails on my way to Ljubljana Castle (having spent the last few days eating nought by junk food).
I round a bend in the path, and there, standing by the trunk of a tall evergreen tree, is a young blonde lady in a Red Riding Hood coat. The hood of her bright red coat is thrown back over her shoulders. She has a large basket of apples tucked under one arm.
‘Would you like an apple?’ Red Riding Hood asks as I approach.
A slim, porcelain hand dips into the basket and plucks out one of the polished-till-gleaming fruit. She stretches her hand out towards me, proffering the apple.
I look up and down the path, amused and slightly spooked by the sudden appearance of my wished-for apple. I’m suspicious that I am being filmed as part of a candid camera stunt. Red Riding Hood and I are alone though. The woods are empty, silent. dark.
‘You’re offering me an apple?’ I ask hesitantly.
She gives a slight nod.
Red Riding Hood smiles mischievously. ‘It’s part of a campaign to promote Slovenian apples, of course. Would you like one?’ She pushes the lustrous red fruit towards me.
I accept the apple, look at it suspiciously, give it a squeeze. It appears to be a regular apple; the sort they sell at fruit shops, the sort you can eat.
‘Enjoy your apple,’ Red Riding Hood says pleasantly.
I take a bite of the apple and resume my route through the woods, pondering what other things I might wish for.
The founding of Ljubljana
Humans have been living in the vicinity of Ljubljana for at least 5,000 years.
Findings at an archaeological site in Ljubljana Marshes (now part of a UNESCO World Heritage listing) include the oldest extant wooden wheel in the world – dated to be 5,150 years old (see picture above). The wheel currently resides in the Ljubljana City Museum.
The Roman settlement of Emona
The Romans built a military camp in the location of Ljubljana (by the way, it’s pronounced Loo-blee-arna) in 50 BCE. The camp was called Colonia Iulia Aemona, a name which has been shortened over time to Emona.
Emona was destroyed by the Huns, under the command of Attila, in 452 CE. Only the foundations of a few buildings – including the Roman baths – remain today.
Ljubljana Castle, which looms over the city from atop Castle Hill, dates back to at least the 12th Century CE – the first written record of the castle comes from the 1151 chronicle Nomina defunctorum (meaning: The names of the dead).
In 1278 the castle, along with the rest of Carniola – as the lands of Slovenia were known at the time – became the property of the House of Habsburg of Austria.
The Habsburgs would go on to maintain control of Slovenia for the next 500 years.
Triple Bridge, Ljubljana
The River Ljubljanica, on the banks of which Ljubljana is built, makes a wide sweeping bend as it passes the rocky knoll of Castle Hill. On one side of the river, nestling against the toe of Castle Hill, you’ll find Old Town: which dates back to medieval times. On the opposite side is the new city, though new here is a relative term.
A bridge has crossed the River Ljubljanica in the location of the Triple Bridge since at least 1280 CE. The first of the three bridges that compose the Triple Bridge was built in 1842. It was designed by Italian architect, Giovanni Picco, and was named Franz’s Bridge in honour of Archduke Franz Karl Joseph of Austria.
The bridge was later expanded – triplicated – to cope with traffic demands.
Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Ljubljana
This Franciscan Church of Annunciation, located on Prešeren Square (the central square of Ljubljana) was built between 1646 and 1660.
The church is painted red (or salmon pink) to denote its connection with the Franciscan order. The first frescos to decorate its interior were destroyed in the 1895 Ljubljana Earthquake (new frescos were painted in 1936).
Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana
Dragon Bridge, located a few hundred metres downstream from Triple Bridge, was completed in 1901. It replaced an earlier bridge – known as Butchers’ Bridge – that was also damaged in the 1895 Ljubljana Earthquake.
The bridge is guarded by four Ljubljana Dragons. This particular dragon – which could be the dragon slain by Saint George, or a dragon from the Jason and the Argonauts legend, or another dragon entirely – is featured on the city’s coat of arms, and is the most recognisable symbol of the city.
Practical information and how to reach Ljubljana:
Ljubljana is connected to Austria and Croatia by train, with services to Salzburg (4 hours), Graz (3 hours), Zagreb (2 hours), and Rijeka (3 hours).
Public buses connect Ljubljana with a myriad of European cities, including Belgrade (8 hours), Sarajevo (10 hours), Bratislava (12 hours), Sofia (16 hours), and Pristina (18 hours). More transport info here.