Ljubljana Castle, the magnificent Medieval building overlooking Ljubljana, is one of the most distinctive symbols of the Slovenian capital. In recent years, it has become one of the most popular spots for locals and the growing number of visitors to the capital. But it was not always this way.
In the early 19th century, the castle functioned as a prison and a military fortress and was anything but popular among the locals. In the early 20th century, Mayor Ivan Hribar decided the municipality would buy it, turning it into a home for the poor and homeless. Even some of the now famous Slovenians such as singer Majda Sepe lived there. Her family moved out in 1956, eight years before the last residents left the castle. This was followed by preparations for renovations, which started in the late 1960s and have until today been 80% completed.
The castle hardly lives up to romantic ideas of it being home to royalty, having mostly functioned as a fortress and used as a residence for nobility only for a relatively brief periods of time in the Middle Ages.
The first simple fortress is thought to have been built on what is today known as the Castle Hill in 1200 BC, while the first mention of the castle dates back to between 1112 and 1125 AD. In 1144, the castle is mentioned as the seat of the Dukes of Spanheims, which it remained for the next couple of centuries.
The castle underwent a major transformation in the 15th century, when its walls with corner towers and two entrance towers as well as the chapel were built.
Other parts of the castle around the courtyard were gradually built over the next two centuries. But since no rulers lived in it, the castle slowly started to fall into ruin. It was not until after 2000 that the castle became a venue of various cultural events and exhibitions and it was only in 2006 that the funicular to the 376-metre hill was built, although the idea of a “lift” leading to the castle dates back to the 19th century.
Today, about a million people visit the castle every year. It houses a permanent exhibition on Slovenian history, a puppet museum, souvenir shops and restaurants, and boasts a watchtower 400 metres above sea level. Conferences, weddings, birthday parties, concerts and dances are regularly held there.
But most importantly, next to the Three Bridges and the Ljubljana dragon, it is perceived as the most distinctive symbol of Slovenia’s capital, earning its rightful place on the city’s coat-of-arms.