As of yet it is unclear where exactly the symbol of the dragon as protector of the city of Ljubljana originates. It has been attributed to the Slavic myth which states that defeating a dragon results in a more powerful river, which in turn ensures the fertility of the earth. Considering that Ljubljana’s marshes have seen many a flood both in its distant history and its recent one, this myth fits into the story. There is also another origin attributed to the Ljubljana dragon, which stems from a Greek legend of the Argonauts. Their leader Jason, after leading the Argonauts to victory at the Golden Fleece, is said to have defeated a terrible beast, what is now know as the Ljubljana dragon, while they were wintering near a lake somewhere between Vrhnika and Ljubljana. In fact, in this account, Jason is the founder of the city of Ljubljana and its first real citizen. Coincidentally, there is no explanation as to how exactly Jason did manage to kill the dragon but I’m willing to guess it wasn’t fire-related. After all, if I’ve learned anything as of late, it’s that fire cannot kill a dragon. There is also a third explanation of how the dragon was adopted as the emblem of Ljubljana, which is considered more realistic. However, it involves no dragon slaying or indeed any live dragon at all and so, I will not bother to recount it here. What’s the point if there’s no actual dragon involved, am I right?
The Dragon Bridge, today a must-see spot for any Ljubljana tourist, was built in 1907 in honour of the emperor Franz Joseph I’s reign, after whom it was initially named before being renamed to Dragon Bridge. Its architect Maks Fabiani also incorporated the Dragon Bridge into plans for a new traffic ring that would eventually be built around the city centre. This was at a time when Ljubljana was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Local legend states that the dragon will move its tail whenever a virgin crosses the bridge. I stood there for hours on end, watching crowds of people go by and trying to catch some tail wiggling. It has not moved once. Make of that what you will.
Right next to the Dragon Bridge is the Ljubljana central market, which is largely an open-air market space but it does also include a covered market and various small shops and food stalls located in a colonnade, famously designed by Ljubljana’s own architect Jože Plečnik. In the market you can get food such as vegetables and fruit, dry and fresh meat, homemade biscuits, cheese, nuts and seeds. The majority of the food available is typical for Slovenia, however there is also a wide variety of ethnic and international food available in designated stalls, each of them representing its own international dish. Moving away from the Dragon Bridge in the direction of the Triple Bridge, there are also stalls that offer souvenirs – the most popular ones are dragon related. As it should be.
The Ljubljana central market lies on Vodnik Square, named after renowned Slovenian poet Valentin Vodnik. Back in the Middle Ages this was where the town wall ran, separating Ljubljana from a nearby village (which is now part of the city). After the wall was taken down as the city grew, a church with an adjoining graveyard was built in its stead. Since then, the building had been used as a hospital, a school and finally, a museum. The building did not survive the earthquake of 1895 and it was then that they transformed this area into a square with the name being assigned after the statue of Vodnik, which by that time had already been set in its place.
Vodnik’s statue is faced towards the castle, turning its back on the market. This has been attributed to Vodnik welcoming the sight of the castle, as well as despising the city market. None of this is true, however, as the statue was built at a time when the school was still there and so it was placed so as to face the school’s entrance.
Overlooking the market is the church of Saint Nicholas, colloquially known simply as The Cathedral. This cathedral plays a big part in the shape of the landscape of the city and is worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture and art, as The Cathedral is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Slovenia.
Architect Andrea Pozzo, who implemented the main techniques typical for the Baroque era, designed this cathedral early in the 18th century but many of the church’s interior elements were not added for another century. These elements include frescoes, statues and the main entrance. I literally popped in and out of the church but being something of an art enthusiast, I quite enjoy comparing different art techniques, the Baroque one being a familiar sight in Ljubljana.