On the previous two days we had explored three of the four pathways we had marked out for our stay in Ljubljana, each with an architectural focus. The one that remained was comparatively easy, and this seemed exactly right, for on this pleasant, warm Sunday, we felt that a fairly nonstrenuous day was a good idea before we set off on Monday to begin the Croatian phase of our trip. Our Sunday pathway took us to Tivoli Park.

Map of walk in Tivoli Park
Click the map icon at the right to see a map that covers our route. (It’s not the Central Ljubljana map, which doesn’t include enough of the park, but like that map it opens in a separate window so that you can keep it on your screen if you want.)

Tivoli Park is Ljubljana’s biggest. It isn’t named after its famous Danish namesake; both Tivolis are named after Les Jardins de Tivoli in Paris, which in turn was named after the Italian town of Tivoli, a beauty spot near Rome renowned not only for its great waterfall, but for the 16th-century Villa d’Este and the magnificent gardens that surround it.

Ljubljana’s Tivoli was established about three decades before Copenhagen’s; and the idea for it was in fact French: the park was planned and laid out by one Jean Blanchard during 1813, the last year of the Napoleonic occupation and the “Illyrian Provinces.” Before the end of that year, France was forced to hand the territory back to Austria, whose governor, Latterman, was wise enough to continue and complete the French plan for the park.

The last French governor (Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s son-in-law), had his residence in a Baroque mansion on the grounds, a circumstance that may have helped inspire the project of making the park. Another mansion, originally built by the Jesuits early in the 17th century, occupied a more central position and is still the park’s focal point. This building was renamed Tivoli Castle by either the French or the Austrians, and the park replaced orchards that had once surrounded the two mansions.

Artist's aerial view of Tivoli Park and city center
Tivoli Park has been enlarged and today comprises about two square miles. This aerial map, whose creator posted it on the Web (anonymously, so I can’t give him or her proper credit) gives you an idea of the park’s layout and relation to the rest of the city; I’ve added a few labels. The oldest part of the park, closest to the city center, is formally laid out in walks, lawns, and fountains, leading up to Tivoli Castle, which looks down from a gentle slope. Jože Plečnik had a hand in redesigning this formal part of Tivoli during the 1920s, and created a straight esplanade that leads outward from a point below the castle, and is aligned with the first of two streets (Cankarjeva and Čopova) that form a nearly straight line from the park’s entrance to Prešeren square. Running down the center of Plečnik’s esplanade (named in honor of the Slovene Impressionist painter Rihard Jakopič) is a row of lampposts built to the architect’s design. He had a reason for laying it out in this direction: Plečnik had observed that Ljubljana’s leading citizens customarily passed the time after Sunday Mass strolling between the square and the park, visiting restaurants and cafes along the way. In his role as city planner, he considered this route the “lifeline of the city,” at least in the cultural if not the economic sense.

Behind the castle and the formal section of the park is a much larger area of thickly wooded hills that provide the city’s residents with opportunities for outdoor recreation. But that wasn’t the kind we had in mind. Not far from Tivoli Castle (now the International Graphic Arts Center) is the park’s other baroque mansion, Cekin Castle, which houses Slovenia’s Museum of Contemporary History. The Rick Steves guidebook had gotten us interested in this museum, and we wanted to visit it.

We could have walked out of the hotel and straight up Cankarjeva ulica and the Jakopič esplanade to Tivoli Castle, then turned right along the hillside toward the museum. But we’d only retrace our steps on the way back. So it seemed like a better idea to take a bus that ran up the side of the park closest to Cekin Castle. On this day there were no street concerts to interfere with the bus routes, and we were able to get aboard at the stop in front of the Post Office, just across Čopova from our hotel. A few stops later we were let off across the street from a side entrance into the park, and a pleasant walk along a shady path brought us to the home of the Museum of Contemporary History.

Cekin castle (photo found on the Web)
Some brochures and web pages call Cekin Castle “Sequin Castle” in English, as if that were a translation, but according to Wikipedia, the name commemorates one of its many owners, a Hungarian named Lovrenc Szögeny. (The y at the end of his surname isn’t pronounced; it’s there to indicate that the preceding n is pronounced like the -gne at the end of French champagne. Cekin [“tsekin”] is a reasonable Slovene facsimile of the Hungarian name.) The mansion was built between 1752 and 1755 (making its style “late baroque”) for Leopold Karl Lamberg, a local aristocrat. He gave it the German name Leopoldsruhe — ‘Leopold’s Rest’ (or maybe ‘Leopold’s Peace and Quiet’) — although it seems to have been best known as a venue for balls and parties. A female descendant who inherited it a few decades later married Mr. Szögeny, a noted equestrian, whose name stuck to the mansion. Later it belonged to the Kozler family, owners of Ljubljana’s Union Brewery (which is just outside this part of the park), but the property was nationalized in 1945. After housing government agencies for a few years, it was turned over in 1951 to the Museum of National Liberation (in 1962 renamed the Museum of the People’s Revolution).

Since the achievement of independence, the museum’s mission has broadened, and as the Museum of Contemporary History it follows Slovenia from the time of World War I (through a reconstructed bunker) to the present — or perhaps I should say to the recent past, since the tour climaxes in a presentation on the “10-Day War” that made Slovenia independent in 1991. A friendly staff member, a middle-aged man whose English was limited but passable, guided us through the museum, explaining what we were looking at in a way that added life to the displays. We didn’t encounter any other visitors.

In the room dedicated to the 10-Day War, we saw a damaged JNA (Yugoslav Army) helicopter hanging from the ceiling. The guide told us that it had been shot down from the top of a bank building in Ljubljana. Later I read that the helicopter (a small one) was one of two shot down over Ljubljana that day. They had been observing, not attacking, but were shot down purposely to demonstrate to the JNA that the Slovenian forces would not back down without a fight and to the international TV audience that they were resolute and fully capable of standing up to the better-equipped JNA. The latter was true in a sense, but for reasons of numbers and equipment it could only remain true for a few days. So the Slovenes had to make their point as quickly as possible. The government also did its best to ensure that every JNA tank damaged in the fighting was seen all over Europe in those first few days. International pressure was brought to bear on the JNA and the Yugoslav government, and the war was quickly ended by a conference that claimed to have brokered a compromise, but in fact gave the Slovenes everything they fought for.

So the policy was successful, and in a struggle between two such unequal opponents it can hardly be considered unfair. Another part of the Slovenian strategy, which happily combined international opinion management with humane behavior, was to minimize the bloodshed and ensure that prisoners were well treated. This was good for both sides. The captured JNA soldiers — many of them draftees from republics that had no quarrel with Slovenia, quite a few told only that they were on maneuvers, not going into combat — were not only well-treated physically, but made to feel that they were not personally regarded as enemies. And their captors presumably had fewer reasons to feel regret and shame when they remembered their part in the war.

Our guide started up the English version — that is, the version with English captions — of a short film about the conflict, which was presented mainly through television news clips. In one scene we saw a group of JNA prisoners lying prone and surrounded by armed Slovenian defense troops, and heard the voice of an officer shouting to the guards “Don’t mistreat them. They don’t have anything to do with it.”

That’s what the subtitles said, anyway, and we have no reason to think the translation was purposely distorted. There may have been calculation behind many of Slovenia’s actions during this tiny war, but calculation isn’t inherently wicked; in fact, it behooves any David in a contest with Goliath to employ a certain amount of it. If I were searching the whole story of Yugoslavia’s breakup for evidence to support the old cliché that truth is the first casualty in any war, the conflict in Slovenia is not the first place I’d look.

Click here for more information about the 10-Day War.

Before leaving we paused to look at a plaque bearing, in several languages, a quotation from the writings of Spomenka Hribar, a sociologist and intellectual widely regarded as a moral authority in Slovenia. It movingly expressed the understanding that the people on either side in a conflict share the same drives and faults, and the necessity of choosing reconciliation over hatred and revenge.

Spomenka Hribar
The writer wasn’t commenting directly on the events of 1991: the quotation is dated 1984. That was the year in which she wrote an essay about the massacre of Slovenia’s collaborationist Home Guard militia by Tito’s Partisans at the end of World War II. The essay, entitled “The Guilt and the Sin” (“Krivda in Greh”), argued that the Yugoslav government should acknowledge and apologize for its crime against those who were only defeated enemies, not criminals. The government responded by banning the essay’s publication, and it didn’t see the light until 1987, as the bonds that held Yugoslavia together began to loosen.

Spomenka Hribar is the daughter of a Slovene mother and a Serb father (who died in a German concentration camp in 1942). She had grown up a loyal communist, but in her research on the fate of the Domobranci, honesty overcame ideology. We may have been mistaken in thinking that the museum mounted her quotation as a comment on the civil conflicts of 1989–1991, but regardless of the purpose it was appropriate in that context. At the end of 2008, several months after our visit, the Southeast Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) gave Hribar its annual Award for Human Rights.

After leaving the museum we strolled for a while in the park. Finding a shady bench, we sat and shared a cheese sandwich Dorothea had made at the breakfast buffet that morning. The sun was out and the day began to be rather hot. We walked up a low hill to the Tivoli Castle, now the International Center of Graphic Arts. No exhibits were open, but the lobby was cool, and we sat there in comfort for a few minutes before heading down the front steps toward the central esplanade.

Tivoli Castle
Tivoli Castle, like Cekin Castle, is really a mansion given a slightly more picturesque name. It has a longer history than Cekin Castle, but fewer changes of ownership. Buildings of some sort (possibly including real castles) have stood on the spot since the 13th century, but this baroque mansion was built in the early 1600s on the ruins of the Renaissance-era structure that preceded it. The builders were the Jesuits, recently brought to Ljubljana to combat the influence of the Protestant Reformation. They kept it until 1773, when their order was (temporarily) suppressed, and the castle came into the possession of the Diocese of Ljubljana, which made it a summer residence for the Bishop. In 1852 the Emperor Franz Josef, who had bought the mansion (apparently from the diocese), presented it as a gift to Field Marshal and Count Joseph Radetzky, Austria’s greatest military leader. At the time he was the Viceroy of Lombardy and Venetia, Italian provinces whose position as part of the Empire he had preserved by defeating an Italian revolution in 1849. Ljubljana, wasn’t in this territory, but it was much closer than Vienna.

Radetzky is best known to us non-historians as the honoree of Johann Strauss I’s “Radetzky March,” a musical emblem of the Dual Monarchy. He had fought in the Napoleonic wars and was an old man when he received the mansion as an Imperial gift. He and his wife, who came from Carniola’s German aristocracy, renovated the place in Neoclassical style and set up housekeeping there, though it’s doubtful that the Viceroy had much time to spend at home. He retired only in 1857 and died less than a year later, aged 91.

Looking down the Esplanade from Tivoli Palace
Twelve years later, the city, which had bought the property, erected a statue of Marshal Radetzky in front. This was removed to Ljubljana’s art museum after the Empire collapsed and Slovenia joined the new South Slavic state, although four bronze dogs that complemented the statue are still in place. (The Rough Guide mentions a local tradition that the sculptor was so disturbed at not having remembered to give the dogs tongues that he took his own life. This sounds unlikely to the writer, and to me as well.)

Ljubljana put the mansion to various uses — as a poorhouse and a condominium complex, for two examples — but the International Graphic Arts Center has been housed there since 1967, well before the end of Yugoslavia.

Having cooled off in the lobby, we walked down the front steps and around some curving walks toward where Plečnik’s esplanade began. On the way we passed the bronze dogs that once kept Marshal Radetzky company, a fountain, and (also in bronze) a pair of nude ballet dancers poised in the midst of a pas de deux. Both figures were as thin as fashion models; there was nothing in the least voluptuous about either one. Even so, I wonder if prewar, Catholic Ljubljana would have tolerated such a display, but postwar, Communist Ljubljana might have been less uptight. (At least after the break with Stalin.) The dancers are pretty far away in this picture, but you can see them more clearly in the photo just before it.

End of the esplanade and Serbian Orthdox church
Both sides of the esplanade were lined with stands on which photographs of animals, many of them endangered, were displayed. (According to information I later found on the Web, the permanent stands display one photographic exhibition after another, usually with an ecological theme.) We moved along slowly, looking at the attractive, poster-sized pictures. When we reached the boundary of the park, we could see ahead of us the towers of the imposing Serbian Orthodox Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, built in 1931 by the Serb community that began to increase in the city when Slovenia became part of the Yugoslav kingdom.

Instead of a monumental entrance gate, the Esplanade had led us to a staircase leading down to a sequence of two pedestrian underpasses, the first beneath a railroad track and the second under Tivolska cesta, which our bus had rather confusingly followed the previous day. Plečnik had wisely chosen to connect the park’s avenue with Cankarjeva ulica rather than force the eminent Sunday promenaders to contend with these obstacles.

Mladika building, 1907–1912
Before we went down the stairs, Dorothea took a picture of the Mladika building, on the other side of Tivolska a block to our right. It was built in 1907 to a design by Maks Fabiani, the Secessionist architect and city planner. Mladika (‘Youth’) was a society dedicated to educating young women, and this building housed a secondary school or Lyceum. It is now home to the Foreign Ministry of Slovenia.

When we climbed the stairs on the far side of Tivolska, we passed the Orthodox church and went straight down Cankarjeva toward our hotel. On the way, we saw a couple of attractive Secessionist buildings that weren’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks, and stopped to take a few pictures. (Actually, one of them — part of a compound that houses the Finance Ministry — may have been Neo-Secessionist, if there is such a thing.) The walk was short, and we reached the hotel at about 3:15, where we took a rest, also short. Because the Slon’s location is so central, we had been able to take many such rests in the course of our visit, and it helped us greatly to enjoy the city in the role of pedestrians.

At about 4:30, we returned to the little courtyard outside the Gostilna As for one scoop each of sladoled, and then walked down to Zlata Ribica, where we made dinner reservations for 7:00. In the market colonnade on the same side of the river, we bought a couple of postcards and a ladybug refrigerator magnet that caught my fancy. Then back to the Slon for another hour or so of repose.
This night we sat inside at Zlata Ribica. Our waiter was personable and well traveled — he had visited Boston: what further proof is needed? — and, when we told him we lived in Lexington, expressed interest in its history. Here’s Dorothea’s description of the meal:

We shared a starter that included smoked duck (carpaccio), a Slovene version of Grana Padano cheese, rocket (arugula), and cherry tomatoes. It was all sprinkled with olive oil. The duck was not cooked, but smoked. It tasted a bit like pršut, but it was softer. Delicious! Charlie had five lamb rib chops with baked polenta on rocket. I had chicken fillets in curry sauce with potato gnocchi. ✦ We shared a bottle of red wine described as “Teran,” from the Latin word terra. [...] The waiter told us that Teran wine is made with grapes grown in red soil — not regular soil. Karst is the area where this soil is found, and it’s rich with minerals and iron. Our wine was made with Refoško grapes. The bottle had a vertical oval shape, tapering at the top and bottom. It seemed to belong to a series along with the green-grape wine that Tina served us at the same restaurant. ✦ For dessert, Charlie had grmada, which was quite different from the Bled variety in that it had no rum flavor and no raisins. It had tart, red berries and one or more blackberry-type berries. This set off the sweetness of the cake, custard, and cream. I had gibanica. It had apples in addition to the poppy seeds, sweet yogurt cheese (like sweet mascarpone) and pastry. There were fewer nuts than the Šestica version, and it was much better — possibly because of the apples.


Although we couldn’t describe Zlata Ribica as inexpensive, it really did earn its money with consistently excellent food, and if we’re ever lucky enough to revisit Ljubljana, I’m sure we’ll eat there again, more than once.

When we emerged from the restaurant, well satisfied, I propped my camera on one of the concrete balusters along the embankment and took this photo of the Triple Bridge and Prešeren Square. Thanks to the solid support, it’s the only night picture I took on the trip that didn’t come out as an incomprehensible blur. (I regret to report that the romantically illuminated arches at the lower left shelter the route to the public toilet.)

Triple Bridge and Prešeren Square at night
Thus ended our last full day in Ljubljana. We’d be back again at the very end of our trip, to spend a final night among the elephants at Hotel Slon before returning to Brnik for our return flight.

The next day we’d be setting off to spend the last week of our trip in Croatia, but since the train didn’t leave until midafternoon, we still had a half-day to spend in this pleasant city.

After breakfast in the morning we packed our bags and took them down to the lobby, where the staff agreed to store them until we were ready to leave. We paid our bill and strolled down to Prešeren square, heading for the market arcade to pick up a few souvenir gifts.

Before the ceremony
When we crossed the Triple Bridge we found, in front of the building that houses the tourist information center, a memorial event in the process of being set up. There were several flags, men in various sorts of uniforms (a couple of them holding brass instruments), and a floral arrangement in the national colors (with ribbons in the city’s colors), laid out on a piece of bright green artificial grass that someone had spread on the sidewalk. Nothing was happening yet except that some media or public relations people were busy taking pictures.

We talked to a man in uniform who was standing among the other onlookers, and he told us that the building had played a role in the preparations for the 10-day war of independence: it was one of the places where the Slovenes set up a covert data center (possibly social rather than military, since they had both kinds) to take the place of facilities that the JNA (the Yugoslav National Army) might be able to shut down. He said that the government had been holding miniature commemorations like this one at various locations around the city, and we got the impression that this site was being celebrated today because its turn happened to come around, not because its role in the war was vitally important. The people stationed there provided backup that might have been crucial if the JNA had in fact shut down any data networks, but they hadn’t.

Dorothea at Gostilna Šestica
We went on to do our shopping, and then headed back through the square, on our way to lunch at the Gostilna Šestica, near the hotel, where we had eaten dinner on our second night in Ljubljana. Today being sunny and warm, we sat outside in the courtyard, where we both ate asparagus risotto (once again the thin kind, similar to paella) and imbibed Radenska. The lunch and the restaurant were delightful, and I snapped this picture of Dorothea (unfortunately not very well focused) that catches the mood.

Our gustatory farewell to Ljubljana clearly needed topping off with a dish of sladoled, so we made our way back to the courtyard of Gostilna As, where I departed from custom by ordering fruit flavors — lemon and blood orange — while Dorothea, as she put it in her notes, “respected my habit of ordering rocher.”

At the Slon we reclaimed our bags and made ourselves comfortable in the lobby until 2:00, when the man at the desk called a taxi for us. We waited outside for it, possibly a mistake. A taxi stopped and the driver got out, and when we asked if he was the one the hotel had called, he said yes. We headed for the railway station, a short drive away, and the driver asked where we were going. When told him Lovran, in Croatia, he offered to drive us all the way there for €120. We turned down the offer because it was a good deal more than the railway fare, and besides, we were looking forward to traveling by train. Perhaps because he was miffed at this rejection, or perhaps because he was not the man he pretended to be, but rather one of those piratical Ljubljana cabbies the guidebooks had warned us about, he demanded €5.15 for the fare. We gave it to him (without adding a tip). It wasn’t much above the €5 we had been told was the maximum we should pay, and although the driver who had taken us the opposite way on the day we arrived had been content to charge €3, we wouldn’t have been happy to end our wonderful stay in Ljubljana by squabbling with a rogue cabbie over an amount equivalent to three bucks.