Slovenia’s 5 Stars of Culture
The number five takes us through five high-profile stories in Slovenian culture from prehistory to contemporary art. A more than 50,000-year-old Neanderthal flute is the earliest musical instrument in the history of humankind thus far discovered. It can be seen in the National Museum of Slovenia. A more than five-millennia-old wooden wheel with an axle is the oldest in the world. It belongs to the pile-dweller culture in the Ljubljana Marshes and has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The mercury mine in Idrija was in operation for more than 500 years, and its entire technical legacy makes it the largest UNESCO site in Slovenia. The greatest Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik, developed his exceptional work in three countries over the span of five decades. He designed the elegant appearance of the capital, Ljubljana, which is known today as one of Europe’s greatest comprehensive architectural works of art of the 20th century. As the oldest grapevine in the world, the Old Vine in Maribor has already entered its fifth century. The tradition of viniculture and enjoying its precious fruits frequently accompanies cultural experiences and events. These are so plentiful throughout the year that they are considered the fifth season of the year. A season of culture, living traditions and customs. Welcome on the journey through Slovenia’s cultural achievements.
Museum and UNESCO treasurs
Slovenian regions have always provided the fastest route from north to south, across the Alps to the Mediterranean, which makes the present-day Slovenia a small treasure trove of European culture and history.
The oldest musical instrument in the world is one of the great archaeological treasures, overturning all theories on the development of spirituality and culture in prehistoric humans. This special Neanderthal flute, made of bear bone more than 50,000 years ago, can be seen at the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana. When musicians play on its replica, visitors get goose bumps and are transported in spirit to the magical archaeological site filled with special energy near Divje Babe Cave, where the flute was found.
More than five thousand years old, a wheel with an axle is also the oldest of its kind found in the world. It is kept in the City Museum of Ljubljana. The wheel was found in the Ljubljana Marshes, the marshy area south of the Slovenian capital. The marshes form part of a UNESCO heritage site that combines the culture of European sub-alpine pile dwellings. Can you imagine how prehistoric people lived in pile dwellings constructed above the water and made carts with wheels?
Slovenian museums store in their archaeological collections precious testimonies to human ingenuity in using natural materials. Learn about the oldest Slovenian mining town of Idrija. The former mercury mine in Idrija, today part of the UNESCO heritage, supplied the entire world with the precious liquid metal in its heyday. Mining also brought to Idrija bobbin lace making, a living tradition inscribed on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Architecture and Plečnik's timelessness
Jože Plečnik is one of the most renowned Slovenian names in the world and one of the greatest European architects of the 20th century. He left his mark in three Central European cities. As an immediate successor to the father of modernism in architecture, Otto Wagner, Plečnik established himself in Vienna, and drew attention with his renovation of the largest castle complex in the world in Prague. His comprehensive renovation of the Slovenian capital bestowed eternal elegance and splendour on the city. The timeless beauty of Plečnik’s Ljubljana found its inspiration in the ideals of Antiquity, but used sustainable local materials. It is a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Plečnik was known for his ascetic life and style. His bed was intentionally too short so he would sleep less. When he walked from his house, today arranged into an architectural museum, Plečnik House, in his characteristic black coat with his dog by his side, past the Ljubljanica River embankments and the National and University Library (NUK), which he masterfully designed, then crossed the Three Bridges, and walked under the arcades of the Marketplace, he could see with his own eyes how his work had breathed a new soul into Ljubljana. Since he also designed many buildings, entrances to old town centres and beautiful sacral monuments across Slovenia, Slovenians cannot imagine architecture without his works.
Ljubljana still inspires new architects. The landmarks of Ljubljana’s modern architecture include the Stožice Stadium and the first Slovenian mosque, a snow-white complex with a unique design of a floating dome under a cube. Contemporary design can be admired in Eastern Slovenia, where four wine-producing areas can be seen from the Vinarium Panoramic Tower in Lendava, and the Expano Exhibition Pavilion in Murska Sobota, which represented Slovenia at the EXPO Milano 2015 World Exposition. The Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies (KSEVT) in Vitanje, designed in cooperation with high-profile Slovenian architects a few years ago, looks like a spaceship in the middle of a field.
Visual and performance delights
The Škofja Loka Passion Play, the oldest preserved dramatic playscript in Europe bears eloquent testimony to a long tradition of the performing arts in Slovenia. It can be viewed in the museum library of the Capuchin monastery in Škofja Loka, the historic little town at the foot of the Alps and only a stone’s throw from the capital Ljubljana. The biblical story is performed every six years on the picturesque medieval streets of Škofja Loka, and this tradition was inscribed on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The 300th anniversary of the Škofja Loka Passion Play will be particularly interesting with a unique performance in 2021.
The Škofja Loka area with its romantic fields and light was also inspirational for the Slovenian impressionists who were the first to paint Slovenia’s icons, including the renowned Bled, at the onset of national awakening in the 19th century. Rihard Jakopič, Matija Jama, Ivan Grohar, Matej Sternen and others found their greatest inspiration in the Slovenian natural and cultural landscape. Their works can be found at the National Gallery of Slovenia in Ljubljana, next to the masterpieces of the famous female painter Ivana Kobilca, a realist master depicting Slovenian town and rural scenes.
If you prefer expressionists, visit the impressive monastery at Kostanjevica na Krki where the Galerija Božidar Jakac Art Museum has found its home and is one of the largest Slovenian galleries as per the number of exhibition rooms and the number of exhibits. Don’t overlook the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana and the NSK controversial political art collective, to which belongs among others the legendary group Laibach (the German name for Ljubljana), the most famous Slovenian band around the world.
Slovenia contributed greatly to the visibility of European industrial and graphic design. The first biennial of industrial design in the world was organised in Ljubljana. Some of the prominent Slovenian products, such as microphones, K67 Kiosk by Saša Mächtig and Niko Kralj’s Rex chair are exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The visibility of Slovenian graphics is also remarkable. The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts is considered the oldest graphic arts event and places Ljubljana at the centre of modern graphic design.
Slovenian theatre is highly esteemed in Europe. It features renowned directors and excellent acting ensembles. Many theatres showcase performances with subtitles in foreign languages. Director Tomaž Pandur will remain forever one of the greatest directors in the world. His Theatre of Dreams involves a special theatre language and poetics, while his Pandur.Theatres company continues to tour the world after the director’s death.
Living traditions and the Slovenian year
Slovenia, situated in the heart of Europe, creates in harmony with all seasons of the year. Nature has always inspired people’s habits with its metamorphoses from spring to winter.
Among the most exciting folk customs is the calling of spring with Kurenti, Shrovetide masks that, dressed in sheepskin and equipped with horns, chase away the winter with loud cowbells. The door-to-door rounds of Kurenti are part of the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage, and the annual Shrovetide carnival, Kurentovanje celebrations in Ptuj, is considered one of the most excitingcarnivals in the world according to Lonely Planet. Slovenia has a number of unusual carnivals that are worth visiting.
After Kurenti comes Green George, the hero of Bela Krajina, who welcomes the arrival of spring on 23 April. At the time of the jurjevanje celebrations in Bela krajina, boys leave small birch branches in houses, while Green George is dressed in the birch leaves, which are abundant in Bela Krajina’s forests. On 30 April, bonfires made of piles of dried tree branches are lit all across Slovenia. People celebrate spring and International Workers’ Day until the early morning. OnMidsummer’s night, nature opens its doors, fireflies are flying, and when fern seeds fall into people’s shoes, they gain the power of understanding the language of animals.
Summer is the time of outdoor festivals and events celebrating good music ranging from jazz and classical music in Ljubljana to metal and reggae in the valley of the Soča River. After the musical holidays comes the time for the grape harvest and autumn celebrations to honour the new wine for St Martin's Day.
If summer is the time of the Goldenhorn, the legendary animal that protects the kingdom of the Julian Alps and Mt Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia, then winter is the time of King Matjaž, the kind mythological ruler who sleeps in a cave under Mt Peca in the Karavanke Alps, where he sought shelter from persecution. When his beard has twisted around the table nine times, he will awaken. Until then we can visit him in the cave near the Dom na Peci mountain hut and compete in building snow and ice castles for King Matjaž every January in Črna na Koroškem.
Slovenia's historical towns
To make your holiday in Slovenia as authentic as possible and filled with cultural experiences, start your journey in one of Slovenia’s historical towns. Each town has its special character; be it Celje with the largest medieval castle in Slovenia; Ptuj, the oldest Slovenian town; romantic Škofja Loka or genuinely sweet Radovljica. Everywhere you go, you will feel the spirit of history and modernism, heritage and contemporary creativity of Slovenia.