Slovenian Capital Ljubljana a Very European City

Carina Braun, DPA, October 25, 2011

Ljubljana has been the capital of an independent Slovenia for 20 years, during which time the city has almost seamlessly fitted in as a typical if somewhat undiscovered European metropole.

The stalls around the Romanesque church of Saint Nicholas offer a wide selection of produce, including tomatoes, cherries and meat, but there isn't the usual hectic atmosphere associated with other markets.

There is no shouting by traders while customers quietly go about their business in a reserved manner as is usual in the rest of this Central European country.

Barbara Bizjan stands with her hands on her hips between tulips and violets as she helps out a friend on her flower stall.

"We are too patient," says the energetic 40-year-old in a remark directed not just at the visitors to the market but at the people of Slovenia as a whole. "We were always ruled by someone else, so we are used to not complaining."

This small country located between the Adriatic, the Alps and Croatia declared independence on June 25, 1991, and celebrates its 20th anniversary as a state this year. For centuries, Slovenia was part of the Habsburg Monarchy before becoming part of Yugoslavia in 1918.

Any visit to Slovenian should include a trip to Ljubljana, which is situated in the centre of the country and shows few signs of living for decades under socialist rule.

The Austrian influence can be seen in Ljubljana's architecture, with its neat rows of narrow houses along the river Lubljanica with their small balconies and high windows.

Wild vines grow along the river's banks where young men and women congregate at cafes and cocktail bars or relax sitting on steps and benches shaded by trees.

The local flea market, meanwhile, sells World War II diaries, old Habsburg coins and a wide variety of t-shirts, as well as articles from the era when Slovenia was part of Tito's Yugoslavia.

Ljubljana's architecture is dominated by the hand of local architect Joze Plecnik, who worked throughout the 1920s and 1930s on buildings such as the Church of St Francis, the Vzajemna Insurance Company Offices and the University Library as well as building new bridges, banks, plazas, parks and the waterfront.

Plecnik's Trznica arcades are now home to fish traders while the fruit and vegetable markets near the Dragon bridge -- the heart of the city -- are just a short stroll away.

Ljubljana has a population of approximately 300,000 and is easily discovered by foot.

"It is the most beautiful city in the world," says Bizjan. "It's possible to see everything in an hour and a half, be at the beach within an hour, or take a trip to the mountains, Italy or Hungary. Where else is it possible to do that?"