Ljubljana’s Dragons: from myth to reality3 min read
If you have ever taken a stroll around the beautiful city of Ljubljana, capital city of Slovenia, you couldn’t have failed to notice the abundance of dragons, in particular, the famous Dragon Bridge.
But if you’ve also wondered why there are so many, then here is the legend of how the Dragon became the symbol of Ljubljana!
The dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana, and has pride of place also on the city coat of arms.
According to the legend, the city was founded by Jason, the hero of Greek mythology who stole the golden fleece from King Aeëtes and then fled aboard the Argo with his comrades, known as the Argonauts, across the Black Sea and up the Danube and the Sava until they reached where now lies the city of Ljubljana. There they dismantled their ship in order to carry it overland to the Adriatic coast, where they rebuilt the vessel and set sail back to Greece. On their way to the coast, they stopped at a large lake in the marshes near the source of the river Ljubljanica, where a dragon was said to dwell.
As they had arrived in the dead of winter, they setup a temporary village of wooden houses on stilts beside the lake.
However, Ljubljana’s protector was not about to make it easy for them, whereupon Jason fought, defeated, eventually killed the monster, and founded the city of Aemona, nowadays Ljubljana.
This legend started to spread in the 18th century, when scholars tried to connect the origin of their city to the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece.
According to another legend, it was St George, the patron saint of Ljubljana Castle’s chapel, who defeated the dragon living in this region, a monster who demanded human sacrifice.
However, he did not kill him definitively.
As soon as St George pierced him with his sword, the earth beneath him opened and the dragon fell into a deep hole, where he still lies asleep, under the hill of Ljubljana castle.
Actually, the story of dragons in Ljubljana did not stop at legends, but also to the existence of real-life “baby dragons”, that come in the form of Olms or aquatic cave salamanders.
The first records existed in a cave beneath the spring of Vrhnika, near Ljubljana, and today, they still exist in the caves of Postojna and Skocjan.
Either way, dragon symbols have thus been present in Ljubljana since ancient times.
The dragon was originally present on the medieval coat of arms as a decoration, but later assumed a more central position.
From its initial portrayal as a monster, it gradually transformed into a symbolic protector of the city, embodying power, courage and wisdom.
When the architect Giorgio Zaninovich drew up his plans for the Franz Joseph I Jubilee Bridge in 1900, his original design envisaged winged lion statues adorning the ends of the bridge.
However, in the final design, the lions were replaced by the great statues of dragons that are today one of Ljubljana’s most famous sights, locally known as Zmajski most.
Dragon figures are now part of city tradition in present-day Ljubljana and you will see them wherever you go. They appear on the branding of numerous Slovene products and can also be seen on street furniture and urban infrastructure – even on drain covers and on car registration plates!
See how many you can spot!
And there is also Ljubo, the official mascot of Ljubljana tourism. You can buy him as a souvenir, either as a soft toy or in the form of one of the products from his official collection.