Ljubljana: Another city with a dragon symbol and story (remember earlier we met up with Krakow’s Smok Wawelski, a fearsome creature, https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/smok-wawelski-krakows-dragon/ )
Ljubljana’s dragon doesn’t seem to be quite as scary, but it’s just as prevalent. The dragon has been the symbol of Ljubljana for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, ever since Jason—of the Argonauts and Golden Fleece fame—reputedly killed a marsh dragon in a nearby swamp.
Another version of the dragon story is that it was taken from St George, the patron saint of Ljubljana Castle chapel. A Slavic version says that the dragon represents the god Veles, opponent of the thunder god Perun, the highest of the Slavic gods. In the Slavic religion, Perun was usually worshipped on a hill; Veles lower down, usually near a market place.
No matter the origin, the dragon is definitely part of the city culture now.
Like most visitors to the city, we first met the dragon at the Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most) over the Ljubljanica River. The bridge is right next to the outdoor market and not far from the famous Triple Bridge, or from the funicular up to the Castle Hill. The four dragons on the pedestals at the end of this bridge do look pretty fierce, but they are not actually breathing fire. Supposedly, some local people have nicknamed this concrete bridge “mother-in-law” because of the dragons’ fiery looks. According to another local legend, when a virgin crosses the bridge the dragons will wag their tails (they do have long tails!). There are also smaller dragon statues decorating the bridge.
The Dragon Bridge was designed by Slovenian Jurij Zaninovic, who was a fellow student, with Joze Plecnik (Ljubljana’s most famous architect), of Vienna architect Otto Wagner. This Art Nouveau Bridge was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of Hapsburg Emperor Franz Josef’s reign, and the dates are inscribed on the side of the bridge—1848-1888. The emperor was honored because he helped fund new projects in the city after the terrible 1895 earthquake. But, the bridge was never known as the Franz Josef Bridge, always as the Dragon Bridge, after the dragon guardian statues.
We see the dragon emblem in many places—on flags, on man-hole covers, on T-shirts etc. It is notably part of the city’s coat-of-arms, and symbolizes strength, courage and might. Sonya was determined to look for a dragon for her collection and found a dragon kit at the Visitors’ Center. He can be their guardian dragon now!