Slovenia’s capital is famous for its outdoor market, impressive Jože Plečnik architecture, riverside cafes, and a very ornery dragon.
Ljubljana origin story
Legend has it that Ljubljana was founded by Jason of Jason and the Argonauts fame.
Jason, with the help of Medea, stole the golden fleece. And, they were on the run from Medea’s unapproving father, King Aeetes. Eventually, Jason, his soldiers, and Medea found themselves in Slovenia. Here, a fearsome dragon had set up shop and was terrorizing any of the locals who dared enter his domain.
Jason, unaware of the fire breathing beast, wandered into his realm. The dragon quickly set fire to their camp, killed several soldiers and flying off with another. That unlucky Argonaut made him a tasty meal for the giant lizard.
Of course, Jason wouldn’t stand for this. He found the dragon’s lair and Medea cast a sleeping spell on the reptile. Jason bound the dragon’s mouth shut with chains and filled his nostrils with the bones of his victims.
When the dragon awoke, he was furious. He flew into the sky in a rage of confusion, trying to spout flames from his mouth and nose, but only managing wisps of smoke. The fire built up inside the dragon, eventually engulfing him and causing the flying lizard to explode in the sky.
The locals were overjoyed and now were able to work the land in peace and build the city of Ljubljana.
The dragon in Ljubljana today
Ironically, it’s not Jason that became the symbol of Ljubljana. Instead, his nemesis, the dragon, is on the city flag, coat of arms, and the soccer team’s logo.
But, the most popular dragon in town is still Ljubljana’s Dragon Bridge.
The Dragon Bridge
Today, just north of the open-air central market in Ljubljana is the famous Dragon Bridge (Zmajski most). There has been a bridge at this spot, crossing the Ljubljanica River, for at least 200 years.
The Dragon Bridge itself was completed in 1901 and was originally named The Jubilee Bridge of Emperor Franz Josef I (Franca Jožefa I. jubilejni most), after the Emperor of Austria.
The Slovenes wisely renamed the bridge after Austria’s defeat in WWI.
The bridge itself was designed and built by Austrians and is one of the first reinforced concrete bridges in Europe.
So, you might ask, why was such an important step forward in engineering built by the Austrian empire in a relative backwater like Ljubljana?
Because, if the structure failed, it would be less embarrassing to the Austrian monarchy than if it were built in Vienna. Of course, the bridge stayed up, and today the Dragon Bridge is deservedly celebrated as an icon of the city with its four imposing monsters guarding the passage.
Another dragon legend
While the legend of Jason slaying the dragon is fantastic, my favorite legend about the dragon is more modern. It says that whenever a virgin crosses the Dragon Bridge, the dragon wags his tail. I did field research for several hours at the Dragon Bridge and not once did I see a tail wag.
So, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn…