How a creature of myths and fantasy became the proud guardian of the Slovenian capitol
Admiration, fear and fascination are but few attributes we connect to the mythical creature of dragon. An intricate part of folklore of almost any nation of the world, dragons seem to have the most prominent role in the legends and heritage of Ljubljana, capitol of Slovenia.
Even the story of Ljubljana’s foundation is tied to this creature. The city is believed to had been founded by Jason, the hero of Greek mythology who stole a golden fleece from King Aeëtes and then fled aboard the Argo with his crew of Argonauts, across the Black Sea and up the rivers Danube and the Sava until they reached the river Ljubljanica which now passes the city. 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 Ljubljanica and near the current location of Ljubljana, where a dragon was said to dwell, which Jason fought, defeated and killed.
Dragon symbols have been present in Ljubljana since ancient times and there is even one holding a central position on the city’s coat of arms. The dragon gradually transformed from a monster into a symbolic protector of the city that embodies power, courage and wisdom.
One of Ljubljana's most famous sights is the Dragon Bridge, adorned with famous dragon statues. The four realistic dragon statues are a masterpiece which has been exciting imaginations and attracting tourists since the bridge was built in 1900. The bridge, as Ljubljana's first reinforced concrete structure and one of the largest bridges of its kind to be built in Europe at the time, was first called the Jubilee Bridge of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The Dragon Bridge was given its appearance by the Dalmatian architect Jurij Zaninović, who designed the concrete slabs in which the reinforced concrete structure is clad, the balustrades, and the sheet-copper dragon statues.
Nowadays, dragon figures can be seen wherever you go around Ljubljana, from street furniture and decorations on urban infrastructure, via the famous Dragon Carnival taking place every winter, to branding of numerous Slovenian products and even dragon-themed escape rooms. And last but not least, one of the most successful and recognisable Slovenian basketball players, Goran Dragić, who was born in Ljubljana, proudly carries nickname “The Dragon”.
As they say in Ljubljana - Long live the dragon or „naj živi zmaj!”