A remarkable museum in Slovenia
's capital city Ljubljana
that charts the chequered history of this country from the beginning of the 20th century to (almost) the present day, with the main focus on WWI
, the communist
era of Yugoslavia
and the struggle for independence in the early 1990s.
What there is to see: As you approach the museum you see a single outdoor exhibit: a little yellow car parked outside that has the name of the museum on it. It is not explained, but I'd guess this is a car from the Yugoslav era.
Once inside you find yourself in a large foyer, more a hall really. To the left of the entrance is the desk where you have to pay your admission fee. There are also a few books, brochures and souvenirs on sale here.
Leaving the temporary exhibition rooms that branch off the foyer hall on the ground floor for now you ascend the stairs
at the far end of the foyer to get to the permanent exhibition upstairs. Interestingly, the fronts of each step quote a year and key historical event that happened then, beginning with 1918 and ending in 2004 (when Slovenia
became a member of both NATO
and the EU).
Upstairs the exhibition is roughly divided into two halves
. The first half, in one wing of the building, deals with WWI
, the inter-war years and WWII
. In the other wing are the sections about the Yugoslav
socialist era, and the path to independence (including the Ten-Day War) and present-day Slovenia
in the EU.
In between the two halves is a large ceremonial hall with a grand painted ceiling (apparently this hall can be hired for e.g. weddings). There are no exhibits in this hall, though.
Throughout the exhibition labels and explanatory texts are bilingual, in Slovenian and English. However, some of the documents and posters are in the original language only, which includes many in German or Italian (naturally in the WWI section in particular). Videos shown on screens in the exhibition have English subtitles too.
Chronologically kicking off the exhibition is a section about the run-up to World War One
, with plenty of Austro-Hungarian propaganda posters, photos and a set of period suitcases suspended from a ceiling. There's a small mezzanine level with yet more (pre-)WWI exhibits such as medals, posters and yet more photos.
Leading to the next room is a life-size, gloomy-dark reconstruction of soldiers' living quarters and trench-like wooden fortifications, all standing for the horrors of WWI. On display here are guns, helmets, rolls of barbed wire and the like as well as sets of bunk beds with dummy soldiers in them.
The next room moves on to the inter-war years
when most of Slovenia
became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (aka 'Kingdom of Yugoslavia'), and another became part of Italy
(and was subjected to a campaign of Italianization – see also Kobariški muzej
The next section is the grimmest: WWII
, and especially the subsection about the Holocaust
. Unusually it features a reconstruction of the infamous gate of the concentration camp
with the cynical slogan “Jedem das Seine” (as opposed to the more commonly used “Arbeit macht frei”). Amongst the artefacts on display are the usual striped camp inmate clothes, wooden spoons and tin soup bowls, shackles, pieces of electric camp fences and so on. A very unusual exhibit is that of a set of playing cards on a concentration-camp theme.
Also still part of the WWII section is a large display cabinet about the Slovenian resistance
, with lots of guns, caps, medals, posters and such like. Amongst the faces on the posters is a young Josip Broz “Tito”
, who would later become the leader of the socialist federal state of Yugoslavia
Crossing the central hall and into the second half of the permanent exhibition, we quickly meet the big Tito again, now in the form of a glorifying bust. This is the section about the communist era of Yugoslavia
and it features some splendidly OTT socialist-realist
art and statuary and propaganda posters. Lurking in the display cabinets are also the heads of some other commie biggies: Lenin
. Content-wise this section also covers the dark themes of collectivization and the grip of the secret police.
One room in this section is about everyday life in the Yugoslav era, with a flamboyant display of household goods from that period. Using the example of milk, four recurring displays show the evolution of milk containers over time and how the price for milk rose (through inflation) between 1956 and 1986. Somewhat fitting in with that is the display of different types of piggy banks, including one in the shape of the iconic Ljubljana dragon (as in the Dragon Bridge – see under Ljubljana
The next room is about the break-up of Yugoslavia, beginning already in the 1980s following Tito's death. This room is designed even more like an art installation, with a gloomy bluish ambient light and with old shoes and boots representing the various “steps” in this development.
This leads to the next section on how Slovenia
finally achieved independence
, including a section on the short Ten-Day War during which the Yugoslav army tried to prevent Slovenia from breaking away. The largest artefact here that symbolically stands for this period is a piece of a Yugoslav military helicopter that apparently crashed during that time.
Independence is duly celebrated, as you would expect in any self-respecting ex-communist small young nation. You can press a button to listen to the Slovenian national anthem, one display cabinet shows a special bottling of champagne with an “Independence” label, and the meaning of the national flag is explained at great length.
The last section of the exhibition is similarly celebratory, this time about Slovenia
joining the European Union
in 2004, the eurozone in 2007 and the Schengen area in 2008. Some of the exhibits here are a little bizarre – like a briefcase behind glass (apparently the case used by a Slovenian politician in the EU negotiations) or a pair of old mobile phones (which now look rather ancient).
Back downstairs I also went to see the temporary exhibition. At the time of my visit this was called “Coming Home” and featured a range of personal, often very touching stories of people who returned home from wherever their destiny in the two world wars had taken them.
All in all I found this museum very engaging, informative and well laid out. It is more artefact-focused, and doesn't overload visitors with too much multimedia elements, but it doesn't feel old-fashioned or stuffy at all either. On the contrary, it is very modern in its design, occasionally a little forced in that respect perhaps (that blue-lit Yugoslavia-break-up room), but on balance just right. And the fact that the museum caters for foreign visitors so well is especially laudable. Highly recommended.
on the eastern edge of the huge Tivoli park just west of Ljubljana
's cosy city centre, less than a mile (1.4 km) from the Old Town and Triple Bridge. Address: Celovška cesta 23.
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to, very reasonably priced.
Details: The museum is only a 15-20 minute walk from the very centre of Ljubljana's Old Town. From the square at the northern end of the famous Triple Bridge walk west along Čopova ulica and then Cankarjeva cesta and past the Modern Art Museum. Use the underpass under the big ring road (Bleiweisova cesta) and the railway line to get into Tivoli park. Then turn right and head straight north until you come to a cluster of clay tennis courts – to the left of these you'll see the pale pink façade of the museum building.
If coming by car, you can leave your vehicle at the large car park parallel to Celovška cesta. There's another, even larger car park just to the south opposite the huge Union brewery.
Alternatively you could also get there by bus (line 1 or 3), e.g. from Ajdovščina in the city centre to the Tivoli stop by the car park.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (in July and August open late till 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays); closed Mondays and on public holidays.
Admission: 3.50 EUR (children 2.50, various further concessions apply); free every first Sunday of the month.
Time required: between one and two hours.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Ljubljana
allows itself the luxury of having two museums about Slovenia
's history, the other one being located at the Castle
Out of the two, the one at the Castle may have a somewhat wider scope (also covering older periods of history, if only very briefly) but it is inferior to the Contemporary History Museum in terms of actual original artefacts on display, but instead relies more on multimedia elements. Real history buffs may well want to see both and compare for themselves. But if you have time for only one of these two, then rather give the one at the Castle a miss … unless you're visiting the Castle anyway, in which case you can just as well have a quick look at its museums too, as the admission ticket is inclusive of all parts of the Castle.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The museum is housed in a splendid 18th century mansion which itself is worth a look on the outside too.
The location on the edge of Tivoli makes this park the perfect combination in the immediate vicinity. Tivoli is by far Ljubljana's largest park, recreational area and a nature reserve, all in one. In fact, given the small size of the city, Tivoli feels almost overgenerously expansive. In addition to its lawns and forested bits it also houses various play areas, Ljubljana's zoo and a few further cultural institutions such as the Centre of Graphic Arts.