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The History Fangirl Podcast

Sep 18, 2017

On one of my recent trips, I did some backpacking through central Europe and I had a wonderful time. But my trip became dramatically better if that’s possible when I entered the city of Ljubljana in Slovenia. The city is magical in the way it is laid out and has the most interesting architecture. I soon found a bookstore and picked up a few books by my guest today, Dr. Noah Charney. He’s an American who now lives in Slovenia and has written several novels set in that part of the world. But his most recent works focus on Ljubljana and in particular, the architect behind its beautiful appearance, Jože Plečnik. In this episode, Dr. Charney and I discuss all things Plečnik and Ljubljana.

How did the city of Ljubljana come to be?

Legend tells the tale of the Greek hero Jason, along with his famed companions, the Argonauts, stealing a golden fleece from King Aetes. As they fled, they charted a course across the Black Sea, up the Danube River, Sava River, and Ljubljanica river. At the headwaters of the Ljubljanica river, Jason is said to have fought and killed a magnificent beast there at the lake, what is now known as the Ljubljana Dragon. Historically we know that the first lake dwellings appeared in the area around 2000 BC and the city is first mentioned in written records from 1112 to 1125 BC. It’s a city with a fascinating history and beautiful way of life. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. Join me for this conversation with Dr. Noah Charney, an author and historian who loves the area more than I do. It’s a great conversation filled with interesting tidbits about the region.

Why would an American professor and author move to Slovenia?

Dr. Noah Charney is successful in anyone’s book. He’s taught at Cambridge and in a program run by Miami Dade College in Florence, Italy. He’s taught seminars at Yale University and the American University at Rome. But he’s decided to make his home in Slovenia, the place where in the fall of 2012 he received his Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Ljubljana. His decision flowed out of his love for the area, a place he has said is one of the best places in the world to live. In our conversation, you can hear about Dr. Charney’s love for the area and his deep interest in the architecture of Slovene architect Jože Plečnik.

An ancient city rebuilds after a devastating earthquake. They tap a budding new architect for the job.

On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1895, the most destructive and last earthquake recorded struck the town of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale, the city of 31,000 was dramatically impacted, with about 10% of the city's buildings being damaged or destroyed altogether. From 1896 to 1910 the city was slowly rebuilt, a total of 436 new buildings, many of them designed by architect Jože Plečnik. In this conversation, Dr. Noah Charney describes the life of Plečnik before and after being tapped to oversee the redesign of the ancient city and explains why he is one of the brightest architectural minds ever to have come out of Europe.

The ancient city of Ljubljana is now a jewel of central Europe that too few people know about.

I listen to a lot of travel podcasts and read many travel blogs and I’m still surprised how little travelers from the west know about Slovenia and its capital, Ljubljana. It’s one of the most unique and interesting places I’ve ever visited and I love the feeling of the city. If you ever get a chance to go, you should. Dr. Noah Charney unpacks the history and intrigue of the city, including in-depth descriptions of its beautiful architecture on this episode, so I hope you listen.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:29] My experience visiting Ljubljana. It was an altogether different experience.
  • [2:99] Why Ljubljana was so appealing to me and why I invited Dr. Charney to this conversation.
  • [4:12] How Dr. Charney became interested in Slovenia and moved there.
  • [6:01] Who is Jože Plečnik, the architect most famous in Ljubljana?
  • [9:18] The history of Ljubljana.
  • [11:54] The life of Jože Plečnik before he was commissioned to design the new city.
  • [16:37] The things that made Plečnik different in his architectural approach.
  • [19:01] How Plečnik came to be utilized so widely in the renovations in Ljubljana.
  • [23:23] The impact Ljubljana’s revitalization impacted Plečnik‘s career going forward.
  • [28:58] Dr. Charney’s favorite spots in the city.
  • [32:06] Why Dr. Charney wrote Slovenology and what it is about.

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