Infinite time in a finite space

Museums as representatives of the Slovenian national being and consciousness

Among the forerunners of museum professionals in Slovenia we may rank Janez Vajkard Valvazor (1641 – 1693), and his extensive and rich collections. These comprised more than ten thousand books, graphic prints by foreign masters, a numismatic collection and one of antiquities. The year 1821 saw the creation of the first professional museum institution in Slovenia – the Carniolan Provincial Museum in Ljubljana.

The Carniolan Provincial Museum was established on the initiative of a group of enlightenment figures who represented contemporary burgher society, and who were led by Baron Žiga Zois (1747 – 1819).  It offered an assemblage of all manner of things created by nature or human hands, and thus reflected and influenced the memories and fate of the province and the qualities of its inhabitants – in terms of history, statistics, natural science, technology, physics and mathematics, folk tales, fairy-tales, folk songs, descriptions of habits and customs practiced by the Carniolans, and so on.

After a few decades museums started appearing elsewhere in Slovenia – in Celje in 1882, in Kamnik in 1893, a museum in Ptuj in the same year, and in 1882 the school museum in Ljubljana. The Slovenian museums of the time were dependent on amateur, non-career museum staff. The First World War was followed by a flourishing of museum activity and the beginnings of more focused collecting. Between the wars, from 1918 to 1941, the Carniolan Museum was renamed the National Museum. The National Gallery was established in 1928, and then in 1935 the Ljubljana City Museum opened. New museum societies were created, and those working in culture and the arts had increasing influence. As a result of this the Museum of Modern Art was founded in 1947, and in the years after the number of museums continued to rise.

Between nature and society

Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Among the larger museums it is certainly important to highlight the National Museum, Natural History Museum and the Museum of Contemporary History. Strolling through their corridors and rooms you can get to know Slovenia as part of both a natural and social environment.

The collection in the National Museum includes the world's oldest musical instrument – a 60,000-year-old flute, the product of a Neanderthal. It also houses a dugout canoe from the Iron Age. Visitors can view a situla, an elaborate bucket-shaped vessel, from Vače near Litija, which even on the world scale ranks as one of the finest products of situla art. The museum also offers a fascinating collection of paintings covering the period from the 16th to the middle of the 20th century. This collection mainly features portraits of men and women of note in the Slovenian lands who represented individual noble and burgher families, and portraits of other persons who lived in the past in these lands.

The Natural History Museum of Slovenia. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

The Natural History Museum of Slovenia offers a wonderful stroll through time, right from the beginning of life on Earth. The permanent exhibition comprises several collections. The Geo-Palaeontology Collection features a large number of fossil remains found in Slovenia. The Baron Žiga Zois Mineral Collection, Hohenwart Mollusc Shell Collection and the Ferdinand J. Schmidt Insect Collection are foundational collections with great historical and scientific value. Visitors can get to know the biodiversity of Slovenia by viewing the Alpine, wetland, forest and marine dioramas, and collections of birds, reptiles, fish and the skeletons of various vertebrates. The main exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Slovenia is the skeleton of a mammoth that is around 20,000 years old, and was found in Nevlje, near Kamnik.

The Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia is a national museum devoted to the heritage of recent history starting from the beginning of the 20th century. It houses collections from the First and Second World Wars, material from between the wars and material from the socialist era, as well as the emergence of the new Slovenian state. The collections showcase museum objects, archival and book material, artwork and photographs. The permanent exhibition Slovenians in the 20th Century presents major events, ways of life and historical testaments from the beginning of the First World War to Slovenian independence.

Museums with a personal story

There are also some fascinating Slovenian museums that portray the characteristics of the lives led by Slovenian people in a given environment. These include occupations and other activities that are an important part of the national identity.

The town of Idrija is most famous for its mercury mine and tradition of lacemaking. The Idrija section of the Idrija Municipal Museum – there is also an associated Cerkno Museum – comprises permanent and temporary displays in the now renovated castle complex. Visitors can view the permanent exhibition Five Centuries of the Mercury Mine and Town of Idrija, which earned the museum an award from the Luigi Micheletti Foundation for best European museum of industrial and technical heritage. The museum also houses ethnological, historical, art, geological and lacemaking collections.

The Coal Mining Museum is located in Velenje, and was created based on the work of countless generations of Slovenian miners. It represents a noteworthy form of collaboration between the functioning Velenje Coal Mine, which also manages the museum, the urban municipality of Velenje and Velenje Museum. The special features you can admire in this museum include a mine lift from 1888, which is the oldest operating lift in Slovenia, the pit head tower from 1888, a geological column of rock in the Šalek Valley, a presentation on building underground roadways, an extensive overview of shafts in the Velenje Coal Mine, a collection of pit measuring and geodetic equipment, a presentation of the tradition of “jumping the skin” (which dates back to the 16th century, when Czech and Slovak miners introduced the rite of initiating new miners), and an old miner’s dwelling from before 1930.

When you visit the Slovenian coast, the Museum of Saltmaking is certainly something you should not miss. The wealth of vegetation, the birds that make their home there, and the traditional saltmaking will enchant you. You can find out how salt used to be obtained, how it is harvested today, what the salt workers used to wear and how they lived. The Museum of Saltmaking is located in an abandoned section of the Sečovlje saltpans on the right bank of the Giassi canal. It occupies a real saltmaker’s house, with a museum collection and array of salt, along with the related feeder channel for sea water.

Since its opening in 1959, the Apiculture Museum has devoted its efforts to the rich history of Slovenian beekeeping, and recorded, collected, preserved, documented, presented and popularised this heritage. The museum showcases the history of this pursuit since the times of beekeeping in hollow tree trunks and up to the middle of the 19th century, along with the presenting the stories of the acclaimed apiculture teachers, writers and beekeepers Anton Janša (1734–1773) and Peter Pavel Glavar (1721–1784). The main part of the museum is devoted to the painted panels that adorn the fronts of beehive boxes. The biology room shows visitors the biology of the native Slovenian species of bee, the Carniolan Grey.

The Slovenian Alpine Museum offers a delightful experience to everyone – and not just mountain enthusiasts – in its setting below idyllic peaks that reign over the area around Mojstrana. The permanent exhibition involves a stroll through the past and present, set out as a museum narrative. You can experience this on your “own ascent” up a mountain. Through 11 themed sections you pass the milestones of Slovenian mountaineering, Alpinist and mountain rescue history, and get to know the impulses that have drawn people to the mountains since the earliest times. The history of Slovenian Alpinism, infused with a love of homeland, takes you from the beginnings of organised mountaineering to the first Alpine ascents and the superlative achievements of today’s Slovenian climbers, on mountains at home and abroad.

The Alpine Museum A Bell 47 helicopter, one of the first to be used in rescuing people from Slovenia’s mountains. Photo: Tinkara Zupan/STA

Memory of a time that should never be repeated

Slovenia also offers some fascinating museums that evoke memories of the two world wars. These include the Franja Partisan Hospital, a fully reconstructed monument from the Second World War. The hospital is a unique example of medical care provided to people in extraordinary circumstances. Visitors can also experience an exceptional homage to the Soča (Isonzo) Front at the Kobarid Museum, which takes you from the major battlefields of the First World War to those that were fought in this area. There is also the fascinating Tabor Military Museum, Lokev, which is housed in a defensive tower (tabor) built in 1485 and that was opened to the public on 14 August 1994. The owner of the collection and manager of the museum is Srečko Rože, who as a child was fascinated by the tales of his grandfather, Viktor Rože, a veteran of the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War, as well as by the tales of his father, Albin, from the time of the Second World War.

Text by Tanja Glogovčen

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