Napoleon column
Photo credit: Dunja Wedam, Ljubljana Tourism

In Europe it isn’t very common, certainly outside of France, to find monuments to Napoleon Bonaparte, but for Slovenia it is a quite different situation – Napoleon established the Illyrian Provinces in 1809, which covered the whole of Dalmatia right down to Dubrovnik, and for which the capital city was Ljubljana. Napoleon’s reforms in this region allowed the use of the Slovenian language at university, which was important for the flourishing of Slovenian culture.

A monument was therefore created as a memorial to the 120th anniversary of the Illyrian Provinces, which was presented with great ceremony on 13th of October 1929 and in the presence of the French ambassador in Yugoslavia. The ambassador also brought a gift to the ceremony, a gold palm branch, which Plečnik rather reluctantly but later installed into the edge of the monument, where it can still be seen today.

The Napoleon column
Photo credit: S. Jeršič, B. Jakše, Ljubljana Tourism

Aside from this detail, it was the sculptor Lojze Dolinar who created the girlish head for the monument that symbolises Illyria and a portrait of Napoleon that is attached to the rear side of the column. The monument, with its floor dimensions of 1 x 1 metre, was carved from Hvar stone and when installing the stone Plečnik recalled that it was Napoleon who introduced the measurement system to Slovenia. During transport from Hvar one of the stones was damaged at its corner and although stonecutters were attempting to fix it, Plečnik wanted to retain this anomaly because he didn’t want to cover up any irregularities, so it can still be seen today. At the top of the monument is Plečnik’s interpretation of the Slovenian coat of arms, with the crescent actually showing a ship and above it three suns, originating from the coat of arms of the Counts of Celje, which can be found on Slovenia’s coat of arms.

Get to know the creative opus and life of the greatest Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik. Ljubljana Tourism offers a Bicycle Tour Through Plečnik’s Ljubljana and a Walking Tour of Plečnik’s Ljubljana. Follow the footsteps of the master on a route, which he himself walked countless times.

More information on Plečnik’s architecture and usage of symbols can be found in Andrej Hrausky’s book, Architecture of Jože Plečnik and its Symbolism.