This quaint city on the banks of the Drava River holds the impressive status of being Slovenia’s oldest town.
Settled by the Celts in the Late Iron Age, the settlement came to prominence back in 69AD when Roman Emperor Trajan granted it city-state status, naming it Colonia Ulpia Traiana Poetovio – quite a mouthful though correctly pronouncing Ptuj (P-too-ee) is no mean feat either. As Roman Poetovio the city was an important military, commercial and administrative centre with up to 40,000 residents – a population it’s never matched. As the centuries rolled past, countless different feudal lords and rulers as well as foreign invaders featured in the city’s diverse history. The Ptuj Regional Museum is the best place to delve into the city’s complex past. It’s no spoiler to say that disease, fires and foreign invasions, hobbled the development of Ptuj which since the 1700s has been largely a provincial centre and market town. It continues this role today as the cultural and economic capital of the lower Podravje region though these days it also draws large numbers of tourists (especially Slovenes) exploring the city’s rich history and cultural traditions, including its vibrant culinary and wine culture. Ptuj is also the venue of one of Slovenia’s biggest cultural events the annual ‘Kurentovanje’ carnival.
PTUJ CASTLE: Sitting on the aptly named Castle Hill is Ptuj’s most significant landmark, the Ptuj Castle. Strategically positioned to look over the town and the historically important river crossing, Castle Hill has been settled for thousands of years. The castle we see today dates to the 11th century, when the Archbishops of Salzburg built over the existing structures and then leased it out to Ptuj’s feudal lords. Perhaps the most impressive view of the castle is seen from the courtyard which is enclosed on three sides by the castle with its baroque columns and open balconies. The feudal lords are long gone and these days the castle houses a number of excellent displays of the Ptuj Regional Museum. Info: +386 2 748 03 60, www.ptuj.si.
PTUJ REGIONAL MUSEUM: It’s no surprise that a town with over 5,000 years of history happens to have a very good museum and the Ptuj Regional Museum is one of the best in Slovenia, housing an amazing collection of art, archaeological artifacts and ethnographic items. Even the kids will enjoy the collections of ancient weapons and the less dangerous but no less scary traditional Kurent costumes. Apart from the huge range of permanent and temporary exhibitions perhaps the best part of the museum is its fabulous venues which include some of the region’s most historic buildings not least the Dominican Monastery and Ptuj Castle as well as Ormož Castle further to the west. Muzejski Trg 1, tel. +386 (0)2 748 03 60, [email protected], pmpo.si.
THE OLD TOWN: Sandwiched between Castle Hill and the Drava River is the compact centre of old town Ptuj. Best explored on foot its cobbled stoned streets are lined by heritage listed medieval and Romanesque buildings with elegant squares and cultural landmarks marks dotted around town. Particularly noteworthy are Mestni Trg (Town Square) over which the impressive neo-Gothic façade of the town hall presides over the square, and Slovenska Trg with St. George’s Church, the City Tower and the Orpheus Monument. The numerous cafes and bars located on and around the squares are popular local drinking spots. At the western end of Prešernova ulica is Muzejski Trg (Museum Square), appropriately the location of the Ptuj Regional Museum housed in the former Dominican Monastery – the romantic soft pink intricate stucco façade of the monastery makes it worthy of a visit even if you’re not going to the museum. Whilst the Dominicans did not survive Habsburg Emperor Joseph II’s 18th century campaign to dissolve catholic orders, across town the Minorites did – south of Mestni Trg is Minoritski Trg where a Minorite monastery has stood since the 13th century and still functions as such today. The monastery has an ornate Baroque facade whilst prior arrangement at the tourist office will allow visitors to see highlights inside such as the fresco decorated summer refectory and extensive library which includes an original Slovene edition of the New Testaments translated by Primož Trubar in 1561.
VINSKA KLET PTUJ: Beneath Slovenia’s oldest town you’ll find one the region’s most impressive wine cellars. Along the two kilometers of damp photogenic tunnels are ornately decorated wood barrels, modern production facilities, more than a few rooms that could easily be sets in any number of horror films and one of the most impressive wine archives we’ve yet to see, stacked floor to vaulted ceiling with bottles dating back to almost 100 years and worth up to five figures at auction. Above all this are the newly renovated tasting rooms that would look like they’ve been lifted directly from some 19th century Austrian nobleman’s castle, were it not for the rows of projectors above the bar and walls covered with international wine awards. Located in a courtyard in the eastern part of the old town, it’s probably easiest to stop by the Ptuj Tourist Information Centre on Slovenski Trg and ask for walking directions. Info: Vinarski Trg 1, Ptuj, +386 (0)2 78 79 810, +386 (0)2 78 79 813, info@ ptujska-klet.si, www.pullus.si.
KURENTOVANJE: Seeing large hairy sheep standing up-right and dancing around might sound strange, but don’t worry, you’re not having a nightmare. These folkloric figures are the Kurenti and they’re meant to look terrifying in order to ward off winter and evil spirits. Taking its name from the Kurenti, Kurentovanje is a carnival like no other, attracting more than 100,000 visitors it is the largest celebration of its kind in Slovenia. Visitors get into the spirit of things by dressing up as well as consuming copious amounts of donuts (krof in Slovene). The highlight of the 10-days of festivities is a massive masked parade through the centre of town where the Kurenti can seem tame by comparison to some other costumes. Info: www.kurentovanje.net.