Gradec means “little castle”, and this area was first mentioned about a thousand years ago in association with the castle that still overlooks the settlement of Stari Trg. Slovenj Gradec itself was established as a borough in 1251, and originally ruled by the Patriarchate of Aquileia (in present-day Italy).
The area has also been governed by the King of Bohemia, the Habsburgs, and then the feudal lords of Styria, which is how it came to be part of the historic Lower Styrian region. Slovenj Gradec today belongs to the Carinthia statistical region OR It’s one of the 12 municipalities in the region of Carinthia – KOROŠKA.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Slovenj Gradec was a center for artists and craftsmen, and traces of this can still be seen all over the old part of town, with many of the other buildings along these streets being constructed in the late 19th century. Until the end of the First World War Slovenj Gradec was dominated by German speakers, but after the conflict ended many immigrated to Austria, or assimilated into the Slovene-speaking community. During the Second World War the town was occupied by the Nazis, who undertook a violent program of Germanisation, and perhaps this is the reason why the Yugoslav Partisans formed in this area. In the post-war period the town developed rapidly, aided by a process of industrialization, and became the economic and political center of Koroška.
Despite the changes that have overtaken Slovenj Gradec in recent years, the old part of the town remains a fascinating place to wander and enjoy the mix of architectural styles and the connections that are made across ages, with some of the wall that encircled the settlement in the Middle Ages still visible in certain places. It is also in this part of town where you will find a 13th century church, dedicated to St Elizabeth of Hungary, as well as the former City Hall, which now houses the Carinthian Art Gallery (Koroška Galerija Likovnih Umetnosti) and the Carinthian Regional Museum (Koroški Pokrajinski Muzej). Info: Slovenj Gradec TIC, Glavni Trg 24, +386 2 881 21 16, [email protected], www.turizemslovenjgradec.si.
CARINTHIAN REGIONAL MUSEUM: This museum can be found in the old City Hall, and contains various permanent collections showing the long history of Slovenj Gradec and the Koroška region. There is also a collection of African art, as obtained by a local doctor in the 1950s and 60s, and the varied Soklič Collection, representing items collected by a local priest, many of which show life as it used to be lived in the area.
THE CARINTHIAN ART GALLERY: Also found in the old City Hall, this gallery includes works by Jože Tisnikar, a renowned Slovene painter who worked in a naïve style and specialized in gloomy yet often rather humorous works showing animals and death. If that doesn’t appeal, then there are the more traditional bronzes of Franc Berneker, as well as whatever temporary exhibitions are being held. Outside the City Hall there is the slim and smooth-bodied Venetian Horse sculpture, produced by Slovene designer Oskar Kogoj, which has become somewhat of an unofficial symbol of Slovenj Gradec.
CHURCH OF ST ELIZABETH AND CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Church of St. Elizabeth was consecrated in 1251 and is found in the center of Slovenj Gradec, with significant additions having been made to the original medieval structure in the 15th and 17th centuries, thus making it an appealing blend of styles – Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. The inside of the church is perhaps even more interesting, as it is decorated in Baroque style, with gold alter and pulpit, and many paintings produced by local masters over the centuries. One should also not to miss the Church of the Holy Spirit next door, a charming Gothic building that was completed in the 15th century and is lined with frescoes.