The old town of Kranj

Culture and tradition are at home in Kranj. The historic town is one of the most charming centres in Slovenia. It stands on a 30-meter-high rock between the Sava and Kokra rivers and is protected as a cultural monument. The confluence of the two rivers can be seen from the viewing platform hanging high above the conglomerate rock that symbolizes the former defence tower. It once stood at this point but then crumbled into the river canyon. The town wall once had eight towers, today only three of them are preserved and they all are venues for cultural experiences. Also, the Khislstein castle is part of the former town wall; it has a wonderful hidden garden and an open-air stage for concerts and theatre shows. The Museum of Gorenjska is located in the castle and it has many interesting stories to tell of the 6000-year history of Kranj.

The townscape is dominated by three churches, the largest among them being the Gothic church of St. Cantianus. The most beautiful among the townhouses are the Toll House, the Pavšlar House, the Layer House, the Old Post Office, the Gimnazija secondary school, the old Town Hall, but also other houses are an important part of the town’s life and its identity.

Many influential people have shaped this city. France Prešeren, the greatest Slovenian poet, lived here (1846–1849) and Kranj keeps his heritage in many places that you can get to know during a visit. The patron of the Enlightenment, Žiga Zois (1747–1819), was also a noted citizen of Kranj, as well as the late Baroque painter, Leopold Layer (1752–1828), the poet Simon Jenko (1835–1869) and the inventor of photography on glass, Janez Puhar (1814–1864).

The architects Jože Plečnik, Edvard Ravnikar and Ivan Vurnik have left their mark in Kranj. Jože Plečnik (1872–1957) is considered to be one of the pioneers of modern architecture worldwide. and his works can be seen in prominent locations in Vienna, Prague and Ljubljana. In Kranj, he designed the reconstruction of Prešeren Theater in 1952 when he added the arcades. He built the house of Dr. Jože Bežek and a monumental entrance to the town with the stairs, arcades and fountain by the church of St. Mary of the Rosary.

Edvard Ravnikar (1907–1993), student and successor of Jože Plečnik, was the most important Slovenian architect of the 20th century and a visionary who realized several prestigious projects. He was the last universal architect in Slovenia and a city planner, a master of how to harmonize the new with the old and he promoted the development of industrial design and graphics in Slovenia. In Kranj, he designed the Hotel Creina, the auditorium of the municipal building and the Globus department store which today houses the library, a kind of a multimedia living room for the entire town.

The architect Ivan Vurnik (1884–1971) from Radovljica is one of the three pioneers of modern architecture in Slovenia (alongside Maks Fabiani and Jože Plečnik). He created very unusual designs, was the author of many contemporary architectural solutions and also worked as a town planner and professor. In his most creative time, he built the building of Narodni dom (1922) which was heavily altered after the war.

The town has always been known as the centre of the Gorenjska region in terms of economy, trade, education and transport. Many events for culture enthusiasts and foodies, as well as a vibrant art scene are happening in the castle, in the town wall towers and the old townhouses. Let Kranj find a place in your heart.

Khislstein Castle and the town wall with defensive towers

The old town was once surrounded by a wall with eight towers. Today, three of these towers do not have the strategic function of defence against attackers, but have been renovated and the experiences there are now of a cultural nature. The Museum of Gorenjska in the castle has two permanent exhibitions, the Beautiful Region of Gorenjska and In the Sheen of the Metal Armour. It features world-class archaeological finds, two lamellar armours and an angon javelin, only seven of which are still preserved worldwide. By the former town wall, there are also the wonderful castle garden and the open-air stage, one of the most beautiful venues in Slovenia. The garden hosts an open-air cinema during the summer months.

The houses in the old town are a living reminder of the time when the early bourgeoisie of Kranj had them built. Take a look at the most beautiful of them: the Toll House, the Pavšlar house, the old Town Hall and the Layer House. They all are an important part of the identity and life of the town, with their business activities on the ground floor and apartments on the first floor, as it has been for centuries.

The internationally acclaimed architect Jože Plečnik set new accents in Kranj. At the top of Vodopivec Street, he designed a monumental entrance to the town. And he did this very well indeed with the staircase, the arches and the fountain, from which the bronze rooster pours water into terraced stone basins. Plečnik participated also in the reconstruction of Prešeren Theatre. With monumental arches and his typical lamps, he created its distinctive façade.

In the centre of the town stands the most important monument of Gothic architecture in Slovenia, the Church of St. Cantianus It stands on the site of an earlier church from the 6th century, so Kranj is one of the oldest religious centres in Slovenia. The church is the most distinctive building in the townscape. Next to it is the ossuary, an underground space where you can see the foundations of a baptistery from late antiquity, the remains of a 13th-century ossuary chapel and the remains of a cemetery chapel with a crypt from the 15th century. century. Before that, this was the largest burial place of the early Slavs on Slovenian territory.

The greatest Slovenian poet lived in Kranj in the middle of the 19th century. The best chance to get to know him is to visit his house with his original manuscripts and furniture. His grave is located in a memorial park, where also monuments to other important Slovenes stand. The atmosphere there is very relaxing.

The renowned Gallery of Prešeren Award Laureates has its home in the Pavšlar House. In exhibitions, the works are presented by visual artists who received the greatest award in Slovenia and thus they offer the best insight into contemporary artistic creation in this country. Not far away from it is the Prešeren Theater, known for its outstanding ensemble and socially engaged performances. In front of the theatre stands a 5 meter high statue, the world’s largest statue of the poet. Everything here is dedicated to him.

The central regional museum impresses visitors with finds dating back to the Neolithic period. There are the two rare lamellar armours from late antiquity, the 6th century, when the elite of the Slavs wore them, which at that time had its largest centre in all of Slovenia right here in Kranj. On the museum trail you can discover the history of the town and it combines six remarkable houses: the Prešeren House, the Town Hall, the Ossuary, the Castle of Khislstein, the Gallery of Prešeren Award Laureates and the Layer House.

The verses of the greatest Slovenian poet France Prešern are written in the poet’s characteristic font on the facade of the Kranj City Library, which has become the living room of Kranj. You can spend the whole day here. In addition to a large selection of books and magazines, you can surf the web for free and visit the movie and music room. The modern architecture of the library in the Globus building, designed by the famous architect Edvard Ravnikar, is also attractive.

In this part of the old town at the tip of the rock, archaeologists found the oldest remnants of wooden huts in the region. The name comes from Baumgarten, orchard in German, because fruit trees and gardens of the citizens were located here in the Middle Ages. The only completely preserved defence tower from the 16th century stands here, since it was first converted into a dungeon and then even to apartments. During the plague in the 15th century, the Gothic church was built here and dedicated to St. Sebastian, Fabian and Roch, patron saints against this deadly disease.

All this you can experience in just a short walk. Is there anything better than to slow down and enjoy a day in galleries, cafés and small shops, while discovering the heritage of architecture and culture at the same time?

Image authors: Image authors: Andraž Muljavec, Fotomorgana