Exploring the Roman City of Emona – in Ljubljana

Exploring the Roman City of Emona – in Ljubljana

Two thousand years ago, a Roman city called Emona stood on the site of the present-day Ljubljana. But even if we live in Ljubljana, we somehow fail to notice the city’s Roman legacy.

Let’s imagine Ljubljana without the traffic lights, cars and all the electrical wiring. Further more, let’s descend behind the walls of Emona, which took place here from the 1st till 6th century.

We were discovering Roman charms of Ljubljana with a curator of the City Museum of Ljubljana, Bernarda Županek.

Signs of forgotten times

Rippling water from the Neptune fountain by the City Museum of Ljubljana and Emona inscription that suddenly flashed from the Križevniška Church, made us aware that this will be a very unusual walk. Quite unlike anything we were used to do before in our capital city.

After few steps of our tour, the curator took us to the time around the year 15 AD.  This is the time of the earliest epigraph sources of the Roman city of Emona. Just for a moment we stop at a parking lot next to the National and University Library (NUK). It is right here where many centuries ago the citizens of Emona were gathering at the public Roman bath house.

  • Then, across the Zoisova street and behind the long wall, which can be clearly followed, we disappear between the houses of the Archaeological park Emona House in Mirje 4 (formerly Jakopič Garden).
If we know where to look, Ljubljana is full of Roman history.

Archaeological Park Emona House

Suddenly, as a mirage one of the greatest Roman monuments in Slovenia appears in front of us. In a quiet neighbourhood of green gardens and under dense canopy the stone foundations and floors of the real Emona House are still resting.

Photo credits: Matevž Paternoster, archives of MGML

The park opened to the public in 1966. Here we can observe from up close the everyday Roman life on our soil.

Standing by the well preserved black-and-white mosaics, we can easily imagine the past. A Roman citizen stopping for a moment, while looking over the wall towards a nearby hill (today’s Castle hill).

Archaeological Park Emona House was renovated within the project Emona 2000 and the 2000 anniversary of the Roman Ljubljana, which the city celebrated in 2014.

The Roman central heating system

We are invited under the the roof of the Emona house. Quickly we get excited about the preserved pillar system. It illustrates how the the residents of this home kept warm during the cold days. The warm air from one room spread to the central area through the ground.  And through the hollow blocks it also entered the walls – a system called »hypocaust heating« .

Hypocaust is a system of central heating in a building that produces and circulates hot air below the floor of a room. It may also warm the walls with a series of pipes through which the hot air passes. This air can warm the upper floors as well.  Source: Wikipedia

On the way from the house we peek in the sewer drain. This is a testimony that the city boasted a rich and diverse infrastructure already many centuries ago.

The hot air was heating the floor and was circulating inside the walls of the house. (Photo credits: Matevž Paternoster, archives of MGML)

The Roman wall

To prevent this exceptional heritage for the generations to come, the curator of an Archaeological park locks the doors behind us carefully.

Then she goes on with telling the story of the Roman wall. She continuous with the main square of Emona. Furthermore, about the rulers, politicians and also the artists, who are ultimately to be credited that Ljubljana managed to preserve its heritage from the Roman times.

Visiting a house from 1st century AD

Among the many attractions that we got to know in the city streets of Ljubljana, we came to another archaeological park. This one is located on Erjavčeva street, not far from the famous Cankarjev dom. Here we entered the Emona house from the 1st century A.D. Around the year 300 it had three small swimming pools, which then represented bathroom. Also, they were using the hypocaust central heating system.


A bit later, a room was added and the floor was decorated with a beautiful mosaic. This private house indicates with several elements that it was an early Christian place of prayer. Furthermore, a rectangular room with a baptismal pool (end of 4th and early 5th century) is there. They were using this place only once a year, when the ceremony of the baptism of an adult was going on.

The decline of Emona

In the 5th and 6th century the decline of Emona started.

Despite the city’s great position on the trade route between Italy and the Balkans, the uncertain political situation started to influence its  existence. The Roman Empire was too big and too difficult to handle. Moreover, the barbarian invasions were increasing. The power and the rule in Emona (as well as some  other cities in the western part of the Roman Empire) started to be passed into the hands of bishops. While the Roman world was slowly collapsing …

Today’s Ljubljana residents and visitors generally do not know much about Emona. The  city that once lived inside the city walls and was outwardly connected to the Aquileia, Navportom, Carnia, Neviodunum, Siscia, Celeia, Petoviona, Karnunta …

With the help of experts and professionals – such are the curators from the City Museum of Ljubljana, we can on a very ordinary day disappear into a very different time.

And get into the premises, which once belonged to other people just like today they belong to us.

By Sonja Bezjak – Let’s go Slovenia’s guest writer

If you like our Slovenia local travel tips, you can support Let’s Go Slovenia travel blog. Enjoy Slovenia!

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