Strolling the streets of Maribor, Slovenia

One arch of a red iron bridge spanning a wide river. Bridge is reflected in the water as is the cloudless blue sky

I was surprised that Maribor didn’t make the list of the top 50 most walkable cities in the world. Or even the 33 most walkable cities in Europe. This confirms my suspicion that the city hasn’t yet been discovered. Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana is where most tourists head for. That and Lake Bled. I’m a fan of the former but think the latter is overrun, overrated, and overexposed.

Maribor, on the other hand, is delightful.

Strolling down by the River Drava and a blue-sky-and-sunshine winter’s day was magical. The packed snow and ice made things a little treacherous but there was enough heat in the sun to sit outside and have our coffee.

View of an old city with red slate roofs nestled along the banks of the river. Blue sky. Snow in the foreground. Buildings reflected in the water.

The sixteenth-century Judgement Tower looms large in the oldest part of the city, Lent. It was here that judgements were pronounced and women were convicted of witchery. Renovated in 2021, this classic example of defensive architecture is now a cultural centre.

Couple (she's wearing a coat, he's in black) stand in front of a round town with three floors . Windows are shuttered with wooden shutters. Roof is conical red slate. Other red-roofed buildings in the background. Snow on the ground. Blue cloudless sky.

Further down, the 700-year-old synagogue is one of the oldest preserved synagogues in Europe. Back in 1497, when Jews were ordered to leave the province, many took the surname Morpurgo to remember their city. If you meet one of the estimated 2300 Jews around the world with this name, there’s a good chance their family tree will have its roots in Maribor. Today, it, too, is a cultural centre.

700-year-old stone building with a red roof against a blue cloudless sky. Leafless tree growing behind the wall to the right.

The city itself is full of fine old buildings set around green parks and café-laden squares. There’s plenty to stop and marvel at. Plenty to see. This is particularly remarkable given that Maribor was bombed repeatedly during WWII and half of it was levelled.

Old white building with three floors and a red roof sits behind snow covered leafless trees against a cloudless blue sky. A streetlamp with two round white shades atop a tall metal column sits in the front left corner.

Majestic old stately yellow building visible across a snow covered park through leafless trees.

Street corner. Large column of twisted rope effect on top of which is a statue holding a flagpole. This stands in front of a majestic four-storey white building witha curved facade and decorative windows. Street and footpath look icey, covered in packed snow.

Statue perched on a stone column sits in what looks like a stone fountain in front of a row of stately buildings - one in yellow next to a long cream red-roofed building with a clock tower.

The National Liberation Monument is different. In 1941, after the April Axis invasion, Germany annexed the city and went about re-Germanising it. Local Slovenes were arrested and ethnic Germans imported. Hitler had a thing about the city; he really wanted it to be German. So much so that it was the only city in the occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia that he visited in person during the war. The partisans were active. Very active.

The Slovene Partisans generally utilized the only methods available to them, which was crude but effective guerilla tactics, sabotage and unconventional warfare. However, the Nazis found these rebels to be a surprisingly difficult group to deal with, even despite their being vastly under-equipped and having much smaller numbers compared to the German Army. In order to prevent more Slovenes from joining these uprising groups, the Nazis began to take as hostages many prominent local Slovenes in Maribor, at which point the Nazis would then declare that these hostages would be executed upon any further Partisan attacks or incursions against German troops. The first executions began on August 24th, 1941 and continued through the war. However, despite these brutal warnings, attacks by Partisan units against the Germans continued unabated. Thus, in retaliation, these innocent hostages were subsequently executed by the Germans, generally either by mass public hangings or by large groups being placed in front of firing squads. Often, the executions were made intentionally macabre in order to impart maximum impact on those observing. By the end of the war, roughly 700 Slovene hostages were executed in retaliation for Partisan actions.

The monument, a 7m tall bronze sculpture shaped like a door knob is impressive. The faces you can see are Partisans and heroes.

7m tall bronze sculpture shaped like a door knob. Through large strips cut through two sides of the sculpture's smooth bronze facade, an inner sphere shape, engraved with the faces of many Partisan and Yugoslav heroes, can be seen. The sculpture sits on a circular bronze platform which itself is also engraved with a number of inscriptions. In the background are three-story buldings, one with scaffolding. All set against a blue sky and snowy ground.

7m tall bronze sculpture shaped like a door knob. Through large strips cut through two sides of the sculpture's smooth bronze facade, an inner sphere shape, engraved with the faces of many Partisan and Yugoslav heroes, can be seen. The sculpture sits on a circular bronze platform which itself is also engraved with a number of inscriptions. In the background is a long, l-shaped two-storey red-roofed building.

The twelfth-century cathedral is dedicated to St John the Baptist and is now home to the remains of Bl. Anton Martin Slomšek, the first Slovene to be proclaimed a blessed. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999 and many eagerly await his canonisation.  Today, he is credited with the country’s nearly 100% literacy rate.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, the Slovenian education system had been nearly destroyed by the Austrian empire, which suppressed the native language and culture. Slovenia was left without its own schools, magazines, newspapers, and books. As bishop, Anton reformed Slovenia’s schools, rebuilding the education system with a Catholic and Slovene foundation. He wrote textbooks, began weekly reviews, and published books and essays on a variety of topics.

Collage of four pictures showing the interior of a church. 1. stained glass windows in blues, yellows, reds, and greens showing a bearded robed man. 2. Arch leading into a chapel. The underside of the arch is intricately painted. 3. Body of the church with the altar at the back, rows of pews, and a lattice wood effect on the ceiling. 4 organ gallery

I chose the Franciscan Church for mass – The Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy. The red-bricked church and monastery are compelling. It screamed ‘neighbourhood community’. And I’ll admit to a certain fascination with the brown-robed Franciscans and their dedication to St Francis. From experience, monks and friars often make better preachers, too. Not that I could understand a word that was being said – but the vocal variety and body language were excellent (and that’s my gig). There’s a legend doing the rounds of the city as to why the friars wear a rope around their waists. Apparently, in days of yore, someone gave them a cow, but without a rope, they had no way of leading the cow home. They’ve learned. They won’t be caught on the hop again.

Romanesque red-bricked church view from the back. The front is marked with two bell towers with green copper roofs

Collage of 4 photos. 1. Church interior with congregants sitting in pews. Altar is in gold. 2 Closeup of gold altar with a statue inset above the tabernacle. 3 Section of painted wall under a 5-cloved windwow. 4. Section of a gallery intricately painted with images of saints.

It’s a lovely city that is much underrated. But from the signs we saw, they’re doing something about that. By all accounts, the new mayor Saša Arsenovič has plans.

Crude red circle with white letters reading MARIBOR IS THE FUTURE. To the side is a cartoon painting of a think fairy in a ballet pose - standing on one tippy toe with her left leg extended at a 90 degree angle. A glass streetlamp is tucked into the bottom right corner.

If you do go, be sure to take in the wine tour of Vinag 1847, block off a couple of hours to visit the regional museum, and if you’re into WWII history, take a trip to the suburbs to see what’s left of Stalag XVIII D. And, of course, you could visit Tito’s second wife in Pobrežje Cemetery. I’m sorry I missed her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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