Walking through history in Maribor, Slovenia

I’m not a massive fan of museums. Unless they deal with war or resistance or the Holocaust. Or something completely off the wall like the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. But I go. I go because I want to learn. I want to know more about wherever it is I am. Sometimes I take a cursory dip into the history of a place; other times, I am dragged in, kicking and screaming; occasionally, I’m not allowed to leave.

As was the case in Maribor.

The city’s regional museum opened in Maribor Castle in 1938, which makes it about 86 years old. For some reason, this impressed me, giving me pause for thought. I had it in my head that museums were new places for old things. I’ll have to think about that some more.

In a series of permanent exhibitions, 23 regional municipalities are represented.  For example, the archaeological exhibition First Touch includes about a thousand artefacts that provide evidence of

… population density and residential culture, lifestyles and burial practices, material and spiritual culture, and social and economic conditions from the Early Stone Age to the Early Middle Ages. The reconstructed models of dwellings offer an insight into the way of life throughout the different periods.

Not really my thing. You’ve seen one stone axe, you’ve seen ’em all. I was taken by the harvest crown though. Woven from the ears of the last corn sheaf harvested, it was then used to crown the best reaper, mower, or housewife and hung from the ceiling inside the house until the next harvest. Curious minds want to know more about what made the best housewife the best, presuming the other two could be measured in how much reaped or mowed.

But in this exhibition, it was the painted beehive panels that made my day. They’re unique to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Slovenia when

… wooden beehive panels became an object of folk art that made beehives look like open-air picture galleries. Painted beehive panels are a display of the immensely rich folk imagination and creativity and depict various motifs. Folk artists used paints based on natural pigments and linen oil to ensure colour fastness. Subsequently, they used industrially made paints, which cracked. Beehive panel painting reached its heyday between 1820 and 1880 and then started to decline. Some beehives are still decorated with paintings nowadays, however now with contemporary motifs and paints.

Another exhibit that took my fancy was the one of model soldiers. Thousands of them. Forty thousand full lead figures, civil tin figures, and plain tin figures. All are meticulously painted. All from the private collection of one Otto von Garibaldi who was an officer of the 5th Dragoon Regiment. He lived in Maribor until 1945. I wonder if he ever thought, as he sat there of an evening, paintbrush in hand, that one day, thousands of people each year would see his work and appreciate what he did. I doubt it.

I wonder, too, if he was married. I can find no record of him.

Walking through the various exhibits I was struck by how well-curated it all was. There’s something in it for everyone. Everything was well explained. And there was plenty of staff on hand ready to answer questions. In other museums, I’ve felt staff watching me in case I decided to pocket something or talk too loudly or take too many photos.

And in Maribor, they have a sense of humour.

After about an hour, we’d seen all we wanted to see. We walked back downstairs and out through the courtyard back to the main entrance and the shop, presuming that the only exit was through the shop. Isn’t that what all museums do? Catch you at your weakest on your way out?

Not in Maribor.

As we crossed the inner courtyard, we met the young woman who had helped us when we first arrived. She looked at us with something bordering on disbelief tinged with disappointment.

You can’t be finished! Were you upstairs?

Yes. We were. We saw the soldiers.

Upstairs? Up both stairs? You can’t have been. Did you see the view?

Uhm no. But we’ve seen enough. Really. It’s been lovely.

Go back! Back to the soldiers and take a left. There’s so much more.

All said with a smile, albeit a very firm one. There was no getting out of it.

So back we went, up to the soldiers, and up yet more stairs.

One room in particular had a major wow factor. It housed the work of Josef Holzinger, a Baroque sculptor who worked in wood that was later gilded. I didn’t believe these were wooden until I saw the back of them. I saw something similar in a village church in SW Hungary – a fabulous altar that looks like the real marble deal but is also made from wood.

The mid-seventeenth-century Madonna and Child from Savinja Valley bordered on creepy. I shared a while back my surprise at finding a painting of the Assumption that showed an ‘old’ Our Lady. It was refreshing. An ‘old’ infant Jesus is not quite the same. No matter how artistic.

We spent rather a lot of time with the furniture. Given that our place is furnished completely in what we’ve found in markets and bought second-hand, I recognise that I have a thing for old stuff. I set my sights on a few pieces, particularly this wall cupboard.

We learned about Maribor back in the day, when, with a population of 25 000 it boasted 70 inns and taverns. A stop on the train line between Vienna (Austria) and Trieste (Italy) (the line was completed in 1857) saw an influx of new blood. Pictures of the rich and famous line the gallery walls. I had little trouble imagining soirees in the Castle, the elegantly dressed tripping down the carpet stairs, admiring the artwork. I even took a photo of a description of the hotels that were, to file away for next time. It would, I thought, make the basis of a good walk through the city.

It’s a wonderful example of what a museum should be – interesting and informative with something for everyone. And you don’t have to walk through the gift shop to get out!

Other museums in the city

Maribor’s greatest claim to fame is that it is home to the oldest noble vine in the world, producing grapes for 400 years. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records, so it has to be true. And it, too, has a museum, with a wine tasting. But we’d had our tasting.

I missed completely the National Liberation Museum – but there’ll be a next time. The Photo Gallery Tour was closed, so it too is on the list.

The city is steeped in history and well worth exploring.















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