Ptuj, the oldest Slovenian city
2000 years on the crossroads between east and westA beautiful historical township of 32000 inhabitants, Ptuj is the oldest Slovenian city and proudly conscious of its rich 2000 year history. With its pre-Roman, Roman and Slavic history, and its mediaeval heritage, it has earned the status of a Museum Town. Its living traditions - wine-growing, festivals and several annual fairs - have made it into a lively, culturally rich and thriving place.
Today Ptuj, surrounded by vineyards and spreading charmingly on the wide powerfully flowing river Drava makes the most of its long and extraordinary history, captured in its buildings and monuments. It is settled in a magnificent location. The Castle on the hill above, Dominican and Minorite monasteries, and the Drava River below, describe a triangle which embraces the town and which gave it the characteristic triangular silhouette it still boasts today and which is unique in Europe.
The greatest showpiece of Ptuj is its Castle, a great stronghold, a mighty seat of power and wealth, reconstructed during 18th and 19th centuries into the magnificent castle that we know today.
As a place of human settlement the Castle Hill has a history that goes far beyond the military fortifications of the Romans. Archeological findings have revealed that the Castle Hill was settled as early as the end of the Stone Age or in the beginning of Copper Age (around 2100-1750BC). Romans established a fortified outpost on the Hill during the 1st century AD, with a small fortress and a basilica. The fortification became a flourishing city, the first Roman staging post, expanding the Roman empire, along the so-called Roman Road and linking the east and the west. It became a city at the time of emperor Trajan, named in his honour, Colonia Ulpia Traiana Poetovio; the first record of it dated 69 AD.
After more than 4 centuries Romans left, giving way to the turbulence inside the empire and fierce attacks by Germanic tribes, Huns and Hungarians. The evidence of strong and established Slovenian population in the 6th century is provided by the historian Paul Diakon who referred in his record of 595 AD to Carantania; Provincia Sclaborum (Carantania, province of Slavs), indicating an established and administered civil state or province. The excavations on the Tournament Field on the western flat castle ground delivered further evidence. Over 400 old-Slavic graves (8th - 11th century) were uncovered, containing a rich collection of old-Slavic objects and possibly remains of an old-Slavic shrine.
During the Middle Ages Ptuj became one of the most important commercial centres of Europe on the par with London and Paris of our time. It obtained town rights as early as 977AD. Home to the wealthiest citizens of Europe of the time, it accumulated wealth and influence that came from trade between Pannonia and the Italian Peninsula, just as it did at the time of Romans.
In 1376 it was granted a statute, one of the few cities of Europe to have one, and became a market town. Conferred upon a town by the feudal Lord, the market was a privilege, as well as a sign of town's independence. The existing rules regarding trading had to be considered by all craftsmen and merchants, who came to Ptuj to sell their wares. For a period from one to four weeks, special additional rules were in force and certain exceptional privileges granted. A "market judge" was appointed to decide about controversial cases.
Ptuj continued to flourish until the beginning of Turkish incursions during the 16th century. The Ptuj Castle regained its key position as one of the line of fortified and strongly held castles fortresses guarding Europe against Turkish invasions, which lasted well into the 17th century. However the trade routes were destroyed during this period, which brought immense suffering to the Slovenian population, and Ptuj itself never regained its former status as trading centre.
Ptuj is fascinating place to visit. It is a unique place, a jewel of a historical town, where buildings, pavements, walls and ancient monuments bear witness to a rich and proud past. There are traces of the past everywhere. The frontages of the houses contain stones hewn in Roman times, in the soil of the town archeologists are constantly discovering stone, ceramic and metal traces of Roman age. Best of all, in the town centre stands the tombstone of the Roman mayor Marcus Valerius Vero from the 2nd century. The five metres tall monument is called the Orpheus Monument due to the mythical scenes ingraved in bas relief upon it. Unique records of the Roman period unearthed in the area, are the Mithraic shrines dedicated to the soldiers' god Mithra.
However, the Ptuj area has more to offer than monuments of the past millenia. It has the living tradition of wine-growing which goes back much further than Roman period. The areas around Ptuj, Halože and Slovenske gorice are reknown for their vineyards and wine-growing tradition which continues to produce some of the best wines of Slovenia. The viticulture did develop under Romans and flourished, leading to another well established tradition, reaching back eight centuries - the cellaring.
The Minorite monks have kept records of cellars under the town-houses of Ptuj, going back 8 centuries. They were used for fermentation and storing of wine. Today many such cellars still exist and can be visited. The Minorite Monastery, built in the 13th century, was dedicated to teaching and functioned in Ptuj for 7 centuries. The monastery contains a rich 5000 volume library of important manuscripts, including a 10th century codex and a original copy of the New Testament (1561 AD), translated into Slovenian by Primož Trubar. This is one of the most valuable documents of the Slovenian patrimony.
Ptuj with surrounding villages also boasts a unique spring carnival kurentovanje (interior link), when streets are filled with the ancient Kurent figures, traditionally harbingers of spring, chasing away winter demons. The festival is unique in Slovenia, dating to pagan times - Kurent is a kind of Slovenian Dyonisus - and attracts many visitors to enjoy the frightening Kurent figures, running about the town and villages with deafening noise in their 50 kilos costumes.
Ptuj is also renown for its concerts and festivals, fairs and markets, which attract merchants and visitors from afar. This strong tradition has originated in the Middle Ages, when Ptuj was an important trading centre. Visitors are still attracted to Ptuj fairs and festivities, flocking from all over Slovenia and neighbouring countries to enjoy themselves and taste the local produce, especially the wines of Halože and Slovenske gorice.
BibliographyTourist Portal of Ptuj. Slovenia. http://www.ptuj-tourism.si/o_ptuju/?lang=en