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Ptuj Castle (Ptuj, Slovenia)

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The castle was constructed in the mid-12th century to defend against the Hungarians.

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      01.12.2008 16:38
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      The best castle in Slovenia?

      The pretty Slovenian town of Ptuj (pronounced Puh-too-ee) is reputed to be the country's oldest settlement and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The highlight of a visit to Ptuj is the impressive castle that guards over the town from a position on a high flat plateau. Travelling to or from the far north east of Slovenia by train gives you the best overall view of the castle, in my opinion Slovenia's most attractive.

      Given the strategic advantage it provides, it's hardly surprising that there have been settlements on this site since Roman times. Feudal lords built a castle here around the tenth century of which one tower still stands today. In the twelfth century Archbishop Konrad of Salzburg, the then feudal lord of Ptuj, ordered the construction of a new fortress; only the Leslijev wing of that construction can be seen today. The bulk of what visitors see today are the renaissance and baroque additions to the castle and the outward appearance of the castle is very much in the renaissance style seen throughout central Europe which British people tend to think of as more "grand house" than castle.

      Today Ptuj Castle is a museum and is part of the wider "Pokranjinski Muzej Ptuj" - a regional museum collection that includes a former prison, a former Dominican monastery and a Roman brick kiln. There are some excellent permanent collections but the superb quality of the temporary exhibitions means that there is always something worth making a return visit for; Ptuj is just a thirty minute bus ride from our place in Maribor and, as there are limited options on Sundays, we often jump on a bus to Ptuj for Sunday lunch and a walk round the castle. It's also somewhere we know we can take our visitors too because the varied range of exhibits means there's something for everyone.

      GETTING TO PTUJ CASTLE

      I'm going to imagine you've got yourself to Ptuj which, as it is off a motorway and has frequent train and bus connections with other parts of the country (it is also on the train line from Ljubljana to Budapest), is easy to reach, and give directions from the centre of Ptuj.

      The good thing is that the castle is easy to spot and so you can pretty much navigate a route up the hill without too much trouble. The winding route is well-signposted, however, so there is no excuse for getting lost.

      Most people seem to take the hillside walk but if you are a wheelchair user or have children in pushchairs you might find it easier to take the road which is less steep. If you take the path and need a rest there are plenty of benches along the way and, besides, this path gives some picturesque views of the red rooftops of the old town.

      What's especially nice is that with each new level the picture changes a little and, once you are right at the top, you also get to enjoy a view of the Drava river behind the town and beyond to the green countryside.

      When you get to the actual castle buildings at the top, you need to walk across the courtyard right over to the far corner to get to the ticket office. If you just want to wander around the complex but not go into any of the halls, then there is no charge.

      The standard admission price for adults is just 4 Euro which, given the extent of what's there to be seen is pretty good value. Children are admitted for just 2 Euro 50 making this a cheap day out so far. That gets you into all the collections; if you know in advance you just want to see, say, the musical instrument gallery, then you only pay 2 Euro. A joint ticket for all the sites belonging to the Regional Museum costs just 9 Euro so if you want to see several places in one day or are in town for a few days then this is incredible value. Guided tours are available and cost an extra 10 Euro per person (with a maximum of up to ten people in each tour) but really aren't necessary as this museum is well captioned in both Slovene and English. Tours can be taken in English, German, Italian and Slovene.

      A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CASTLE

      In the 11th century the town of Ptuj was governed by the Archdiocese of Salzburg who, in turn, rented out the castle to the Lords of Ptuj. In the three centuries that the Lords ruled, they established notable monasteries nearby as well as a pilgrimage church at Ptujska Gora (Ptuj Mountain). The Leslie family occupied the castle between 1656 and 1802 and its final inhabitants were the Herberstein family who lived there until the castle was taken over by the government to be nationalised in 1945. Much of the furniture that can be seen in the collections belonged to the Herberstein family.

      With each new "owner" the look and design of the building has altered tremendously over the centuries. The biggest change came in the 16th century when vast modifications were made in response to the threat from the Turks. The result is a galleried, three storey horseshoe-shaped building, with large halls on the lower floors and smaller, more personal residential quarters on the upper ones.

      THE COLLECTIONS

      While there are plenty of interesting things to see here, the types of collection are fairly typical of regional museums across Europe. There is one exhibition that is a collection of arms and armoury, another of ceramics, another which gives an overview of the region since feudal times. While these are interesting, they aren't especially original and if you travel a lot and visit a lot of these types of museum then you will find lots that you have seen before. If that sounds like a negative view then I am being unfair as there is lots that may interest some people but, to me, one set of Roman coins looks pretty much like any other.

      However, there are a few collections that are really quite special. In particular the Collection of Musical Instruments is worth a look and, with its interactive elements, this might appeal to children as you can press buttons on the panels next to various instruments and here what they sound like. There are military, ecclesiastic and orchestral/domestic instruments on display but the highlight is a selection of exquisite keyboard instruments made by esteemed instrument makers from the likes of Vienna and Prague. These are works of art so much as musical instruments and are constructed from beautiful fruit woods of wonderful hues.

      Another interesting collection with particular local relevance is the collection of glass painting. This type of painting was a traditional folk craft and the themes were almost entirely religious. These paintings would be found in peoples' homes from the 18th to the early twentieth century. While the paintings show some damage, the colours are, on the whole, still vibrant and the naive style is quite lovely.

      I loved the paintings in the "Representative Hall"; I could have spent a whole afternoon in this room enjoying these wonderful 17th century portraits of notable Turkish and European military commanders, Ottoman ladies in their fine robes and elegant headwear and people from exotic countries in traditional dress. There is also a striking portrait of Siegmund Herberstein wearing an embroidered silk coat that was given to him by Suleyman the Magnificent.

      Best of all is the "Kurent" exhibition. The Kurent festival takes place in an around Ptuj every February and people travel from all over the country to watch the parades and to see the wonderful costumes. The festival is a rural one and although the exact origins are not known, academics believe that it has Celtic and Illyrian connections. To be honest the figure of Kurent is quite fearsome, a big hairy creature with a deeply unpleasant face. It's meant to bring good luck and good crops; the idea is that they chase away the winter and welcome in the spring. If I was winter and confronted with one of these yetis, I'd be on me toes too! There are other costumes including one worn by a man that looks like he's carrying a woman and one worn by a woman that looks like she's carrying a man on her back.

      This exhibition displays and explains the wide variety of Kurent masks, they all make an appearance at the festival not just the local ones and they all have different stories behind them. This excellent collection is a brilliant explanation of the festival and the traditions behind it with lots of original costumes and photographs of participants in the festival from the nineteenth century to the present day.

      MY EXPERIENCE

      We spent a good half day on our first to the museum and really enjoyed it. Now we don't always go in but do like to at least make the climb if we are in Ptuj and in doing so, join lots of Slovenes who will climb any steep hill just because it's there. It's a good way of working up an appetite for lunch at one of the town's excellent gostilnas.

      There is an excellent variety of exhibits and the specialist rooms are worth seeing. The exhibits are brilliantly explained and many of the attendants speak English and are happy to answer questions regardless of whether you're on a guided tour.

      To see and really appreciate everything could take the best part of a day and if you want to do so you could have a picnic on the grass, go down one level to the ramparts and visit the cafe or go into town and eat there and come back and see more.

      A small gift shop/education centre shares premises with the ticket office and has a nice selection of souvenirs including some handmade models of Kurent masks. It also serves as a small tourist information office with plenty of leaflets on other local attractions.

      This is an excellent museum that I would recommend to anyone visiting Ptuj and the immediate area but do be sure to leave enough time to enjoy it properly.

      Opening hours

      October 15 - May 1 9 .00 - 17.00
      May 1 - October 15 9.00 - 18.00
      Saturdays and Sundays in July and August 9.00 - 20.00

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      The castle was constructed in the mid-12th century to defend against the Hungarians.