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The Butcher's Bridge (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

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Historic bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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      13.09.2011 22:49
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      The newest bridge across the Ljubljanica

      The Butchers' Bridge is one of the newest landmarks in Ljubljana but it has quickly become one of the most popular, not just with tourists but with people who live in the city. The bridge is yet another one to span the Ljubljanica and it is situated approximately halfway between the Dragon Bridge and the Triple Bridge, more specifically linking the northern embankment, the Petkovskovo Nabrezje, with a gap between the two colonnaded buildings of the central market.

      When Joze Plecnik designed the central market it was his intention that there should be a bridge at this spot but this was never realised because of the outbreak of World War Two. It was not until the early nineties that the idea was revived and a decision had to be made whether to build the bridge according to Plecnik's original design, or to choose a new one; in the end it was decided to use a new design (partly because, I believe, the original design contravened a planning law that had since been enacted) but the project wasn't officially launched until 2009.

      Ljubljana is a small city and it is no hardship, if you're standing between the Dragon Bridge and the Triple Bridge, to walk to either one to cross the river. The Ljubljanica is not very wide either so a grand design would not only be unnecessary, but more than a tad over the top. The Butchers' Bridge is a rather modest thing of simple design although it does have the novelty factor of the outer footways being made from reinforced glass so you can see the water below your feet. The main central walkway is grey granite.The sides of the bridge are just a few lines of twisted cable and the construction is very simple. The design is by Slovenian firm 'Atelier arhitekti'.

      It's the "extras" that provide the talking points. There are a series of sculptures by renowned Slovenia artist Jakov Brdar (there are examples of his work in the park at the eastern end of Lake Bled) at the northern end of the bridge and on the handrail that runs along it. While they are all striking in their own way, I can't say that I like them all and I don't really get the choice of subject matter - I understand the rationale the artist has used, but I don't necessarily think that it works in this context.

      According to articles in newspapers and design journals the sculptures are meant to tell a story. There's a life size sculpture of Prometheus, punished by having been disembowelled for spreading the knowledge of the power of fire to mankind; I'm clearly missing something because I can't work out why that would fit in with a bridge built by a meat market.

      Then there's a depiction of Adam and Eve, banished from Paradise for having been tempted by the serpent to try the apple. I heard that it's deliberate that this statue faces towards the cathedral and while this makes sense, I still haven't worked out why this subject would be placed in this location. Finally there's an interpretation of the Satyr being started by the serpent, another mythical tale that is full of drama but seems odd in this context. I much prefer the little quirky sculptures on the handrail of the bridge and on the footway. These are 'grotesques', stylised and slightly evil looking frogs and shellfish.

      The thing people most associate with the Butchers' Bridge is something that is not actually part of the design. Soon after it opened, loved up couples started to attached customised (usually with their initials or names written on, sometimes spray painted or decorated with fake jewels or little heart shaped decals) padlocks to the cables of the bridge; if you've been to Paris you may have seen something similar on the Pont des Artes (this also happens in Pecs in Hungary, and on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence; it also used to happen in Moscow but the authorities have now prevented couples attaching locks to the Luzhkov Bridge by adding some thick iron bars). Some people have even attached their padlocks to some of the animal sculptures. I love the way that something that was never intended to be here has become the thing that most visitors stop to look at; it makes the bridge a very democratic piece of architecture that feels very much as if it belongs to the people of Ljubljana.

      The bridge is also democratic in that is has not only pedestrian and bicycle section but also dedicated ramps (that is separate from the ones for cyclists) for wheelchairs and prams. At the southern end you can go down the ramp to the basement of the market hall and out to the little jetty which is the only one in town that provides wheelchair access to boats.

      Although there have been tables outside the cafes on this part of the river front all the time I've been visiting Ljubljana, this part seems to me busier than it used to be. Perhaps having an additional crossing point brings more people to this spot. The Premier Bar is hardly different from the many other bars in the area but it is very popular and the place for al fresco drinking on a warm summer's evening. If you've been in Slovenia a while and have tired of the usual Lasko or Union beers, you should stop here to try a pint of one of the Humanfish beers, made at a microbrewery in the town of Slovenj Gradec near the Austrian border.

      Alternatively, an interesting place to sit is just a little way along the northern bank towards the Triple Bridge. Look out for the couple of steps that lead to a riverside arbour, just a few covered steps, really, perched on the bank but a shady place on a hot day and a place that gives a rather different perspective on the Butchers' Bridge.

      The Butchers' Bridge is a wonderful addition to Ljubljana's collection of quite individual river crossings. I can't say I love all of the sculptures but I love the addition of the padlocks and I can never resist stopping to see who has been adding another. Maybe I'll add my own next time.

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