The first physical evidence of a medieval bridge known so far only from records was found during excavations along the Ljubanica River in the Slovenian capital.

Archaeologists excavated the renovation of the legendary Zlata Ladjica (Golden Ship) inn in Ljubljana’s old town, Jurcic Square, when they found the foundations of a former butchers’ bridge. The oldest indirect record of this bridge is a 1280 reference to the Old Bridge where the Triple Bridge is currently located. The mention of the old bridge means that by that time a new crossing had been built – the Butchers’ Bridge – as the Shoemakers’ Bridge now spans the Ljubljanica River.

According to Martin Horvat, archaeologist at Museums and Galleries in Ljubljana (MGML), the old bridge was probably made of pure wood initially, including bridgeheads on both banks. The bridgeheads discovered in recent months later, probably in the 14th century, were actually built of brick, while the bridge itself is probably still made of wood.

The wooden bridge was replaced in the second half of the 19th century by an iron bridge named after Mayor Johan Nepomuk Hradecky. The current crossing, the Shoemakers Bridge, was built in the 1930s on the site of the Hradecky Bridge, designed by world-renowned Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik, whose buildings in Ljubljana were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site last week.

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The Ljupanica bridges are named after the craft they pursued. Butchers’ chairs were running on the Butchers’ Bridge according to 16th century records, but they were banned in the early 17th century due to bad smell and water pollution. Later, other artisans, including shoemakers, occupied butchers’ shops, hence the name Shoemakers’ Bridge.

Excavations at Jurcic Square have included many other interesting finds, including remains of a Roman and medieval pavement, a 12th-century blacksmith’s shop, and massive sewers from the late 17th or early 18th century. During excavations on the other side of the golden ship, archaeologists anticipate other discoveries related to the forging and hope to dig additional piers from the Middle Ages and later.

According to Martin Horvat, this area, formerly Berg, was the main port of Ljubljana on the Ljubanica River, with warehouses and a customs house. The archaeologist hopes to find the foundations of the customs house, too.

(The opening image of our article is an illustration.)

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