Emona - Ljubjana
Cities, Towns and Hamlets


Remains of the city walls of Æmona.

Colonia Iulia Æmona

On the territory of the present Ljubljana, the Romans built first a military encampment around the year 50 BC in an territory that was already populated by ancient settlers of uncertain origin. In 14-15 AD a Roman castrum was founded and called Colonia Iulia Æmona - Emona or Æmona for short - possibly by the XV Legio Apollinaris (theory proposed by the noted historian and epigraphy expert Balduin Saria). Its location overlaps with the Southwest part of the old nucleus of the modern city of Ljubljana, capital of present-day Slovenia, where numerous remains of Emona can still be seen today (substantial parts of the ancient city walls, most of which were destroyed in 1963, several mosaics, parts of the paleochristian baptistry, residential houses, statues, tombstones etc.).

As a strategic stronghold playing an important role in numerous wars, Emona was fortified with strong walls. It had a population of 5,000 to 6,000 people, mostly merchants and craftsmen, including a number of government officials and war veterans. Its streets were paved. The houses were brick built, centrally heated and connected to a public sewage system. Their walls were plastered and painted in different colours, and their floors covered in mosaics. Emona was, among other things, an important Early Christian centre [see Letters 11 and 12 of St. Jerome] with a flourishing trade. It had its own goddess, Equrna, worshipped at the Ljubljana Marshes.

Reconstruction map of Emona.

The town was situated on the flat terrain of the so called Ljubljana Gate, a natural passage between the Castle Hill (Grad) and the Šišenski hrib hill, and an important transit route from Central Europe to the Mediterranean.

The ground plan of the town of Emona was rectangular, measuring 523 by 435 metres. It was divided by a grid of five or seven perpendicular streets called cardines and decumani, and fortified with a town wall with a number of towers and a moat. Underneath the streets there was the cloaca, the city's system of large sewer pipes discharging into the Ljubljanica river. The town fell into decline around the year 600 AD, with the arrival of Slavs, who started the settlement which subsequently developed into the medieval Ljubljana.

Æmona was, along with Nauportus, Celeia and Poetovio, one of the main cities on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Formerly, it was assumed to have been a part of the Roman province of Pannonia. However, recent research seems to indicate that Æmona was actually the easternmost city of the Roman empire proper.

After few months of occupation in 388, the citizens of Æmona saluted Emperor Theodosius I entering the liberated city after the victorious Battle of the Save where Theodosius I defeated the army of Roman usurper Magnus Maximus.

In 452, Æmona was virtually destroyed by the Huns, led by Attila. Its remaining inhabitants fled the city; some of them made it to the coast of Istria where they founded a "second Emona", Æmonia, now the town of Novigrad (It. Cittanova, meaning "New City"), in the part of Istria that is now in Croatia.

The Remains of the Early Christian centre

The Early Christian Centre was situated on one of the Roman Emona's building plots, which usually measured from 3,000 to 3,600 square metres and were demarcated by four roads. The Centre was located in the vicinity of the Forum and the western town wall, the remains of which have been preserved in the Erjavčeva cesta road over the way from the Cankarjev dom cultural and congress centre. Like most of the houses in Emona, the building, which has been referred to by archaeologists as Insula No. 32, was originally private property and was only later converted into a public complex. The remains of the building's foundations and its pavement date from the 1st century AD, the period when the town had been originally built. The first extensive renovation of the building took place at the beginning of the 4th century. The renovated pavement and the newly built pools indicate that the building was turned into public baths.

Remains of the town centre, Aemona (above and detail below)

In the second half of the 4th century, a colour mosaic featuring Early Christian symbols was laid along the northern façade of the building. According to written sources, at the beginning of the 5th century the building was renovated and converted into a parish complex. The renovation included the installation of central heating. A rectangular baptistery with a small pool was built by the central courtyard, and south of it a large portico (covered walk) with a colour mosaic, which has been sufficiently preserved to reveal the name of its maker, Archdeacon Antiochus. The parish complex was pulled down at a time unknown.

The remains of the main northern gate

Located beneath the present Slovenska cesta road is the old Roman main road (via Gemina) which used to connect the town of Emona with the provinces of Norik and Pannonia. On view in the passageway beneath the Slovenska cesta road, just off the Kongresni trg square, is a restored part of the Northern Town Gate. The premises where the remnants of the ramparts, a tower and the entrance are situated, currently house the Bukvarna antiquarian bookshop. Due to its position, the Northern Town Gate was probably the most exposed entrance to the town of Emona, which therefore saw a number of important historical events.

The Roman wall at the Mirje District

According to an inscription found next to the eastern town gate of Emona, which was located at the present site of the Trg francoske revolucije square, the Emona town wall was built between the years 14 and 15 AD. Measuring 2.4 metres wide and from 6 to 8 metres high, it was built around the town centre in the shape of a regular rectangular. Included in the wall were at least 26 towers and four main entrances. The town was on the northern, southern and western sides additionally secured by double moats, while the eastern side was naturally secured by the slope of the Castle Hill descending towards the Ljubljanica river.

The wall shell was built from carved stone slabs bound with mortar, while the core of the wall consisted of a conglomerate of river pebbles, smaller rocks, sand and lime. The wall structure was so solid and robust that certain parts of the wall survived for as long as 2,000 years. The inside of the wall shell is visible in the Mirje district, where the part of the wall to the south of the main southern gate is located. Some of the side gates were for security reasons walled up already back in Roman times to ward the invading barbarian tribes off the town. One of the preserved gates of the kind makes the part of the western wall situated in the Mirje district.

The Roman Wall complex in the Mirje district was during the 1930s renovated by architect Jože Plečnik. His works at the complex include the stone pyramid, the wall superstructure, the entrances to the arched vault, which was on the outside covered in stone remnants of the Roman buildings found in the vicinity of the wall, and the park stretching alongside the inner part of the wall. Also the colonnade situated next to the main southern gate is of non-Roman origin. Another renovation of the Roman Wall took place in the 1990s.

The northern burial ground and the statue of the Emonian

Situated just off the Slovenska cesta road, next to the entrance to the passageway between the Kongresni trg and the Plečnikov trg squares, is a gilded copy of a bronze statue representing a Roman dignitary. In Roman times a burial ground stood in the place of the present statue. Following the Roman tradition, the burial grounds of Emona were situated outside the town walls. They stretched alongside most of the main roads leading to town, in the north all the way to the present Ljubljana Fairgrounds (Gospodarsko razstavišče). The graves were marked with names engraved on tombstones and sometimes the statues of the deceased. The Statue of the Emonian is one of the most important remains of the Roman times ever found in Slovenia.

The original Statue of the Emonian, which was in 1835 excavated from a site next to the Kazina building, has been kept at the National Museum of Slovenia. The statue had been buried together with the cremated remains of the deceased and a number of objects indicative of the fact that he was a distinguished citizen of Emona who lived at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, during the rule of Emperor Trajan. On view next to the column supporting the statue are a Late Antique sarcophagus and the remains of a wall of a building.

Sources:

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emona
  • http://www.ljubljana.si/en/sights/roman_ljubljana/default.html

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Created: Sunday, October  21, 2007; Last Updated: Saturday, September 07, 2013
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