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Discover Metelkova, an Alternative Side of Ljubljana in Slovenia

Presenting an alternative side of Ljubljana, Metelkova comprises an autonomous social and cultural centre. Once part of former military barracks, Metelkova has since transformed into a daring in-your-face explosion of cultural and artistic expression.

In 1882, the area of Metelkova contained multiple military barracks and a prison. When Yugoslavia was formed, the Yugoslav National Army took over these barracks and used them until Slovenia’s independence in 1991. When this happened, the Metelkova community hoped that the barracks would be converted into a multicultural centre.

However, the city’s government did not respond swiftly and eventually decided to demolish the place in 1993. A group of 200 supporters decided to take action to protect the barracks; various artists actually started staying in the barracks in the hope that their presence will prevent the buildings from being destroyed.

Metelkova consists of seven buildings over an area of 12, 500 square metres. It’s also home to Hotel Celica, a prison-turned-hotel. More on this later!

Metelkova plays host to numerous clubs hosting underground DJs from all around the world. Art performances are also a regular occurrence in the area. In fact, the programme changes every night of the week!

Every year, Metelkova hosts more than 1, 500 alternative events in its buildings, most of which are illegally occupied.

Metelkova undergoes constant change, with new graffiti murals popping up each day. Graffiti covers every inch of the buildings, culminating in a grungy, rebellious and psychedelic vibe that hovers over the place.

Various sculptures can be found on the compound as well, such a giant spider made out of metal.

While Metelkova is reminiscent of Denmark’s Christinana, the residents of Metelkova wish to operate differently – without any violence or drugs, instead focusing solely on alternative art and culture.

The artists have no intention to challenge or undermine Ljubljana’s authority; they simply wish to continue using the space for free creative expression as well as the exchange of artistic ideas. As such, the government often glosses over the illegal occupation of the buildings and unlicensed sale of alcohol. It’s all about the bigger picture!

Metelkova is also home to Hotel Celica, which was formerly a military prison. After multiple attempts by the Metelkova community to preserve the area, the city finally approved plans to turn part of the barracks into a youth hostel. Hotel Celica was hence born in 2001 and welcomed their first guests in 2003!

Hotel Celica offers an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime experience, where guests can stay in actual prison cells. The original prison bars on the windows and doors of the cells have also been retained.

Hotel Celica wanted to give each cell a story of its own; hence, a collaboration among 80 artists and volunteers from all over the world gave birth to each of the 20 cells having their own unique design and decoration. Some were even converted to a 2-storey loft! However, guests are unable to choose their desired cells and are only assigned one at the time of booking. This draws a parallel with how prisoners could not choose their cells back when the hotel was still a prison, which adds to the authenticity of the whole experience!

In fact, the artistic side of the hotel also culminates in an array of cultural events held every week, ranging from live concerts and cocktail theme nights to outdoor barbecues in the summer. The hotel’s art gallery also offers a new exhibition every two weeks, on top of poetry readings, literary discussions and more.

The hotel’s basement contains the ‘Museum of Confinement’, which preserved the prison’s original solitary cells. These solitary cells are located directly underneath the ‘Point of Peace’, the hotel’s only jail cell that had the bars removed from its doors and windows. The ‘Point of Peace’ is a symbol of acceptance, which the hotel strives to embody in all that it does. 

The placement of the ‘Museum of Confinement’ and ‘Point of Peace’ in a direct vertical line symbolises “how the old prison building opens itself from its darkest corner into its lightest point”.

Part of the original prison building has also been preserved. If you wish to simply pop in for a look without staying the night, guided tours are available at 2pm daily. Simply go up to the front desk and enquire with the staff!

Interestingly, Metelkova stands in stark contrast with the image of Ljubljana, yet seems to exist in perfect harmony with the rest of the city. It can be reached via a 15-minute walk from Preseren Square. Pay it a visit and see for yourself!

Read: Things to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia

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