top of page

Prison on a Hill

3:05 pm

Ljubljana Castle

Today marked the first time I’d ever been stuck in a castle. A rain started to fall in Ljubljana around 2:00 this afternoon and showed no signs of letting up. At this rate I may be here the next 3 days. Still, it'd be far less time than many before had spent behind these thick ominous walls.

Ljubljana Castle, or the "crown above the city," as it’s also known, was built 5 centuries ago. Over time it received its fair share of renovations and makeovers that would have made it a very popular medieval reality show.

When World War I broke out, the castle was used as a penitentiary for political prisoners and criminals. There were prominent Slovenians kept behind these walls as well. From mid-1915 it also turns out Italians counted for most of the prison’s POWS, many of which were allowed to participate in orchestras, theater groups, and painting studios thanks to Major Karl Knight of Dern. Let's call him the Slovenian P. Diddy.

As the years went on the castle grew indecisive, choosing one moment it wanted to be a prison and the next that penitentiaries were so not in style. I gathered it was run by men by its patent fear of commitment.

The first prisoners were brought in around 1815. They left, or were kicked out in 1849 when the space was converted into military barracks. Then in 1868 when the army left it became a prison again until 1895 when an earthquake struck, damaging the building so bad it could no longer house inmates. Finally, in 1914 they gave it the old college try, once again opening its doors for business.

Looking at the black and white photos of these men dating back to 1916, I couldn’t help but notice how young so many of them look. I wondered what they thought about, how they felt, what they’d done, where they came from, and if they had families. But mostly, I was curious about who they were. Here were hundreds of lost souls I would have known nothing about had I not schlepped up a steep hill an hour earlier. How many other stories will I fail to know in my lifetime despite my most earnest efforts? It's a daunting thought the castle and these men, now long gone, have given me to consider.

Thankfully the rain looks to be letting up and the sun shows signs of breaking through the headstrong clouds. It’s probably time for me to get out of here.

Danko, a 26-year old entrepreneur from Dubrovnik, Croatia told me: “Family is life. Family is most important. If you have all the money in the world, but not family it’s all for nothing.”

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page