Heritage Preservation and Restoration in Slovenia

From Culture.si

History of institutions and legislation

The monument protection profession in Slovenia was formed within the Vienna Central Committee, where art historians were responsible for the protection of cultural heritage. In 1913, the Office for Kranjska or Carniola (the central and eastern part of Slovenia) was established. Between 1957 and 1980 the basic national institutions were set up. Throughout the 1990s, changes in the socio-political system gave heritage protection many opportunities, including the re-organisation of monument protection into a public service offering a uniform system of heritage protection, a clarification of the role of the state in heritage protection and the adoption of a mechanism to help private owners assert their public interest in the preservation of these monuments. Article 73 of the Constitution, which deals with national and cultural heritage, obliges each person, in accordance with the statute, to protect rare and precious natural areas, as well as structures and objects which form part of the national heritage. The State and local government bodies are also responsible for the preservation of such heritage.

In parallel with the monument protection service, the nature protection service was established under the Ministry of Culture where it stayed until 1994, when the nature protection service was placed under the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning. In 1995 the Culture and Media Inspectorate was established at the Ministry of Culture and the former Republic Institute for the Protection of the Natural and Cultural Heritage came under the Cultural Heritage Administration (1994) and Directorate for Cultural Heritage (2004) within the same Ministry. Today the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia [Zavod za varstvo kulturne dediščine Republike Slovenije (ZVKDS)] brings together art historians, archaeologists, architects, ethnologists, historians, landscape architects, sculptors, painters and many other experts, who work in the Institute's Cultural Heritage Service with the seven regional offices located across Slovenia and in its Conservation Centre with its Restoration and the Preventive Archaeology Centres. In 1999 the new Law on Cultural Heritage Protection clearly defined the administrative and professional functions of protection, especially in binding the rights and obligations of heritage owners to a legal document. In 2008 the Preservation of Cultural Heritage Act was adopted, which includes movable as well as non-movable and intangible cultural heritage, defining the tasks to be performed by public services concerning the preservation of cultural heritage and its executants. Museums are defined as the carriers of public services for the protection of movable and intangible heritage.

Preservation and restoration of the built heritage and monuments

The majority of funds are allocated to the restoration of the built heritage, and only a minimal amount goes to monument protection, research and restoration.

Religious architecture

In Slovenia the restoration of religious architecture subsumes around 42 per cent of the annual budget for heritage protection. Slovenia is known for the fact that every village has at least one church. These originate from the 13th to the 15th centuries, though most were subsequently renovated or enlarged, primarily in the Baroque period and also in the 19th century. However, an increasing number of archaeological discoveries are being made of even older building phases of churches that were founded during the conversion to Christianity between the 8th and 9th centuries on ancient religious sites. Another characteristic of these churches is the plethora of interior paintings, especially those from dating the Gothic period, when entire church interiors were painted, a trend continued in many places during the Baroque period. In Slovenia many Gothic frescos that were painted over during later periods wait to be uncovered and restored. The restoration of frescos is a skill which has been strongly developed within the Slovene restoration profession. Another special feature characteristic of Slovenia is the painted wooden ceiling, found mostly in smaller country churches.

Some recent examples of church architecture restoration funded by the Ministry of Culture have included the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Murska Sobota, the Church in Ordanci with its symbolic Slovene three-part bell tower, the Pilgrimage Church on Mount Oljka, the Church of Saint Servul in Socerb, some additional restoration in the Cathedral Saint George in Piran, and the refurbishment of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Vuzenica, the Church of Saint Mark in Vrba, the Memorial Church in Javorca above Tolmin and the Memorial Russian Church above Vršič. Restoration works were also finalised in the medieval interior of the pilgrimage church of Saint Martin in Domanjševci in the context of international collaboration in the project European Cultural Route Saint Martin de Tours within the Cultural Corridors of South East Europe Project of the European Council. Recently frescoes by Giulio Quaglio painted at the beginning of the 18th century on the ceiling of the Church of Saint Nicolas, Ljubljana Dome, were restored.

Castles and manors

One of the major problems for the monument protection service relates to castles and manors. Due largely to strategic considerations, Slovenia has many castles built chiefly along river valleys - the Sava, Drava, Krka, and so on - and Baroque mansions constructed in the lowlands. Since these are large architectural complexes, their renovation requires enormous funds, as well as a clear concept of future function and a vision of development (eg marketing). Many castles in Slovenia are still waiting to be restored. At present they can only be maintained, since only 20 per cent of the entire fund is available for this purpose. The restored castles and mansions serve chiefly as tourist attractions, museums and galleries. In recent years, the restoration of historical gardens and parks has also been revived.

During the period 2004-2006 the Ministry of Culture was included in the implementation of projects paid for from Structural Funds - within this framework, the restoration of five castles (Snežnik, Pišece, Negova, Grad and Negova) owned by the Republic of Slovenia is being financed.

Vernacular heritage

Another area is the vernacular heritage, which is rapidly disappearing. Its protection is quite complicated as it involves country buildings that the residents wish to adapt to accommodate modern standards of living or tear down. As elsewhere in northern and eastern Europe, an idea has been set in motion on the formation of open museums. Currently there are four open museums in different regions of Slovenia. The conservators have managed to protect larger settlements such as the Alpine dairy settlements, village centres, and individual buildings within villages and squares. In 2006-2007 the Ministry of Culture allocated approximately 20 per cent of its funds for the restoration of this type of heritage, which frequently includes technical and memorial heritage (including mills, sawmills and houses where important people were born). Past restoration projects include the large labour army barracks in Stara Sava in Jesenice, the Mansion Strmol in Rogatec and the Kanomeljske klavže above Spodnja Idrija.

Urban heritage

In the 1970s the restoration of medieval town centres flourished. Architects, urban planners and ethnologists formulated studies on restoration, and by the 1980s an intensive restoration of the medieval towns of Maribor, Ptuj, Celje, Škofja Loka, Radovljica, Piran and others took place. The movement paused with the introduction of the new social system and different property relations in the 1990s. There is now a need for another revival of activities in the area of urban restoration.

Conservation and restoration studios in the museums

The National Museum of Slovenia is one of a handful of Slovene museums known for its respectable restoration practices, which are made possible by a strong team of professionals and the most complete and up-to-date equipment. Other museums providing quality work in individual areas or covering specific materials include the Goriška Museum in ceramics, Ptuj Regional Museum in textiles, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum for wood, and the City Museum of Ljubljana, which opened the Ščit - Conservatory Centre of the City Museum of Ljubljana in 2001. It is precisely in the field of restoration and preservation that most museums indicate their interest in international co-operation in the form of internship and study.

Monument sculpture

In 2006 the large altar by the Venetian-born sculptor and architect Francesco Robba (1698–1757) in the Ursuline Church in Ljubljana was restored, and after several years' work a copy of Robba's Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers in front of Ljubljana City Hall was unveiled. The original is permanently exhibited at the National Gallery of Slovenia. Robba created the fountain between 1743 and 1751, and modelled it on the famous Roman fountains. The sculptures of the three river gods decorating it most probably represent three rivers in the then province of Carniola, namely the Sava, the Ljubljanica and the Krka.

Archaeological conservation

Archaeological conservationists also play an important role in the monument protection service. Their activities are focused on protective excavations and the preservation of archaeological sites. With the building of motorways in Slovenia, a significant number of archaeologists have been assigned to protective excavations (Group for Archaeology on Motorways of the Republic of Slovenia), carried out from 1994, archaeological excavations and research work on motorway. Special agreements with the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning ensure the possibility of protective excavations, influencing the layout of new motorways and covering the costs of the excavations. At present work connected with the construction of motorways occupies the largest part of the monument protection profession in Slovenia. The archaeologists have been active also in the area of medieval archaeology. Apart from castle excavations, emphasis has been placed on excavations in urban centres, since most medieval towns were built over the remains of older ones.

European Heritage Days

With the support of the European Union, Slovenia joined the European Heritage Days (EHD were initiated in 1984) in 1991 when the Council of Europe officially instituted the project. In 1992 Slovenia hosted a resounding event entitled Baroque Monuments in Slovenia. In the years which followed, Slovene EHD projects focused on further current themes: the Roman Army in Slovenia (1993), Vernacular Architecture in Slovenia (1994), Historic Parks and Gardens in Slovenia (1995), the Cultural Heritage of Monastic Orders (1996), the Architecture of the Vienna Secession in Slovenia (1997), Medieval Towns (1998), Cultural Routes (1999, 2000) and the 20th Century: Architecture from the Modern to the Contemporary (2001).

In 2002 the topic of Industrial Heritage and in 2003 that of Archaeological Sites were tackled by the EHD programme, both of great importance for Slovenia. Meanwhile, all around the country at building sites for the new motorways, new archaeological findings were being discovered.

In 2005 Slovenia joined a Festival of European Heritage Days held in 48 countries - signatories of the Council of Europe's European Cultural Convention - but this time with a series of events focusing on intangible heritage. The coastal town of Piran provided a venue for the start of the events, which enabled the visitors to get to know the town's rich cultural heritage. According to Janez Bogataj, one of the greatest connoisseurs of Slovene heritage, the 'spiritual culture' comprises customs, beliefs, language, reading, fine arts from a functional perspective, music, dance, theatre, leisure, sources of knowledge, healing practices, the awareness of history and technical knowledge. Special issues in intangible heritage include indigenous ethnic groups and the heritage of Slovenes abroad.

Slovene European Heritage Days in 2006 were dedicated to castles, fortresses and city walls, and in 2007 a series of events was focused on Slovene legendary architect Jože Plečnik (1872–1957). The programme in 2009 was dedicated to the Heritage, Creativity and Innovation, and in 2010 the common theme was Cultural Heritage and Prosperity, both followed by pan-European campaigns.

Public response to EHD projects both in Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe has increased each year, along with the number of participants and partners. All the European Heritage Days events have been accompanied by studies and publications in Slovene and in English translation.