History of Jewish Ljubljana

History of Jewish Ljubljana

11 Jul 2016


The first written records of Jewish presence in Ljubljana are found in Valvasor’s Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (1689).

According to Valvasor, the Jews settled in Ljubljana several years prior to the year 1213 in which they allegedly rebuilt and refurbished the old synagogue. This would imply that it had been probably built a few years earlier. However, Valvasor did not quote his source, so it remains unknown how he obtained this information. The historian Milko Kos believed that Valvasor’s reference was unreliable, possibly even invented, and pointed out that the oldest reliable and verifiable information dates to the year 1327.

In 1327 the Jews were granted a privilege by the counts of Gorizia, which was administratively valid for the entire land of Carniola and dominions in Carinthia.

The Duke of Carinthia and the Czech and Polish king allowed a group of Jews from Cividale and Gorizia in modern Italy to settle in Ljubljana and engage in commerce and banking. In Ljubljana they ran a bank which gave its population mortgage loans and looked after the needs of financially vibrant Gorizia administration in the first half of the 14th century. In Ljubljana, the Jews settled in Novi trg (New Square) which had been, according to Valvasor, laid out about the year 1200.

According to Kos, this information is disputable and also open to debate. In his view, Jewish settling is of a later date, since the very name of the square (New Square) implies that it was built prior to 1243, when Ljubljana acquired town privileges. If this part of Ljubljana had been older, it would have been probably named New Town (rather than New Square). By 1228 this town part had been populated by the Knights of the Cross, i.e. members of a Teutonic Order. Other residents of Novi trg included the Jews and later on the members of nobility.


It is interesting to note that several other authors, especially those of Jewish origin, refer in their writings and discussions to the settlement of the Jews in Ljubljana in connection with the year 1213. This suggests that they were not suspicious of Valvasor’s initial reference to the Jews. Still, they did not manage to substantiate Valvasor’s claim with any reliable data. For instance, Lavoslav Šika in his article Jews and Slovenes stated as follows:

"It took Jews eons before they finally built a great synagogue in Ljubljana. The old house of prayer was obliterated by a fire in 1213. It was after the fire that the Jews, who had resided in the lands ruled by Carniolan and Carinthian dukes since time immemorial, built a magnificent Beth Midrash to praise their one and only God, which was much discussed among the entire Jewry.”

The Jews settled in one part of Novi trg only, which is nowadays known as Židovska ulica and Židovska steza (Jewish Street and Jewish Lane). Although the names have been preserved to this day, the area has undergone significant architectural changes.

The modern layout and appearance of these two streets dates from the 17th century. According to the findings by Vlado Valenčič, Jewish residence was not limited to these two streets (which were named after the Jews only after their expulsion). Some Jews lived in near proximity to the area.

Jewish residential area was bounded on the east side by the Ljubljanica river. In the north it was parted from the rest of the town by a town wall built between the river and the modern University of Ljubljana administration building, i.e. the former Vice Duke’s palace.

"They live in a cramped ghetto. ... They have water at one end, and a short section of the town wall at the other end that they have to maintain and repair; at its northern end the wall separates them from the Teutonic knights at the Fištam gate; a narrow Jewish lane runs westwards... The town wall was first mentioned in 1339. The Jews had to build it themselves and also had to look after its upkeep and repair. The construction of the wall, however, may not have been associated with defense purposes solely. Its function was to keep the Jews to some degree isolated from the rest of the town population, as was already the case in other towns. During the Turkish invasions it was of a great importance to avail of a strong town wall. In 1478 the Emperor issued a decree stipulating that residents living in the perimeter of 4 miles around Ljubljana are obliged to help the townspeople build the outer walls along the Ljubljanica river. This served as a sharp reminder to the Jews to repair and reinforce their stretch of the town wall, spanning form the Vice Duke’s palace in Novi trg to the tower next to the river.”

The war with the Turks had almost depleted the imperial coffers, which is why the Emperor called for a 300-farthing war tax against the Turkish army, payable by every person of the Jewish faith.


In 1215, at the 4th Lateran council canons that regulated relations between Christians, the rulers of the lands and the Jews were issued. The rulers of the lands implemented these canons in their legislature with a varying degree of severity.

One of the reasons for the legislation of these canons was to restrain social interaction and contacts between the Jewish and Christian population. The Jews were allowed to interact with the Christians only on business terms, when it came to the exchange of goods between traders and craftsmen. The Jews and the Christians were prohibited to marry (this ban was derived from the Jewish religious rules). Also, the Jews were not allowed to employ the Christians, or to occupy any positions in public or professional life, which would make Christians their subordinates. In order to stand out in appearance from the rest of the population, the members of the Jewish faith were required to wear distinguishable clothing and special badges on their outer garments.

The enforcement of these rules was variable from country to country.

In France and Germany the Jews were required to wear a yellow round badge on their outer garments, in Italy they had to wear a yellow cone-shaped hat, and in England a piece of saffron-coloured cloth. When Josip Mal described how in medieval Ljubljana the residents were made to be differentiated according to their appearance, he also made a brief mention of the Jews, who were made instantly recognized by their pointed hats.

"The difference between classes was required to be made evident on the outside: each class, nobleman, burgher, craftsman, apprentice, priest, monk, student and soldier observed a special dress code so that everyone immediately knew who they were dealing with .... The Jews had to be made distinguishable from these classes; hence they were required to wear cone-shaped pointed hats.”

When describing Jewish appearance and attire, Travner was even more accurate and meticulous, stating that they wore long robes, with yellow pieces of cloth on their backs, while they covered their heads with tall yellow hats, and carried compulsory sticks in their hands. Similarly, the Jewish liturgy was required to undergo many restrictions imposed by ecclesiastical rulers. The Jews were granted permission to maintain their existing synagogues, but were banned from building new ones. If they did succeed in obtaining a building permit to build a new synagogue, it was not allowed to have any visual distinction in terms of decoration or style. We can conclude that in terms of social context, the Jews in the medieval period were not a separate ethnic or religious community, but a special class with no civic rights.

Continue to pt. 2 »

Author: Mihaela Hudelja, translated from Slovenian by Tina Mahkota

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