All about Slovenia’s oldest town.
Ptuj is a small town located in the neck of our Slovenian chicken, which has the honour of being Slovenia’s oldest documented town and also the town my grandmother was from. It can demonstrate unbroken settlement continuity since the Roman times, although the area has been inhabited as far back as the 3000 B.C..
The town is located on the banks of the large Drava river, at the crossroads of several historical merchant roads. The Celts lived there in the late Iron Age, but Ptuj first made it on to the world map with the arrival of the Romans. Poetovio, as it was known, had about 30.000 people and was one of the most important Roman army camps at the time, similar to Emona (today’s Ljubljana). After the fall of the Roman empire it was settled by the Slavs and regained it’s importance as a trade town in the Middle Ages.
Some of Ptuj’s most important buildings date back to that time, as the Church of St. George, the Dominican and the Minorite monasteries, which you can now visit and host events, were built in the 13th century. The town also got it’s city rights soon after. Due to its location, Ptuj was at the forefront of defence against the Turks during the time of the Ottoman empire and lost some of its former splendour due to fires and fighting. However, it bounced back by the 19th century when the first tourism efforts began: Ptuj was known for its rich, particularly Roman history, as well as good wine and baths in the Drava river (Terme Ptuj are still a popular spa restort today).
Impressions of Ptuj
Today Ptuj is a small, quaint and surprisingly interesting town with a huge ethnographic attraction: the annual Carnival festival called Kurentovanje. Kurentovanje is the local Carnival (or Pust as it is known in Slovenia) celebration and it’s one of the best and biggest in Slovenia. It is named after Kurent, the traditional Pust character, which is essentially a giant sheepskin wearing demon mask. Kurents always appear in groups for the added dramatic effect and jump around ringing their bells loud enough to scare away winter and bring spring into the lands, which is exactly the point of Pust.
The entire town is decorated during the festival and they host different cultural events for a month, so the whole thing is pretty crazy. My friends and I went for a road trip to attend one of those events and you can read my post about Kurentovanje and all its cultural heritage value here. In fact, the festival is so important that it made it on to the UNESCO list, and so crazy that it was named as one of the 10 best Carnivals to attend in the world by Lonely planet, so the people of Ptuj really aren’t messing around.
The old part of the Ptuj city centre with its red-tiled roofs is beautiful and full of small art shops and cafes. The town is also surprisingly alive compared to other small Slovenian towns and it was nice to see that the prices are still a bit cheaper than in Ljubljana and other large towns, even though we were there during Carnival time. We treated ourselves to a coffee in the cafe of Ptuj’s fancy hotel Mitra, where they roast their own coffee and they even have a couple of old Roman stones associated with Mithraism, the Roman mystery cult of the god Mithra (Ptuj has 2 preserved shrines – Mithraeums).
Hotel Mitra cafe
Other notable cafe/food places would be Teta Frida at the main square with amazing cakes and ice cream and the Amadeus restaurant with rolled dumplings (štruklji) and a cat. Naturally, Ptuj is still known for its wine cellars, so here’s an official list of other culinary and wine spots, since I’m not a wine lover myself.
As for the general Ptuj attractions, all you need to do is walk through the old city centre, it’s an experience in itself. You’ll see plenty of historically important buildings and monuments: the town hall is super Vienna old school, the Church of St. George and the monasteries I mentioned earlier, the Drava tower, an old defence tower in the city wall and home to an art gallery, and the Ptuj castle, which houses a local history museum. You can also learn more about Kurents and their associated cultural heritage at the local tourist information centre. Also, in the summer Ptuj transforms back into Poetovio for a few days with the Roman games and related events.
Sunset at Ptuj castle
Ptuj is pretty small, so unless you’re planning to check out every museum, a one day visit is sufficient to see most of it. However, it does have a certain charm, so if you have time to stay for longer you can also visit the decrepit Turnišče castle, lake Ptuj (Slovenia’s largest lake and home to tons of birds) or hike up to Ptujska gora mountain, which has a church on the top.