Ptuj – history and sights

Ptuj, an architectural chronicle at the crossroads of sunny Italy and the vastness of the Pannonian lowland, Alpine valleys and the expanse of the Balkans, begins its story in the distant Late Stone Age. From the very beginning, its fate was determined due to its important position predicting that Ptuj would be involved several times in historical events of European importance. And that is why Ptuj, the most picturesque continental town in Slovenia, nowadays boasts the richest heritage of the past. A logical consequence of these exceptional natural features was the development of a strategically and economically important settlement with a communication function at the river crossing of the amber-road. The settlement often played a significant historical role in the fields of politics and administration, as well as in the fields of arts and culture.

In the Late Iron Age this area was settled by the Celts who co-created the later Noricum and who gradually urbanised their settlement. Soon after the beginning of the last century BC, their emerging state formation started to fall under the Roman political and economical influences which turned by the end of the century into a more or less peaceful occupation. Right opposite the settlement of the indigenous people on the south river bank the Romans set up a military camp destined to be a starting point for conquering West Pannonia. Those events and all the changes caused by them resulted in an increase in trade and therefore in new prosperity of the old settlement.

Roman writers, starting with Tacitus, often mentioned Ptuj in connection with important events, ranging from the election of Vespasian to emperor in the year 69 AD, to the political activities of the grandfather of the last West Roman emperor, Romulus, who was deposed in the year 467 AD. These records started the historical period of Ptuj, which became around 103 AD a self-governing unit called COLONIA ULPIA TRAIANA POETOVIO. It reached its greatest extent in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, was burnt down by the Huns in 450, but lived through it, and maintained, although occasionally, a fortified passage across the River Drava up to about 570 AD. This was the year of the occupation by the Avars and Slavs who took over, together with its settling tradition, also its name. Their settlement was so intensive that nowadays Ptuj boasts the most important early medieval site in Slovenia, the findings of which cover the time span between the 8th and the 11th centuries.

The destruction of the Avar state at the end of the 8th century caused the Drava Region, including Ptuj, to become part of the Frankish state. Due to the traditional and very important river passage, the occupation of the Franks was immediately followed by the revitalisation of the settlement that belonged to the Lower Pannonian margraves – princes Pribinus and Cozilis between 840 and 874, whereas between 874 and 890 it gradually passed to the immunity ownership of the Salzburg archdiocese.

Ptujski grad_small

Between 977 and 1555, the town was owned by the Salzburg archdiocese and later on by the sovereign prince. In 1487, Ptuj was visited by Paolo Santonino, the chancellor of Aquileia, who wrote: “In the years of rich harvest the Ptuj area, however, has bread, wine and meat in abundance, since at that time you can get two young well-fed bulls for four ducats, while two loaves of bread, soft and light as a feather and so white that I have never seen whiter before, are sold for a soldo.

The loss of the function of the main border fortress, great fires in 1684, 1705, 1710 and 1744, as well as other hardships ended up by turning Ptuj into an average provincial town. The loss of importance was, however, not continuous as the town experienced occasional rises. Like in 1740, for example, with increased trade with liberated Hungary and Slavonia. Gradually, the school system, the military, leather industry, wine wholesale trade, railway and road traffic, and the beginnings of a purposeful tourist activity became familiar in the town.

Links to video Ptuj and its surroundings.