Metelkova Mesto; the quirky independent district and street art of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Metelkova Mesto; the quirky independent district and street art of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Who would’ve guessed that the autonomous cultural centre of Ljubljana; Metelkova Mesto, was nestled just a stone’s throw from the traditional Medieval town.

The ancient city of Ljubljana still has its middle-ages charm. Overlooked by Ljubljana Castle, the historic buildings, open squares connected by narrow cobbled streets, dotted with Baroque churches with the River Ljubljanica flowing through; the nation’s capital could have come straight from a fairy tale. However, the city has a grittier facade. The Ljubljana street art scene is flourishing.

Metelkova City, the Republic of ROG as well as little pockets all over the Old Town are showcasing an alternative and feistier side to Ljubljana.

The independent district of Metelkova is just a short stroll from the picturesque Old Town, but enter it, and it feels like you’ve stepped into a bohemian playground. Street art dons every wall and building, strange, quirky and sometimes creepy sculptures hang of balconies and lurk in grassy areas. The area has its own unique identity.

If you’re looking for alternative places to visit in Ljubljana, then Metelkova Mesto is just that. It was fascinating to hear how it came about, meet some of the people who live there as well as learning about its importance to the Ljubljana street art scene.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a brew and let’s find out about Metelkova Mesto; the quirky independent district and the Ljubljana street art scene.

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Love street art? 

Here are some other great articles on street art you might be interested in.

Although you can visit Metelkova Mesto by yourself if you want a guide to explain more about the area and the history, check out these tours of Metelkova.

Not enough time to read about Metelkova Mesto and Ljubljana street art right now? No worries, why not pin it for later.

 
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

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The history of Metelkova Mesto

The full name of this area of Ljubljana is called the Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre (or Avtonomni Kulturni Centre Metelkova Mesto in Slovenian or AKC for short).

The building of the barracks dates back to 1882 and was initially used by the Austro-Hungarian army.

Eventually, the building became the headquarters and prison of the Yugoslav National Army, that was up until 1991 when communism fell and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. After that, the buildings were in line for demolition.

In September 1993, squatters moved into the abandoned buildings. The barracks became a home and meeting place for youths and young artists who called themselves the “Network for Metelkova”. The area got its name after a nearby street called Metelko Street (Metelkova Ulica in Slovenian). 

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

With the prospect of the buildings being demolished, the network of about 200 artists protested and asked for permission to keep the abandoned barracks. Their goal was to turn them into an artistic commune. Although permission was granted, the future of Metelkova was never 100% certain with the likelihood of selling the land for commercial use.

The people of Metelkova Mesto are passionately against the gentrification of the area, and you can see why. Surrounding the area are ultra-modern developments, which compared to Metelkova, have no soul about them. 

Today the seven buildings are run as an autonomous cultural centre. Metelkova it’s a little city within a city with its own rules. It’s become a centre for liberal thought and speech which appeals to creatives who enjoy the freedom to express their art (in sculpture, painting, spoken word etc.).

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

The area of Metelkova Mesto is divided between bars, clubs, studios for dance and music, art galleries and design studios. There are frequent pop-up flea markets and exhibitions here too as well as boasting Ljubljana’s most vibrant club scene after hours. More importantly, the area is still home to the people that live here.

Despite being granted permission to use the abandoned barracks to create an autonomous cultural centre, Metelkova’s future still wasn’t granted. Until more recently, it wasn’t recognised as a municipality of its own. The people living here even had to illegally siphon off water and power until more recent times.

Then, in 2005 Metelkova Mesto was officially recognised as part of the national cultural heritage, which thankfully has secured its future. And I’m glad. It really is a remarkable and thought-provoking little part of Ljubljana, it would have been detrimental to the city if it had been demolished.   

Although you can visit Metelkova by yourself if you want a guide to explain more about the area and the history, check out these tours of Metelkova.

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Things to see in Metelkova Mesto

When you visit Metelkova, be mindful that is a neighbourhood where people live.

This is literally a street artist’s playground. Every surface in this district has somehow been created into vibrant pieces of artwork. This ranges from brightly coloured graffiti, political messages talking about freedom to giant murals and sculptures of alien-like installations and everything in-between.

You’ll notice how many repurposed and salvaged items have been used. Mannequins are a common occurrence as are bike wheels, gears, tiles, ceramics and wooden panelling all in a myriad of bold colour and psychedelic patterning. 

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Metelkova is an absolute tease for the senses, there is so much to look at and then when you look again, there’s even more. You’ll also see the residents of the area, often outside in the central courtyards, on the balconies or sometimes working on artwork, other times just socialising. 

Walking around Metelkova, you almost forget that this was once the headquarters of the Yugoslav army along with barracks and a prison. I’ve visited abandoned soviet buildings before, and frequently they have an eerie feel to them. The feel of this area is polar opposite and a total middle-finger up to everything that this place once stood for.

During day time, the area is fairly subdued. However, after dark it attracts a mixed crowd, from different races and backgrounds, ranging from students to tourists to professionals all looking for a fun night out at the some of the most diverse underground music scenes in Ljubljana.

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

The Republic of Rog - The Old Bike Factory

A short distance from Metelkova Mesto is the Republic of Rog. Similarly, to Metelkova, the Rog factory was set for demolition.

This former factory is where Rog bicycles were made. Production of the bikes here started in 1953 until 1991 when the factory was closed. Again just like with Metelkova, with an uncertain future, a group of artists and activists took charge over the abandoned building, creating the Republic of Rog or the Autonomous Factory Rog. 

This became another venue in the city of Ljubljana for liberal thinking and art as well as a venue for events.  

The future of The Republic of Rog is still uncertain, the giant gun painted on the side of the wall and facing towards the city is a testament to this. In June 2016 construction crews entered the Rog building and tried to demolish the old factory. You can guess who won, the building is still here!

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Alike to Metelkova Mesto, it’s now a thriving area for artistic and free-thinkers with space inside the old factory put aside for galleries and artists studios. You’ll also find skate parks, social areas and space for concerts and night clubs here. The building hasn’t forgotten its roots either, look out for the one site bike repair shop.

Wandering around the grounds, you’ll probably meet some of the residents working on their artwork or sat about chatting. Like with Metelkova, it’s visually stimulating, not a single surface has been left without some type of artwork or sculpture on it.

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Street art in Ljubljana

Away from Metelkova and the old Rog Factory, Ljubljana has a thriving street art scene. Thankfully the aesthetic of the the old cobbled city centre hasn’t been affected. There are a few tasteful pieces dotted about, but the artists have kept their work away from the historic centre. However, if you head to some of the side streets or narrow alleyways, you’ll find tons of it.

Sometimes it’s a large mural and other times a discrete character. You’ll often see similar themes of a character, in particular there are loads of pieces based on cats and foxes.

On 2-6th July 2019, Ljubljana hosted its first International Street Art Festival, which brought together international and local artists, activists and academics. The event was called ‘Alternative Ljubljana’ and it’s goal was to get visitors to the city to ‘read the streets’ and participate in discussions, exhibitions and workshops based around street art whilst encouraging a new generation of street artists to keep street art alive in the capital.

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Where to stay in Metelkova

    • On a budget: Hostel Celica Art is THE ONLY place you’d want to stay in Metelkova Mesto. It’s also the only place I’m recommending. It’s located inside part of the old prison! So you’re right in the heart of the district. Literally spend a night behind bars! The prison has been beautifully renovated, so it’s light, airy and with tons of artwork about the place, however, it’s still kept some of the original features, like the prison doors! Even if you don’t stay here, just take a peek at it. Highly recommended. 
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Love street art? 

Here are some other great articles on street art you might be interested in.

Although you can visit Metelkova by yourself if you want a guide to explain more about the area and the history, check out these tours of Metelkova.

Pin it for later

If you loved reading about Metelkova Mesto, or know someone that will, then please like and share.

Or if you’re planning a trip to Slovenia, then why not pin it for future reference?

Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova
Metelkova Mesto the gritty underbelly of Slovenia & most visually stimulating district in Ljubljana. Find out more about Slovenia's most independent city and the street art in Ljubljana. Metelkova City is the cultural capital and hub of the Ljubljana street art scene. #Slovenia #Europe #StreetArt #Metelkova

Metelkova Mesto; the quirky independent district and street art of Ljubljana, Slovenia 2

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Becki from Meet Me In Departures

Adventure travel blogger with a big addiction to the World. An ex-rat-racer who was fed up with sleep-work-eat-repeat materialistic mentality that plagues modern living. I love anything to do with off-beat travel, abandoned places, temples & ruins, street art, wildlife in its natural habitat, adventure sport.....basically anything but the 9-5!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Street art tells you so much about the locals! Love it!

    1. It certainly does. The great thing with it is that it’s constantly evolving too. I’m sure lots of these pieces won’t be here in a few years time.

  2. Wow. Some beautiful and unique works here. I love it when creatives are allowed to contribute to the neighborhood. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Wow, this place sounds amazing! I visited Ljubljana years ago, but I don’t think I knew about Metelkova then. I love street art, and this makes me want to go back just to see it!

    1. It looks like you’re going back there then 🙂 It’s such a vibrant place, although with its recent addition to being a centre of culture, I wonder how full circle it will come in a few years time, and it will be a victim of its own success and be a super expensive hip place to go. Similar things have happened all over – Spitalfields in London is a prime example. Let’s hope it keeps its independence.

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