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The artistic mini-city inside an abandoned military barracks

When first confronted with the wildly garish, conspicuous complex of mechanised structures in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, you might struggle to define what you’re looking at.

The distinctive urban village known as Metelkova Mesto (Metelkova City) is an autonomous centre of culture, housed inside a former military barracks. 

When I first saw photos of Metelkova Mesto, I was overcome with curiosity. So many questions came to my mind. With conflicting information available on the internet, I felt like the best way to get a good understanding of what it’s actually like I had to see it for myself.

Growing up in South London, I formed an early interest in decaying, urban spaces. The rarely appreciated gems hidden throughout the city, transformed from derelict to delightful through collaborative community input.

To those that appreciate these odd corners of our urban jungle, these are the real places that evoke intrigue and thought. Exploring underground landmarks like these, it wouldn’t be unusual to find otherworldly sculptures, imposing murals, rudimentary lighting and junk furniture to make otherwise bland, neglected spaces somewhat hospitable and comfortable.

Urban cult favourites like the outlandishly charming Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary and the effervescent mishmash of Gods Own Junkyard in London, UK show us that weird is good – especially when it comes to luring new visitors to a place once forgotten.

That’s probably what first sparked my interest in Metelkova, a place that wasn’t designed as an attraction, a place built on freedom of expression, defying all societal norms.  

So come with me as we explore Metelkova City and find out if the hype is real, and if it’s really worth visiting while in Ljubljana.

Everything You Need To Know About Metelkova

What is Metelkova?

Metelkova Mesto (Metelkova City) known formally as Avtonomni Kulturni Center” (AKC Metelkova) is an autonomous cultural center in the city of Ljubljana.

The layout of Metelkova consists of several open spaces surrounded by 7 buildings, a car park, a children’s playground and small garden. The area is freely accessible to all, and it’s common to see other city residents walking through Metelkova as a shortcut to where they need to go.

Every wall, surface and space in Metelkova is branded with dazzling helpings of eye-opening imagery and messages written on the walls that provide insights into the communities thoughts on social issues and bureaucracy. Junk sculptures like the spider, totem poles clad with VHS tapes and awkward statues seemingly living their own lives around the grounds make Metelkova a curious place to wander.

The history of Metelkova

Formerly, Metelkova was the headquarters and barracks of the Army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before it became the Slovenian headquarters for the Yugoslav National Army.

In 1991, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the beginning of Slovenian independence, the area was vacated by the military forces and left to sit.

That same year, more than 200 alternative youth communities allied in the Network for Metelkova were granted permission to occupy the grounds and use the space for communal projects and activities by the local municipality.

When the municipality of Ljubljana started measures to remove the new residents and turn the area into a commercial site, the community were outraged by what they felt was a betrayal to the agreement.  Many members of the Network retaliated to this by refusing to leave.

More recently, there are thought to be considerably less  residents living in Metelkova City.

Where is Metelkova?

AKC Metelkova is can be found on the corner of main street Masarykova cesta and the adjoining Metelkova ulica – the origin of Metelkova’s namesake. 
Nearby is the main rail station and only 10 minutes walking takes you to the splendid riverside walk.

The address for Metelkova city is:

Metelkova ulica 10, 1000 Ljubljana,

Slovenia

Are there hotels near Metelkova?

There are a few hotels and hostels in the surrounding area such as Hotel Asteria and Hotel Park Ljubljana. If you want a unique experience of Ljubljana or want to be as close to Metelkova as possible, Hostel Celica is located on the perimeter inside a renovated prison.

Beautifully designed inside and out with timber beams, cosy furniture and warm lighting, you wouldn’t believe it was once where prisoners were held.

There’s access to a well-equipped kitchen, a bar and restaurant, laundry service and fast wifi on all floors.

Hostel Celica is not full of sweaty backpackers either. From families to travelling couples, tourists and residents among the guests, you’ll feel safe and relaxed during your stay.

Is Metelkova safe?

While it can be common for drifters to ask you if you want to buy things from them, I wouldn’t say it appears there’s any real danger there.

At night the place becomes more energetic when the nightclub and bars come to life. The people of Ljubljana that come to Metelkova are welcoming and noticeably interested in connecting with new people.  

I chose to sit down on the front steps of a bar there and was soon met by a few Bosnian people who visited Metelkova often. Soon, others joined and we ended up having a guitar singalong before playing some cards. 

Perhaps one of the only “rules” of Metelkova is taking photographs of any people, it’s strongly discouraged unless you have permission.

How do you meet people in Metelkova?

This one’s really simple, if you see something you want to be a part of, go and sit down and start a conversation – Metelkova is all about freedom and inclusion afterall.

I went to fetch a drink at one of the small bars during the daytime and struck a conversation with a Slovenian guy and a Bosnian couple. We started talking about music and before I knew it, we were singing along to Pink Floyd songs and having a good time.

In the evening time, I tried to attend one of the clubs only to find out it was soon closing. As I hung around outside with a friend I made in Hostel Celica, we were approached by a group of 3 Slovenian friends who were interested in why we wanted to visit Metelkova and showed us some cool points of interest in the area.

Being sociable and making friends in Metelkova really isn’t difficult, just don’t think of yourself as a tourist taking pictures, remember you are a unique person looking to meet other unique people and you will blend in instantly.

Is Metelkova a good place to visit?

Whether it’s worth your time or not really depends on what kind of experiences you enjoy. If you’re not such a fan of the arts, meeting new people or alternative culture, then probably not.

On the other hand, if you have a penchant for exploring extraordinary places with their own personality, Metelkova Mesto is definitely worth a visit. Stop by during the daytime to observe every mural, sculpture and detail clearly. Then return at night if you want to experience the unique flavour of entertainment. 

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