Celje used to be among the most important historical Slovenian towns. During the last Counts of Celje, the town was the only genuine center of humanism and renaissance in the Slovenian land and one of the most important political centres in Europe of that time.
Perhaps it is true that Celje is merely a small provincial town, yet another of the many similar in Central Europe. Surprising resemblance, urban and architectural similarity, careful elegance and open hearted domestic atmosphere are the benevolent heritages of the common past. On the other hand, Celje is unique and unequaled! Perfect location, picturesque surroundings, glorious history and kind, open people have been shaping the image of its distinction for many centuries.
Life along the banks of Savinja has evolved as early as the late iron age, while the first known settlement, raised upon the terraces below the hill called "Miklavški hrib", dates back to the Celtic times. Very early, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius in the middle of the 1st century A.D., the settlement was granted town rights, and in the following two centuries it had gradually grown into by far the most prominent craft, trading and cultural center in the province of the Noricum Kingdom. Myriad archeological findings encountered around Celje indicate that the antique Celeia, with its wealth and affluence of its inhabitants, had strongly outmatched the neighboring towns. Old writers of the era had even gone so far as to compare it to the glorious Troy. Numerous brilliant ascents, but sadly also painful falls witnessed during its abundant history, bear striking resemblance and had earned the town the attribute of Troia Secunda, - the second Troy.
The 4th century A.D. saw the establishment of the Celeian Diocese which was active presumably until the end of the 7th century, or even till the beginning of the 8th century, when the dreadful barbarian raids temporarily immersed the town in a long lasting historical obscurity.
Under the stars of the powerful Princes of Celje (14 and 15 century), the town of Celje came back to life and soon restored its old historical glory. It had become the administrative center of the huge provincial territory, owned by the Dynasty, which the Counts of Celje had an intention to unite along a single state boundary. During their period the former borough settlement has been awarded town rights - developing thereupon its construction, economy and culture as a Princely Seat. In fact, in the late period of the Principate, during the last Counts of Celje, the town was the only genuine center of humanism and renaissance in the Slovenian land and one of the most important political centres in Europe of that time.
After the year 1456, following the murder of Ulrich II, the last Count of Celje, the battle between the Counts of Celje and the Hapsburg Crown had finished with the defeat of the Princes. But even in the period of the hardest temptations after the demise of the mighty Celje Princes Dynasty, the town could not be held back. It was again strong enough to find new paths and new hopes. The end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century saw the period of flourishing craft and manufacture, and later the erection of new and modern machine factories in the suburban area. Celje steadily and persistently began to transform into a holiday resort town, known wide and around for its attention and domestic atmosphere, wonderful surroundings, curative treatment baths in the crystal clear waters of the river Savinja, gracious cultural life and numerous preserved remnants of its opulent history.
Not many towns in Slovenia are able to display so many antique and middle age remnants and findings, well preserved and incorporated within the modern urban surrounding. Paved Roman streets, rare Ancient Christian Baptistery, mighty Upper and Lower Castle (the former principate residence of the Counts Dynasty), city churches and reconstructed medieval defense wall, are the testimony of bygone power and glory of the Troia Secunda.
A short stroll around the town unobtrusively reveals to the visitor the architectural pearls from late periods. Thus the old County House, today the domicile of the Regional Museum (Pokrajinski Muzej), represents one of the most beautiful examples of the Renaissance architecture in Slovenia. The sculpture of St. Mary's Image at the City Square (Glavni trg) and the Prothasy Palace with the exquisite wedding hall, are excellent remnants of the Baroque epoch and its eminence. Classical architecture is represented by the old Municipality Mansion of Celje, today the domicile of the Museum of Contemporary History. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in Celje are conjured by numerous buildings in different historical styles: from the remarkable Neo-Renaissance Community Hall (Narodni dom) to the distinguished Neo-Gothic German House, today's Celje Hall (Celjski dom). More recent architectural creations belong, of course, to the famous archite ct Jože Plečnik, one of the most prominent being the mansion of the former People's Savings Bank at the corner of Vodnikova and Stanetova street.
Visitor may learn plenty about the long and eventful history of Celje in both town museums. The collections belonging to the Regional Museum, representing the history of Celje and its surroundings from the Paleolithic Age to the 20th century, are considered by the experts to be the most outstanding in Slovenia, while the famous Ceiling of Celje (Celjski strop) in the master chamber of the former County Mansion is by far the most important monument of the artistic painting during Renaissance and Baroque era in the country. The history of Celje in the 20th century is displayed in the Museum of Contemporary History which includes also a juvenile section, called Museum for Children, as well as a dislocated section of the Museum in Razlagova street - the famous Glass Photographic Studio of Mr. Pelikan (Pelikanov stekleni fotografski atelje), unique within the Central Europe. Artistic painting heritage is displayed in the Contemporary Art Gallery, located in the renovated wing of the Lower Castle.
Once you get tired of walking and sight-seeing, and you wish to relax and sort out the numerous impressions, you will find refreshments in one of the cozy downtown bistros, cafeterias, or restaurants. With the interior decorations and the choice of products these popular places match those of other similar European towns. You will certainly find a chef who knows how to prepare just the type of food you had in mind: from authentically domestic Slovenian dishes to any other specialty of the world cuisine.
Pubs and restaurants in Celje may be encountered at literally every step. Kind waiters will surely suggest the best, so you will most certainly have no problems selecting the dish and the beverage to your taste. Almost every one of these places has got a special dish of its own, for which the place is known locally.
Is it not quite original to complete the sight-seeing tour of the town's historical monuments by treating yourself to a genuine medieval feast prepared according to the original recipes by a team of chefs in Hotel Evropa ? And what would you say about the fact that the downtown area itself hides some of the authentic "good ole" village inns with the gastronomic choice of dishes that only our grandmothers could prepare properly?
Charm of the picturesque surroundings
A lot of people coming to Celje from the end of the 19th century, were so thrilled by the beauty of the town that it had earned the attribute "Pearl upon Savinja" (Biser ob Savinji). The town is really set amidst the outstanding countryside and fabulous, picturesque surroundings which openly invites for trips and trekkings.
One may choose either to take just a stroll around the City park and along paved walking paths along the banks of Savinja to forget the turmoil of everyday work and refill the inner batteries, or undertake a somewhat more physical adventure and climb to the top of the hill Miklavški hrib or Jožefov hrib. In the spirit of old Slovenian Christian tradition, both of these are topped off with interesting pilgrimage churches, worth seeing. One may also take the famous Pelikan's trail and climb up to the Old Castle which is about to regain its historical majesty and splendor once the reconstruction works will have been finished.
For those interested in mountaineering there are possibilities at the very verge of the town. One of the most popular is the climb to the Celje Hut (Celjska koča), a mountain cabin located but a stone throw away from the idyllic village of Svetina with a splendid Gothic church in the middle. Its cemetery is the place of eternal peace of the famous writer and world traveler Alma Karlin.
A visitor will surely be attracted by the beauties of the lake Šmartinsko jezero, the largest artificial lake in Slovenia, offering various forms of pleasant recreation: walking and biking, swimming, boat rides, horseback riding and fishing.
However, this is by no means the end of the list of reasons to visit Celje! Today, as well as in the past, Celje is a perfect starting point for either short or long trips to the valley of Savinjska dolina and many health resorts in the vicinity.
Richness and cultural abundance of antique Celeia are represented by the perfectly conserved Roman Necropolis in a small town of Šempeter. The cave Jama Pekel, located only a few miles away, hides the wonders of the underworld. The beauties of the Upper Savinja Valley (Zgornja savinjska dolina) need no further praise, while the valley of Logarska dolina is really a marvel of the nature and a special treat to the visitor.
The quality and the choice of services in our natural health resorts Laško, Dobrna, Zreče, Atomske toplice and Rogaška Slatina, is especially lavish. What is more, they are all situated but a short drive from Celje, so that the region offers the tourist a unique and exceptional possibility, unmatched anywhere else: provided that the length of your stay would allow it, you may each day take a dip in a different swimming pool!
Reputation of good host
Celje has exactly the right size for the visitor to take advantage of all the things that it offers. Restaurants, pubs, bistros and hotels, handicrafts and boutiques, sports and recreational facilities, museums and galleries, cultural and historical monuments and natural places of interest ensue each other in regular line.
In Celje you are guaranteed to feel comfortable. Advantages of total control and plain orientation in Celje are even more important when visiting the town upon Savinja on business. Celje is an extremely appropriate and motivating setting for business meetings.
Numerous domestic and international scientific, cultural and business meetings, conferences and seminars with exceptionally high participation in recent years prove that Celje is the equal partner to other prominent congress centers in Slovenia. Renewed conference halls in both the Municipal Hall and the Celje City Hall, whose prominence inevitably remind of the double Monarchy and its glorious past, are guaranteed to fascinate the visitor. Along with these there is a variety of modern, sophistically equipped conference halls to suit all your needs, either in the four town hotels or within the premises of the Celje Fair, with the capacity ranging from several hundred to a few thousand participants. Friendly hosts will be more than glad to take complete responsibility for the organization and proceedings, which is again one more reason for your decision to select Celje for your venue.
In recent years Celje was a host to a plethora of workshops, forums, conventions and conferences. Their success is the best pledge that your meeting is bound to be successful and that your stay will be a pleasant experience.
The magic of youth
The young age and the old age are two inseparable extreme poles of human and other life: they are a bit like the North and the South pole, sharing their common endless fate on the Earth. And although they apparently live far from each other, they are both actually part of a cycle with no beginning and no end.
It is the same with towns. Celje is therefore both ancient and new town. Its honorable age, perceptible at literally every step by the remains of the opulent and glorious history, is in cheerful harmony with everyday life of the youth.
Each morning when the trains and buses packed with high school kids arrive from the Savinjska dolina valley, from the region of Kozjansko and from the nearby hills of Pohorje, and the schools tumultuously open their doors, Celje becomes younger. In the afternoon, when they close, and the spring day is still far from being over, these young people are in no hurry to return back home.
The banks of Savinja and the nearby City park, with its mighty, centuries old trees irresistibly attract young couples, groups of friends and acquaintances. Clubs, bistros and pubs become sublime and lively - young people are equally cheerful and ready to party in any season of the year.
In the evening, when the clock moves well towards the mark of ten, especially at weekends, discotheques and concert halls come to life, and the youth of Celje frequently meets the dawn of a new day in the rhythm of music and dance.
And then at dawn, when weary party-goers slowly creep towards home, another breed of youth appears in the streets. Young athletes enthusiastically head towards their training halls and stadiums, and young musicians hurry to their concert halls for practice.
Although youth has always been one and the same, it actually has a diversity of faces. This is true everywhere in Europe and the world, and it is so also in medieval Celje. Young generation knows how to live not only along with the time of their youth, but also with the young spirit of their age.
The sporting agility of the town
On the eve of the Third Millenium Celje is undoubtedly a town of sport. It is proud of its opulent athletic history, and with its recent athletic results it proves its high reputation and image, both in the Slovenian sport and in Europe, even in the world.
Many will still remember excellent generation of athletes from Celje, the real sporting legends Stanko Lorger and Nataša Urbančič, or the recent athletic star Gregor Cankar. Who hasn't heard of the admirable handball players, dominant in the national handball championship and representing the top handball quality in Europe as one of the best European teams? Who hasn't heard of the women's bowling team, former world champions? Or the ample basketball tradition, the birthplace of a whole line of excellent players and coaches, including the coach of Ljubljana team Zmago Sagadin? Finally, there's the women's basketball team, always at the top in the national league.
Then there is a full 80 years of Celje football tradition, half a century of swimming! For over a hundred years Celje has been the center of mountaineering and world top alpine climbing, and lately it has become the judo center at the European and even global level.
All this of course would not be possible without proper courts and stadiums. Whole generations of athletic Celje have grown into top sportsmen on playgrounds and in gym halls of primary and secondary schools, at the outdoor and indoor swimming pool, in the modern bowling alley, shooting range, skating rink, ski slopes of Celjska koča and Svetina, many tennis courts, the football and athletic stadium and the central sports arena Golovec.
City of fairs
Ever since the town craftsmen had prepared the first exposition of handicraft in the municipal primary school way back in 1922, fairs have become an inseparable part of the town. Fairs live with Celje and Celje lives with fairs.
The exposition season starts early in spring with the popular Flora Fair and Car and Maintenance Fair. It is then continued with the International Craft Trade Fair, the central business venue in Slovenia, and complemented with the ever attractive Domofin Fair (everything for home) and the Christmas and New Year's Fair.
All fairs are organized by the corporation Celjski sejem (The Celje Fair). For decades this company has been taking care for improving the tradition of fairs in the town, as well as for the satisfaction of exhibitors and visitors, for their success, their comfort and good impressions. The company is well aware that the business success of fairs and the large number of visitors it attracts, provide the reputable image of a hospitable tourist town, since the distinction of the town on Savinja, both in Europe and in the world, largely depends upon the prosperity of fairs in Celje. Thousands of exhibitors and visitors each year are therefore the best testimony that Celje is positively a genuine town of fairs.
The potential and tradition of fairs in Celje are best represented by people from the country and from abroad, who come to Celje because they know that the fairs of Celje are not a one-off event prepared yesterday, and only for today. They are open to Europe and the world and they particularly live and exist for tomorrow.
Culture in town upon Savinja is not a cheap motto, but actual day-to-day life. Whoever wishes and likes it, has got the choice, and nobody is allowed to feel lonely or bored!
Celje is proud of quite a number of busy cultural institutions - from the Institute for Cultural Manifestations (Zavod za kulturne prireditve), four galleries and two museums, Historical Archive, and the film distribution company Celjski kinematografi, to the City Library, Theatre SLG Celje, and almost 50 cultural associations (especially singing choirs, orchestras, dance schools and amateur acting theatres) either out of or under the sponsorship of the Regional State Agency for Amateur Cultural Manifestations (Sklad RS za ljubiteljske kulturne dejavnosti).
The pulse of culture beats throughout the year. In February the town theatre SLG Celje schedules their annual Comedy Festival, the traditional International Youth Choir Festival is held every second year in May, and throughout the summer season the town organizes a series of cultural events called "Summer in Celje, the Princely Town", with shows and manifestations covering the period from June to October and attracting large number of visitors. Apart from these there is a variety of miscellaneous concerts and other spectacles, spreading the cultural atmosphere of Celje within the Slovenian and European cultural life.
When talking about culture one must not forget the only museum for children in Slovenia - the Herman's Den (Hermanov brlog), organized within the Museum of Contemporary History, nor the popular Golden Accordion Festival (Zlata harmonika), well-known both at home and abroad as one of the biggest summits and competitions of accordion players that has been organized by the Cultural Association of Ljubečna for twenty years now.
Being one of the largest towns in young Slovenia, Celje has consistently been trying to maintain and improve its reputation of a cultural center, and of a town which is in love with culture. A town, aware of the fact that it is the culture which shapes its spiritual image and its hopes of tomorrow.