Velenje through history
Remains found in the Šaleška dolina valley testify that the valley was already inhabited in prehistoric times. Remains of a settlement of prehistoric man have been found in the Mornova zijalka cave by Šoštanj and in the Špehovka cave by Huda Luknja, and prehistoric artefacts in Bevče and at Plešivec. The remains from the Roman era, however, indicate the presence of a Roman settlement in the area presently known as Šaleška dolina.
The area of present Velenje was first mentioned in 1250; documents mention the Velenje market square for the first time in 1264 while the earliest reference to the castle rising above the old market square is found in the historic records of 1270.
In the 16th century, the Šaleška dolina valley became a hub of protestant life in the Štajerska region. The biggest accomplishment of that time was the school which the protestants established in Velenje. In medieval times the Šaleška dolina valley, on account of the large number of castles (over 20), became known as the ‘Valley of Castles” and the name has stuck to the present day.
In 1801 there was a big fire in Velenje, which reduced to ashes the entire market square including the church of Sv. Marija. At the time, a small market square was all there was to Velenje, which was second to Šoštanj in terms of size. In 1889 Velenje only counted 364 inhabitants.
Velenje began to mildly prosper at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century, when a coalmine was opened in the vicinity of Velenje. Coalmining had only an indirect impact on the development of the market square as in those times Velenje was not yet a mining settlement. At the end of the 19th century, the main developed sectors in Velenje included trade and commerce, sawmills and wood processing plants, and agriculture as a vital, continually present industry.
In 1931, more than half of the resident population in the Šaleška dolina valley still lived off the land. Velenje lignite and the Šoštanj tannery were two of the reasons, which contributed to the railway being built in the area in 1891 effectively connecting Velenje to Celje; in 1899, the railway link was extended to Dravograd, Carinthia.
It was mainly after 1950 that, reflecting increased demand for coal, the need for a modern town became apparent. This new town was supposed to be built in place of initially proposed cottages for numerous miners from the entire Yugoslavia. Under the leadership of then director of Rudnik Velenje Mr Nestl Žgank, design engineers of Slovenija project, Ljubljana led by architect Janez Trenz, started developing plans for a modern town with approximately 30,000 residents. Žgank’s motto that “… the dwelling places of miners, who spend half of the day underground, should be filled with light and sunshine…” resulted in a contemporary, modernistic town with free-standing structures situated in large, green areas.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons later town planners did not continue this concept. Nevertheless, they managed to preserve the late modernistic character of the town centre, which makes it one of only a few in Europe. Unprecedented expansion of the settlement with more than 20 large buildings having been built in only two years in late 1960s astonished the entire country, which awarded Velenje town rights on 20 September 1959, the day when Mestna občina Velenje now celebrates its municipal holiday.
Today, 45 years later, the town has reached the outer skirts of its planned development. On this anniversary we look back in wonder at how far we have come: that our parents, with hard work and dedication, and by taking advantage of the political climate, succeeded in integrating a few modest settlements, scattered across the eastern part of the Šaleška dolina valley, into what has become the fifth largest town in Slovenia.
Bibliography – how the town was built:
- Monografija Velenja 2002 by various authors; MOV, 2002.
- Rdeči kralj by Damjan Kljajič and Vlado Vrbič; Karantanija, 2001 (a biography of Nestl Žgank).
- Velenje by various authors, MOV, 1999 (Collection of Discourses).
- Monografija Velenja 1976 by various authors, XXX, 1976.