Prof. Peter Krečič: The History of the Baraga Seminary

From Theatre Database / TACE (Theatre Architecture in Central Europe web database)

The Mladinsko* Theatre
was founded in 1955 as a professional theatre whose aim was the production of high quality performances for the entertainment and education of primarily children and young people. Its first performances took place in the Knights’ Hall of the Križanke summer theatre – the former monastery of the Order of Teutonic Knights. On 1 January 1958 the theatre came under the organisational framework of the Ljubljana Festival, located in a large building that had initially been intended as the seminary of the Ljubljana Diocese and was built in accordance with plans by the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957). During the 1950s, Plečnik’s student Anton Bitenc (1922-1977) changed the Baraga seminary into a student centre (Akademski kolegij). Following his plans, the space within the central part of the building that had been the seminary chapel was converted into a large festival hall for various social events. The space below the chapel had right from the beginning been designed as an auditorium for film performances and served this purpose for a number of years after World War Two under the name Kino Soča. During the 1958/59 season the Slovene Youth Theatre relocated its activities to this auditorium. Initially, film performances alternated with theatre events, but later film performances were dropped and the theatre group was thus given an incentive to grow into a theatre with an increasingly demanding repertoire aimed at ever wider audiences, rather than just the young. On 1 January 1964, the theatre became a completely independent unit within the scope of the activities of the Pionirski dom cultural centre for young people, which is a professionally led organisation involved in a series of language, art and similar courses for young children and school students. During the 1980s, the Slovene Youth Theatre with its cutting edge theatre explorations and politically subversive themes played one of the leading roles in the expansion of artistic freedom and free thinking in general and, alongside other civil movements, became an important factor in the democratic transformation of Slovene society after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the appearance of Slovenia as an independent state.

Increasingly, the theatre auditorium that had once been a cinema became too small for the radically new views regarding the appearance and importance of theatre. Directors thus searched within the building for any new possible locations for their ever more unconventional approaches and found them everywhere – in the corridors, the staircases, the festival hall and even in the basement. Thus the hall in the basement with its arches became one of the most popular staging locations, but not the exclusive one. In this new type of performance no one, including the director of the theatre, the director of the performance, actors and certainly the audience, knew in advance how far the performance would go in terms of content and space and thus the newly discovered and adapted basement auditorium below the former cinema had to be seen only as a new core and starting point for performances without pre-defined limits.

The Baraga Seminary first appeared in the eastern section of an old Ljubljana cemetery by St Christopher’s Church, not far from the new Bežigrad parochial complex. The northern part of Ljubljana – Bežigrad – had during the years following the Ljubljana earthquake in 1895 developed so much that the people living there demanded their own parish. Plečnik for this purpose designed an extensive annex to St Christopher's Church, the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius (1933-1934). Later, the Ljubljana Diocese decided to build a new seminary there. It called it after Bishop Friderik Irenej Baraga (1800-1868), a Slovene missionary among the Native Americans by the Great Lakes. The Diocese turned to Plečnik for the creation of the plans, whilst the building work was entrusted to the building firm belonging to Anton Mavrič and the project management to Anton Suhadolc. Construction work began in 1936.

Plečnik’s idea for the seminary was exceptional in its form as the architect tried to in an original way combine two Roman motifs of the Colosseum and Castel Sant’ Angelo. In the centre of the extensive circular building Plečnik planned accommodation for the seminary students on four storeys, whilst in the transversal section a cinema hall on the ground floor and a chapel on the first floor, which would take up two storeys. According to Plečnik’s urban plan for Bežigrad the new road Linhartova cesta would run slightly south of the present road with this name, so that the northern, administrative section of the Baraga Seminary would be positioned parallel to the new road and would, with its slightly set back ground floor and the monument atop a slender pyramid in the cross-section between the circular and administrative building next to the newly built road, create a monumental site. By the beginning of World War Two in 1941 only two thirds of the circular part of the building had been completed. Most effort went into completing the rooms for seminary students, whilst the rest of the building remained unfinished. However, the seminary never served its purpose. When the war broke out, refugees from the Štajerska region were housed there and after the war the building was used for a series of activities, whilst the building’s surroundings began to change rapidly. In 1956 the parish complex of two churches and a rectory was demolished and the extensive area was used for the construction of the Gospodarsko razstavišče exhibition and convention centre, and then in the 1960s the two large Slovenijales buildings. Plečnik’s ideas about the new Linhartova cesta were abandoned and the road was constructed slightly further north. The Baraga Seminary, in spite of various alterations during the 1950s and a series of plans for extending and newly urbanising it, remained unfinished on its northern side, whilst its surroundings have continued to be rather unkempt to this day.

The theatrical activities of the Slovene Youth Theatre proved not only vital but in their search for new theatrical expressions on the constrained and rather unsuitable premises of the building also very innovative. In the early 1980s the theatre in the basement under its small auditorium, in a provisional storeroom belonging to the Rog bicycle factory discovered the brilliant supporting arches designed by Plečnik and immediately thought that its new theatrical approach could be placed into this new, initially still very rough environment. The greatest merit for this goes to the director Dušan Jovanović (and the theatre manager Peter Jović) as this enabled a part of the performance of Misa in A Minor by Ljubiša Ristić in December 1980 to take place there. After 1983, systematic renovation efforts began on the newly discovered premises involving the architect Črt Mihelj (b. 1946). His interventions were minimal: he had the brick arches supplemented and grouted, whilst the exposed corners were strengthened with metal. The floor was insulated and covered with carborundum. In the spirit of the basic colour of the integral graphical image of the Slovene Youth Theatre, i.e. black, the architect had all the concrete, paving and walls painted in black, only the brick arches stayed in their original colour. Between the arches a metal construction was inserted for lighting. The set was built anew each time: sometimes the theatre space was defined by the existing construction, other times the construction was completely covered. Initially, the seats for the audience were arranged in a rather unconventional method, involving low stools which, however, proved to be too much of a fire risk and later seats were connected into a rigid construction. The renovation of the central basement hall was completed by 1985 and by 1987 the other premises were finished, such as the club, the “gossip room” (rehearsal room), dressing rooms, toilets, etc. The first two performances on the newly acquired premises were staged in April 1986: Blodnje (Hallucinations), directed by Dušan Jovanović and Besi (Demons), directed by Janez Pipan, both based on Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed (also translated into English as The Devils and Demons).

The unfinished and increasingly neglected Baraga Seminary is simply crying out for renovation and the simultaneous re-definition of the activities taking place there. Over fifty years the Slovene Youth Theatre has, through its performances, acquired a good reputation both at home and abroad, but in spite of its innovative adaptation to the given spatial conditions it has now almost completely exhausted the limited possibilities. Thus the requirement arises quite naturally for the missing part of the circular building to be completed and the entrance on the northern side added. Thus the proposal for a new extension, which would allow the theatrical activities to be given a suitable home (a new auditorium could, for example, be created in the form of a covered amphitheatre situated in the new northern courtyard), whilst in the extension there would be the appropriate administrative and other premises urgently needed for the theatre’s normal functioning, is completely legitimate and worthy of Plečnik’s exceptional architecture, as well as of the future of the Slovene Youth Theatre.

Translated by Maja Visenjak Limon

"Mladinsko gledališče" means in English "youth theatre", however The Mladinsko Theatre has outgrown its primarily role while keeping the name.

Important events

1936 | The beginning of building the Baraga seminary
The plans were created by the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957).

1941 | The construction work was stopped due to WW II
By then only two thirds of the circular part of the building had been completed.

50. 's 20. century | During the 1950s, the Baraga seminary was changed into a student centre (Akademski kolegij).
The plans were created by Plečnik's student Anton Bitenc (1922-1977). Following his plans, the space within the central part of the building that had been the seminary chapel was converted into a large festival hall for various social events and the space bellow the chapel remained its original function as an auditorium for film performances.

1955 | The professional Mladinsko Theatre was established

1958 | During the 1958/59 season the Mladinsko Theatre relocated its activities to the auditorium for film screenings

1983 | The beginning of the renovation of the central basement hall
The plans were created by the architect Črt Mihelj (*1946). The renovation of the auditorium was copleted in 1985.

1986 | The auditorium in the basement was opened

The first two performances on the newly acquired premises were staged in April 1986: Blodnje (Hallucinations), directed by Dušan Jovanović and Besi (Demons), directed by Janez Pipan, both based on Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed (also translated into English as The Devils and Demons).

1987 | The renovation of other premises in the basement was completed