Ljubljana ECoC 1821

18. 2. 2020
MGML Arhiv MG 9352 Out
The symbol of Habsburg power - the two-headed eagle Carl VI. Was installed at the facade of the City Hall between 173o and 1918.
City Museum Ljubljana / MGML
Janez Polajnar square
Janez Polajnar
A curator and historian at the City museum Ljubljana.
Most of us are trying to understand the present through the past: at first our own existence as a reflection of the previous life, then the social present as a reflection of history. It seams it is repeating but in reality it is not. In order to understand the present we need to reflect all those
comparisons in the long term.

199 years ago, most residents of Ljubljana probably didn't even realize what had happened. After the Holy Alliance decided at its December 1820 congress in Opava to continue their work in Ljubljana, the city became the nerve centre of European high politics for four months early in the following year. Never before and never after has Ljubljana seen such a huge gathering of senior representatives of countries or their delegates.

However, the city began improving its image even before the important guests started gathering in Ljubljana in January. In order to present a prettier face, the city repaired a number of deteriorated streets and squares and hurried up with levelling works at the Capuchin Square (today’s Congress Square). Additionally, the neglected farmers’ market was fixed, and broken or missing beams were restored in the Hospital Bridge and Cobblers’ Bridge. New workers were hired to clean the roads and streets. Up to that time, the streets had been swept by prisoners from the Ljubljana Castle, however, according to the Mayor, these would annoy the important attendants of the congress with the rattling of their chains. Furthermore, the people of Ljubljana initiated a renovation of the old theatre just prior to the beginning of the congress, in order to “present an appropriate face to at least some of the important guests”.

The politically perfectly peaceable Ljubljana was the complete opposite of Europe at the time. And thanks to unusually warm and pleasant winter weather, the congress attendees grew so fond of the city that e.g. Friederich von Gentz, Metternich’s advisor, admitted in a letter dated around the conclusion of the congress that he wouldn’t mind if the congress was prolonged until the following winter. The people of Ljubljana weren’t left indifferent either. Audiences at theatre performances and concerts were large throughout the duration of the congress. And thanks to the multitude of well-to-do guests, the business of Ljubljana-based merchants, tradesmen, innkeepers, etc., was blooming.


The New European Order and the Holy Alliance

The European continent experienced a sort of déjà vu in 1820. In March 1820, Spanish King Ferdinand VII was forced to give in to the revolutionary demands and swear on the constitution – the fear of a new French Revolution blew like an icy wind through European dynasties, however, the monarchies were better prepared for the revolutionary outburst this time.

Magistrat 1821

Easter procession at the City square, in front of the City Hall in Ljubljana 1821. City Museum Ljubljana / MGML; foto Marko Zaplatil

The face of the new European order was determined by the final acts of the 1815 Congress of Vienna. These aimed to restore dynastic rule in European countries and to use this restoration of old relations as a basis for peace. Due to the experience of years of warring, perpetual readiness for war and the attendant expenditure that burdened national budgets, as well as the ongoing threat of revolution, European monarchies had, after 1813, developed a complex system of alliances, which ultimately resulted in a reversal and in the coalition’s victory against Napoleon, mostly replaced the strategic and military rivalry between countries that used to be the norm in 18th century, and created conditions that would allow for peace and stability in Europe. This was an expression of new European policies, which anticipated frequent cooperation of the great powers in order to preserve peace and the balance of power between European countries.

However, if the Anti-Napoleonic Coalition was primarily established in order to prevent a new rise of militarism in France, the Holy Alliance (1815), which united Russia, Austria and Prussia, was created as a sort of additional insurance policy for the monarchs. Dynastic rulers viewed the alliance as an instrument that could, if necessary, be used to stem the spread of the ideas of the French Revolution and to suppress liberal revolutionary movement in Europe.

Just over a year after the Congress of Aix-La-Chapelle in the autumn of 1818, where the great powers readmitted France into their company, the order and unity of the alliance faced a serious challenge. Following a liberal uprising in January, Spanish King Ferdinand VII was forced to swear on the constitution in March 1820.

Particularly bothered by the events in Spain was Russian Czar Alexander I who wished to immediately activate the Holy Alliance and intervene in the name of legitimacy. However, as France wasn’t able to do so yet, Austria didn’t want to push the idea, which was staunchly opposed by Great Britain.

If the Holy Alliance didn’t manage to intervene in Spain, the story in Italy already took a different course. The revolution in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was simply too close to Austria, the key founder of the European order from 1815. Foreign Minister Klemens von Metternich was adamant: the Neapolitan revolution was a threat to the European stability and order that were established at the Congress of Vienna, and the alliance thus had the right to intervene.

At the request of the Russian Czar, representatives of the Holly Alliance met at a congress, determined to be held in Opava, a town in Austrian Silesia, to which delegates of Great Britain and France were invited as well. However, the delegates of the two Western European countries couldn’t bow to the insistence of the Holy Alliance and sign the minutes containing the general principles of intervention and their application in the case of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The congress had been ongoing since October 20, 1920, when other attendants of the congress accepted Metternich’s proposal and invited the king of both Sicilies as well as delegates of other Italian states to join them at a location close to Italy – Ljubljana.


The Congress of Ljubljana

The presence of King Ferdinand I and the Italian courts bolstered the legitimacy of an intervention, and despite British opposition and French hesitancy, Austria felt it had received enough support; on February 6, Metternich thus instructed the Austrian army to cross the Po. The revolution was swiftly extinguished, and the Congress of Ljubljana thus concluded its business on February 26; however, news of a revolution in Piedmont had already reached Ljubljana. This time, Metternich didn’t ask the attendants who were still in Ljubljana for their opinions but simply – with the support of the Czar – informed them of the new intervention. The Piedmont revolution was short-lived as well. Austria’s military intervention protected the country sphere of influence and re-established “legitimate order” in both kingdoms.

However, already the next congress would prove to be the last one. In Verona in 1822, the Holy Alliance merely supported French King Louis XVIII in his intention to intervene in Spain, however, the mandate for the French intervention resulted in a gradual decline of the congress system. Among other things, the Congress of Verona highlighted divisions between the allies and the irreconcilable differences between the continental forces and Great Britain, which was consistently opposed to interventions. Under a new Foreign Minister, Great Britain withdrew from the system of European alliances, focusing on the protection of its own interests – one of the country’s first acts was thus to recognise the independence of Spanish colonies.

In Ljubljana, Metternich and the Holy Alliance achieved an important victory against liberal movements and the national sovereignty principles of the French Revolution. The Holy Alliance was thus at the height of its power. However, opponents of “perpetual peace and order” were becoming increasingly numerous. Metternich’s system managed (using military force when necessary) to keep the lid on national and liberal uprisings and preserve Austrian dominance over Italy and Germany until 1848, when even the all-powerful chancellor had to flee to London to seek refuge from the revolution …