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The Prešeren Theatre, Kranj

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Eventi importanti

(dettaglio)1908 | Reconstruction of the preexisting building
In years 1908 and 1909, the original building, former bishop's palace, was altered into the People's Hall which also had a hall with a stage.
(dettaglio)1940 | The beginning of renovation
The reconstruction plans were created by the architect Dušan Ogrin, and the plans for the auditorium furnishings by the architect Ivan Vurnik. The reconstruction though, was never finished due to the outbreak of WW II.
(dettaglio)1950 | Reconstruction of the exterior
The plans were created by the architect Jože Plečnik. Plans for some ornamental elements were created by the architect and sculptor Vladimira Bratuž. Works were carried out between 1950 and 1953.


Vladimira Bratuž |architetto, scultore
Dušan Ogrin |architetto
Ivan Vurnik |architetto


The Kranj theatre was built next to the Parish Church of St Cantius in the centre of the medieval town on a promontory between the rivers Sava and Kokra. Until the 1970s on the location of the present-day theatre there was a garden and orchard. The square between the church and the later theatre building began taking shape after the cemetery around the church was moved in 1790. In 1808, the school building located south of the church, the curacy and the sexton’s house, as well as the cemetery wall and the stone lighting pillar were also removed. That is when by widening the road between the church to the north and the presbytery to the east, a long rectangular square was created that on the southern side bordered on the large presbytery parterre garden. The latter is shown on the land register from 1826, created at the time of the reign of Franz I. In the mid-19th century a building called the bishop’s palace was built in the northern part of the garden, which closed off and formed a large proportion of the southern side of the market south of the church. The main façade of the building was created in the then very popular historic style. Inside, there were lodgings for the retired Bishop of Ljubljana Jernej Vidmar (1802-1883), who was born in Kranj and after retiring in 1875 spent the last years of his life there.


Between 1908 and 1909, the Kranj priest and dean Anton Koblar had the building altered into the People’s Hall. The two-storey building with a rectangular ground plan plus a short extension on the eastern side was, in terms of volume, partly adapted to the shape of the nearby Baroque presbytery, whilst the symmetrically designed main façade with seven axes with a slightly set back three-axial central part on the northern side was designed to combine historical and Secessionist forms. The two side risalits on the main façade were finished at the top with triangular gables. The building housed the premises of the Kranj Catholic Educational and Entertainment Society. Even then, the main part of the building consisted of a larger hall with a stage, facilitating the staging of theatre performances, which had since 1863, when the town acquired a National Reading Society, been staged in Slovene at various locations. From 1907 onwards, one section of the reading society was an independent drama circle. The People’s Hall soon became an important Slovene symbol in Kranj; in January 1919, volunteers for the defence of the northern border of Carinthia gathered there. A memorial plaque commemorating this event has been placed on the wall of the theatre.


In 1940 began the renovation work aimed at turning the building into a more modern theatre. The plans were created by the architect Ogrin. The triangular gables were removed and the second floor was added. At the same time, the auditorium and the stage were enlarged. The plans for the auditorium furnishings were created by the architect Ivan Vurnik. After the outbreak of the Second World War, building work stopped. The frontage in particular was left unfinished. Immediately after the end of the war in 1945, Kranj theatre enthusiasts from the pre-war amateur theatre groups formed a unified theatre that after a few months named itself the Prešeren Theatre. Soon after, this newly founded amateur theatre was given the building of the former People’s Hall.


In 1948 the student of architecture Ferdinand Jocif from Kranj persuaded the town authorities to invite the architect Jože Plečnik to try and resolve the town’s burning urbanistic issues. Plečnik accepted the invitation and between 1948 and 1955 created a number of proposals for a new town hall on the bridge over the River Kokra, for the design of the main square, for the renovation of the house of the poet France Prešeren, for the design of the square in front of the theatre, for the new theatre façade and for the staircase next to the Church of the Rosary. First, he created the design of the square between the church and the theatre and the first draft of the design for the theatre frontage. In the autumn of 1948, even before he was given the exact measurements, he created the first draft, which was later followed by others. Plečnik initially tried to emphasise the building using decorative elements. The first draft envisaged rich ornamentation around the first floor windows and around the two entrances, and a series of statues on pedestals. The second draft, dated September 1949, envisaged intertwined Classicist patterns; a similar solution was in 1953 realised on the exterior of the theatre in Celje. The third draft appeared in October 1949 and envisaged extensive decoration with sgraffiti. In the end, Plečnik replaced the decorative approach with an architectural approach. Thus, between 1950 and 1953, a tall portico was added in front of the only slightly structured main façade with a set-back single axial extension, stretching to the base of the second floor. The masonry work was carried out by the builder Jože (Josip) Slavec from Kranj, renowned for building high quality roads, bridges, hotels and villas. The concrete decorative elements  were created by the Curk building firm from Ljubljana. The portico opens towards the market with five wide arches, supported by slender reinforced concrete columns. The concrete garlands were created by Plečnik’s woman pupil Vladimira Bratuž.  The corners are emphasised with a smaller distance between the columns; the missing arch is replaced by a concrete garland that connects the corner columns. A series of column-like lights were added to accompany the slender concrete columns. The portico ceiling was assembled from tiles of Hotavlje stone, resting on a wooden frame. The entrance door on the right part of the façade was enlarged in line with Plečnik’s plans by means of a frame made of Hotavlje marble, and the wooden wings of the door were supplemented with stone inserts. The door handle in the shape of an angel with a horn of plenty was based on a design by Vladimira Bratuž. The portico in the form of Propylaea drew attention to the theatre entrance, whilst also taking on the role of a town loggia next to the central town square. The windows in the old part of the building were equipped with simple, wide concrete frames and emphasised sills. The alteration of the façade contributed to the new, more monumental appearance of the old town centre. The relatively long frontage, parallel to the axis of the parish church, gave the square between the church and the theatre a solemn appearance. The interior was not changed during this renovation work.


At the same time as the frontage of the theatre building, an additional floor was added to the building west of the theatre and it was adapted to the theatre, whilst on the ground and first floors the Secession decoration of the façade was preserved. Simultaneously, the square paving was also renovated on the basis of Plečnik’s plans and in December 1952 a large bronze statue of France Prešeren was placed on top of a square pedestal in front of the theatre, using a set of pulleys. The statue was made between 1950 and 1952 by the sculptors Frančišek Smerdu (1909-1964) and Peter Loboda (1894-1952). Due to its size the statue soon received criticism and so the space in front of it and in front of the theatre frontage was planted with trees in order to optically reduce the size of the monument. During the last renovation of the square in 2000, the stone pedestal was lowered.


The ambitious alteration of the theatre frontage was linked to the foundation of the professional Prešeren Theatre on 8 February 1950. Soon after it was founded, between 1951 and 1953, the theatre earned itself the reputation of one of the most experimental theatres in Slovenia, as modernist dramaturgic elements were introduced into performances and a number of plays, especially from the Anglo-Saxon world, were performed here for the first time in Slovenia and Yugoslavia. However, the modest building soon began to hinder the development of theatrical activities. The auditorium behind the impressive frontage was limited and badly equipped, whilst the stage was very small. After the renovation of the frontage, the commitment to renovating the whole building seemed to wane. In 1957, the Kranj professional theatre was abolished. Between 1958 and 1989, an amateur theatre that was a part of the Svoboda drama section was initially housed in the building, whilst later the management committee of the Prešeren Theatre founded the amateur Prešeren Theatre Institute. In 1989 it once more acquired the status of a professional theatre. A number of partial renovation interventions took place in the building interior during this time, which were mainly of a utilitarian character and never changed the basic design from 1940. The auditorium has thus preserved the nearly square ground plan and a rather utilitarian shape. Today, it has 252 seats, of which 196 are in the stalls and 56 on the balcony. The auditorium opens to the equally wide stage section with a square ground plan via a 10-metre wide opening. At the side of the stage there are premises for the theatre staff and stage props. There is practically no indication on the exterior that theatre activities take place inside. This reflects the unusual development of this building.


Sources and literature

Cene Avguštin, Kranj. Naselbinski razvoj od prazgodovine do 20. stoletja, Ljubljana 1999. pp. 80–81

Cene Avguštin, Prešernov spomenik in ureditev njegove okolice, Kranjčan, letnik XVII, december 1998, pp. 6–8

France M. Dolinar, Ljubljanski škofje, Upodobitve ljubljanskih škofov, katalog razstave v Narodni galeriji v Ljubljani, Ljubljana 2007, pp. 63–65

Aleš Gabrič, Prešernovo gledališče v Kranju, Dokumenti slovenskega gledališkega muzeja, št. 76/77, letnik 37, Ljubljana 2001

Andrej Hrausky-Janez Koželj-Damjan Prelovšek, Plečnikova Slovenija. Vodnik po arhitekturi, Ljubljana 1997, pp. 92–94

Kranj, kakršnega ni več. Slike, razglednice in fotografije, katalog razstave, Gorenjski muzej, Kranj 1990 (Gorenjski kraji in ljudje, V.), p. 21

Peter Krečič, Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana 1992, pp. 380–381

Nika Leben-Milan Sagadin, Kranj. Kulturni in naravni spomeniki. Zbirka vodnikov 211, Ljubljana 2008, pp. 48–49

Robert Potokar, Gorenjska. Arhitekturni vodnik, Ljubljana 2002, p. 101

Francka Slivnik, Aleš Gabrič, Prešernovo gledališče v Kranju. 1945-1957. Ljubljana, Slovenski gledališki muzej (Dokumenti Slovenskega gledališkega muzeja ; 37 št. 76/77), 2001, 123 strani, Kronika, letnik 50, št. 2, 2002, pp. 233–235

France Stele-Jože Plečnik, Napori, Ljubljana 1955, p. CLII

Jože Plečnik's plans for the renovation of the theatre building are kept in the Museum of Architecture in Ljubljana, the Plečnik collection, Mapa Teater Kranj.



Autore: Igor Sapač

Traduttore: Maja Visenjak Limon

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