Although it's the administrative, cultural and commercial centre for the far eastern part of Slovenia, Lendava is a only a small town but that makes it perfect for exploring in a half day, or you might want to dedicate a full day if you wanted to visit the castle (also reviewed in this journal). The industrious people at the tourist information office have produced a series of leaflets looking at the history of a number of important buildings in the town and it's worth stopping at the office to ask for them.
As well as the eclectic collection housed in Lendava Castle, there's an equally diverse smaller museum in the house at 52 Main Street, a handsome neo-baroque building painted a cheerful golden yellow. Sadly the house only has one of its two traditional baroque towers preserved today.
The museum includes a mock up of a late nineteenth century living room; this is the sort of room that would have been found in the home of someone rather prosperous. In fact the furniture in this display belonged to the Eppingers, a wealthy Jewish family that lived in Lendava. There's also a display relating to pharmaceutical history, centred on a small recreation of a pharmacist's shop complete with shelves lined with jars of ingredients and potions.
One of the more unusual displays relates to umbrellas - in fact there was an umbrella factory in Lendava which is believed to have been the first of its kind in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This exhibition includes examples of the equipment used in the early days of the factory, as well as a number of old photographs and other documents tracing the history of the enterprise (Hungaria Hazai Ernyogar Rt.) There's even a section on the history of the umbrella showing how it moved from being something to keep you dry in the rain, to a fashion accessory.
52 Main Street is open every day except Sunday.
The Jewish community played an important part in the development of Lendava. The region was occupied by the Nazis from 1941 and immediately Jews were forbidden from running businesses. In April 1944 all Jewish people living in Lendava were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Today there are no descendants of those families living in Lendava. There remains however the Jewish burial ground at Dolga Vas, a village on the edge of the town and on the border with Hungary. It is the only undamaged Jewish burial ground in the Prekmurje region.
In the town centre the old synagogue remains; in fact it is one of only two standing synagogues in the country. It was built in 1866, a very simple building which actually has two floors, though you cannot tell from the outside. It is used today for concerts and exhibitions and there is a small permanent exhibition that tells the story of Jews in Lendava. You should ask at the tourist information office about viewing the interior.
As you walk round Lendava you'll notice that many signs are in Slovene and Hungarian. Officially Lendava is a bilingual town and Hungarian Slovenians are a protected minority. A young woman working in a bar in the town told me that to work in many places in Lendava you must be able to speak some Hungarian; with high youth unemployment this is causing some tension. At Lendava's theatre and concert hall there are performances in both languages. The theatre was built in 2004; half of the funding came from the Municipality of Lendava and of the rest 8 per cent came from the Hungarian government and 42 per cent from the Slovenian government.
This really unusual and quirky building was designed by Imre Makovecz, a prominent Hungarian architect. He is an exponent of 'organic architecture' and this interesting design has lots of historical and mythological elements which give it a fairytale appearance. Even if you are not able to catch a performance, it is possible to view the interior of the halls between 9.00 am and 2.00 pm each day; ask at the box office.
The Church of St. Catharine stands just below the castle on the town side. There's been a church on this site for centuries but this one was built in the middle of the 18th century. It's typical of church architecture in this part of Europe from that time. I love the double onion domes that sit on top of the three storeyed bell tower. Although some earlier frescoes were destroyed there are still some handsome features in the baroque interior of the church such as the impressive pulpit with its ornate carvings. The church is often open during the day so it try the door if you are passing.
On first appearances Lendava can look charmless; those arriving by bus are deposited at the tiny bus station by the town's main supermarket. If you make your way towards the castle, however, into the older part of the town you'll find some lovely old houses, some more dilapidated than others both on the main street and in the little lanes off it. Those with more time and energy may wish to wander a little further from the centre and there are a couple of easily accessible hills overlooking the town.