Cast-Iron Dogs of Tivoli Castle – Ljubljana, Slovenia - Atlas Obscura

Cast-Iron Dogs of Tivoli Castle

Tivoli Castle

Strange rumors surround the artist who created these solemn metal guard dogs. 

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When you take a stroll through Tivoli, the largest park in Ljubljana, you may come across four cast-iron dogs sitting gracefully at the foot of Rožnik Hill. These statues stand guard on a staircase that leads to a beautiful mansion, might look ordinary to any passerby. But don’t be fooled—they are all missing a vital muscular organ, and are somewhat of an enigma.

These four iron-cast hounds were made around 1864, by the sculptor Anton Dominik Fernkorn. The Austrian artist and well-acclaimed animalier is the main protagonist in a contemporary urban legend. Local rumors have it that the artist was a perfectionist at heart. During the process of developing his sculptures he was preoccupied with perfecting their design, and completely forgot about the dogs’ tongues. He didn’t realize his mistake until it was too late. A false rumor circulated that the sculptor shot himself after the statues were revealed to the public. 

Though the details of the actual tale are not fully known, records disprove the notion that Fernkorn committed suicide. They state that the sculptor became ill in 1865 and was no longer able to work. That same year he was admitted to a mental institution, where he passed away at the age of 65. These facts possibly explain the persistence of the commonly believed folktale. Apparently, the sculptor was institutionalized shortly after the unveiling of the dogs in Tivoli. When he disappeared, it must have seemed to the locals as if he had vanished. 

To this day, the four dogs still keep watch on the doorstep of Tivoli Castle. The mutts solemnly glance towards the Jakopič promenade, designed by architect Jože Plečnik, and keep watch as new outdoor exhibitions, with large-format photographs, are revealed to them. These four-legged sculptures are definitely worth checking out.

Know Before You Go

This location is a stone's throw away from the city center.