Magical Marshes

We just can’t get enough of them, can we … And it’s not just convenience – Ljubljana Marshes landscape park is just a short drive away, its vas open spaces and rather stable winds are perfect for kite flying – the thing is that the Marshes are full of natural and archaeological wonders, that they show a different face every time we fly there, and because they are so big we haven’t yet took kite aerial photos of all of their jewels 🙂

Takeoff. In the foreground, a revitalized oxbow lake / meander of the river Ižica – a home for endangered turtles, otters, and varous birds. The tree-covered hump in the back is Grmez, a solitary hill that was an island once when the Marshes were covered by a lake.

This time we flew our venerable Blue Rokkaku above the rarely visited eastern part of Ljubljana Marshes, south of Hauptmance (‘Captain’s land’, one of the first colonies on the drained Marshes, established in 1871) and west of Grmez inselberg, by Ižica river.

Going up … The oxbow lake in the making, and the drainage canals still doing the job ordered by Her Majesty Empres Maria Theresa

This part of the Marshes is still pretty wet, and the agriculture is limited to grazing and hay-producing meadows interspersed by corn fields.

Still ascending. Ižica is probably the most preserved stream of the Marshes, still retaining its natural meandering flow. As a Karstic river it doesn’t carry much gravel, so it can’t substantially erode its banks.

The strips of trees are secondary forests and forest plantations, a feeble reminders of the huge forest that used to cover most of the Marshes.

Cruising altitude. Two inselbergs, Grmez and Babna gorica to the left rize above the plain. The settlement at the edge of the Marshes is Škofljica. Mountains of Mokrc and Lower Carniola mark the southeastern end of the Marshes.

Ljubljana Marshes began forming in the late Pliocene, 2-3 million years ago, when huge block of Jurassic and Cretaceous limestone came crashing down into a 20 by 10 km tectonic depression. Rivers and streams slowly filled up that huge hole, and the depth of sediments can reach 100 m, and even deeper in places.

Grmez inselberg, a solitary hill peeking out of the sediment-filled tectonic depression

A couple of hill stick out of the Marshes. Most of them in the western part, and two in the eastern – Babna gorica and Grmez. While Babna gorica is made of Mesozoic limestone, Grmez is an outcrop of Paleozoic shales and sandstones. Archaeologists found a Mesolithic hunter-gatherers’ camp on the top of Grmez, and remains of a Neolithic-Bronze Age pile-dwelling settlement was discovered at its southern end.

After the depression filled up with sediments and became a flat plain, the rivers overflowed and a lake formed here some 10.000 years ago.

That lake was an attractive real estate, offering abundant resources and protection. Bands of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers established camps on the islands like Grmez, and later Neolithic farmers established a very unique form of habitation right on the shallow lake – the pile dwellings.

The pile dwellings were built on both sides of Ižica river (from its right turn in the lower left of this photo all the way to the left turn and beyond). The earliest settlers came here over 7.000 years ago, and a thriving community that engaged in trade (items imported from the Danube and from the Adriatic were found here), metallurgy (the copper ore came from Styria), agriculture and hunting prospered here up until the late Bronze Age. These pile dwellings are a part of the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps UNESCO World Heritage Site!

The lake dried up (it wasn’t much of a lake anyway, more like a shallow flooded bog), the pile-dwellers left and Ljubljana Marshes were pretty much abandoned for millennia. Settlements kept to the edge of the Marshes; while the Romans built the first road across the soggy land, the second one was constructed almost 2.000 years later, in 1829.

Intrepid humans had ideas about turning the scary (here be dragons!) and unproductive Marshes into a supreme agricultural land since at least the 16th century, but the real work started after Her Majesty Empress Maria Theresa ordered the Marshes to be dried and the new land distributed among the colonists. A huge drainage effort begun in 1772 by digging the Gruber Canal, and the Marshes were soon crisscrossed by drainage channels. The newly created land invited settlers, and the first villages on the Marshes proper emerged in early 19th century.

Ljubljana Marshes are still draining, settlers are still coming to live here; while they are slowly losing their mysterious character and natural beauty, they were declared a landscape park to at least control the ongoing encroachment, and parts of them are strictly protected – the Marshes are, after all, one of the largest such ecosystems in Europe.

They are magical. And we will fly here again 🙂

All kite aerial photos shot with Nikon P330 on the Blue Rokkaku kite.

Leave a comment