Of Monsters and Marshes

Ljubljana Marshes are a huge … marshy expanse south of Ljubljana; a landscape park, an important archaeology area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a nice recreational area, a home to many an endangered species of flora and fauna, an intense agricultural region, and, most importantly, a place where we usually go to fly kites.

Ljubljana Marshes and river Ižica, looking north towards Ljubljana

A rather tame land – unless the floods come.

But the Marshes weren’t always that tame. Oh, no – here used to be monsters. Dragons.

The stories and tales of dragons in the Marshes are numerous and old. Almost every larger marsh in Europe, especially those near towns, used to be a home of a dragon or a wyvern or some other scaly, winged, fire-breathing monster – until a hero (either a knight like St. George, or a cunning local) managed to kill it. Such wanton destruction of rare wildlife happened before the laws were passed protecting it; like similarly unfortunate dodos, Eurasian aurochs, or St. Kilda house mice, dragons went extinct (except for the little ones that live in caves).

The dragon that used to live in Ljubljana Marshes had a truly famous adversary: Jason, leader of the Argonauts, thief of the Golden Fleece.

The Argonauts were returning home from the Colchis with the stolen Fleece (incidentally murdering another dragon in the process of the crime) on a typically circuitous route – sailing the sea of Schytia, up the Danube, the Sava, and the Ljubljanica – until they reached a huge Marsh guarded by a similarly huge and fierce dragon that wouldn’t let them pass. While they were looking for a way to fight the beast and continue their journey to the sea, the Argonauts built a town at the edge of the Marshes they called Emona, the forebearer of today’s Ljubljana.

In the end it was either an act of brilliant heroism on behalf of Jason, or a bag of quicklime, or a poisoned arrow provided by the locals that undid the beast. The Argonauts could finally sail upriver to the source of Ljubljanica, disassemble the Argo ship, and reach the Adriatic sea – while Ljubljana Marshes were left without its most fascinating inhabitant. Another example of how invasive species destroy local wildlife …

With the dragon gone, the Marshes were left at the mercy of humans. Roads were built and villages established, drainage canals dug and the floods mitigated. The Marshes were tamed and slowly turned into a premium kite flying spot.

Today the dragon remains the symbol of Ljubljana, featuring prominently on its coat of arms, and four sculptures of the beast guard the Dragon bridge in the centre of the city.

As the Slovene word for a kite – zmaj – means “dragon”, our monsters flying above the Marshes are now writing the latest chapter of the the story going back to the Bronze Age… A story about dragons hopelessly guarding the old world of fairytales against the unstoppable assault of the new; about the helmeted and bearded Achaeans roaming the seas and the land, bringing with them things like iron and history and civilisation, and destroying everything else in the process.

It’s nice to fly here.

All kite aerial photos shot with Insta360 on The Little Blue Rokkkaku.

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