Order and Disorder

River Ižica is one of the few rivers on Ljubljana Marshes that are mostly untouched, flowing as it pleases, meandering aimlessly and freely – disorderly? – in a striking contrast to the straight, constrained, utilitarian canals that crisscross and drain the Marshes. There are many reasons for this, but the main is that Ižica is not unlike goddess Athena 🙂

This 12 km long, slow-flowing, muddy-bottomed river actually springs in her almost full form straight from the rock – the Zeus’ forehead – in the middle of the village of Ig where the permeable Karst limestone hills meets the alluvial plain of the Marshes.

As a Karst river she carries very little very fine grained sediment, so she lacks the erosional power of her sister Iška tat carved the deep Iški vintgar gorge before entering the Marshes and filling its great allufial fan . Unlike Iška Ižica is tame; she doesn’t destroy her own banks and spills over, never fills her own riverbed with gravel and suddenly changes course, her high waters not destroying crops and flooding villages. as Iška’s did so many times.

That’s why during the great melioration of Ljubljana Marshes the fierce Iška was broken, forced into an artificial canal, mercilessly diverted from her sister straight into Ljubljanica – while Ižica was left alone, slowly and gently meandering across the wetlands.

But Ižica was not always so tame. In the early Holocene when the lake covering the Marshes was slowly disappearing, her nature was much different. She was a powerful and moody river, and her unstable, changing banks were home of a strange animal.

Homo sapiens.

The famous Pile Dwellings of Ljubljana Marshes – today a UNESCO World Heritage site – were thought to be simple settlements on platforms above a slowly disappearing lake. But not long ago archaeologists showed the situation in the 5th, 4th and 3rd century BC was much more complicated


A LIDAR survey of the Ižica floodplain has revealed a complex topography of stratified palaeochannels. Dating of those channels showed that the settlements were built on their banks; abandoned when Ižica changed its course and rebuilt again. So it looks the pile dwellings were located next to an active river, not in the lake as was traditionally hypothesised.

But why? Why was Ižica a couple of thousands years ago so different from today? The answer is – the climate. The Holocene Climatic Optimum was slowly coming to an end, yet the temperatures were still higher than today. And the weather was much wetter, meaning the tributaries of Ižica carried more water and more sediment with it.

Back then Ižica was a so-called anastomosing river. It branched into many channels, frequently changing her course, cutting new paths in the sand with which she covered the Marshes. Neolithic and Bronze Age people who made this place their home were constantly chasing her, building one pile dwelling after the other in never ending search for safety, water, food and other resources.

Today Ižica is a meandering river. She minds her own business and people leave her alone. She floods, of course – Ljubljana Marshes are a floodplain after all – but in a gentle way, her waters rising and receding with the rains like she’s breathing. She is still a home – for fish and other water creatures, waterfowl, muskrats and nutrias; her banks are lined with shrubs and trees offering a safe haven for birds, bats, dormice and deer. Occasionally a brown bear or a golden jackal visits, and an eagle circles high above the river, up where the kites fly. Ižica is again a goddess of her wild subjects.

It’s peaceful here today. Her tumultuous history – and ours! – is safely buried in the floodplain.

All kite aerial photos shot with Nikon P330 on Millie the French military kite.

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