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Sečovlje Saltpans

Salt Making in the Past and Today


The Slovenian coast was scattered with saltpans as early as in the beginning of the 20th century. The Koper saltpans, which were located on the sediments of the Rizana river and the Badasevica stream, were abandoned in the first half of the 20th century. The first records of saltpans in Izola date from 1700 and offer little information. But it is evident that these saltpans produced salt only for the consumption of the local population. Most important were the saltpans in Piran, of which only a small portion still survive in Strunjan and, for Slovenia, the extensive saltpans of Secovlje. It is not known when the Piran saltpans began to emerge, but the first written record is the Piran statute which dates from the second half of the 13th century. Much has been written about their historical development and extremely rich cultural heritage which encompasses an architectural, technical, technological, ethnological and linguistic heritage.



The growing of 'petola'


During the physical and technological development of the Slovenian coastal saltpans, there have been several important turning points. One of them came about in the 14th century, when in the crystalisation basins of the salt fields, 'petola' or artificially grown crust was introduced, which consists of green algae (Microcoleus corium), gypsum, carbonate minerals and to a lesser extent, clay. 'Petola' has two functions: it prevents the mixing of the salt and the sea mud on the bottom of the crystalisation basin, and it functions as a biological filter. From the 14th century onwards, salt from the Piran saltpans was much sought after because of its purity and white colour. The salt trade expanded and significantly influenced the development of the coastal towns. In the Slovenian saltpans, salt is still produced in a completely natural way by means of the 'petola' crust. This way of salt making can be compared with the production process in the Tagus saltpans of Portugal, where a similar artificially grown carpet on the bottom of crystalisation basins prevents salt from mixing with sediments.


Another important turning point came about after 1967, when the southern part of the Secovlje saltpans or Fontanigga was abandoned. With this, the old procedure of salt-making in individual production units or salt fields (which demanded that in summer workers lived at the saltpans) was finally abandoned.



Botanical significance of the saltpans


The botanical significance of the Slovenian coastal saltpans is best illustrated by the fact that as many as 45 species from the Slovenian Endangered Plant Species Red List grow in the area. Only a few vertebrates can survive in the extreme ecological conditions of the saltpans. Saltpans are a natural fish farm and they are well known as an extraordinary ornithological location. They are a nesting ground for numerous birds and the northern-most Mediterranean station for migrating birds. Occasionally, more than 200 different bird species live in the saltpans, while some ninety bird species regularly nest there.



Saltpans - a landscape park


In 1989, because of the exceptionally varied natural and cultural heritage, the Secovlje saltpans were declared a landscape park which was divided into four smaller areas or natural reserves which are of exceptional botanical or ornithological importance. Having gained its independence in 1991, Slovenia ratified several international conventions which it inherited from Yugoslavia. In 1993 the Secovlje saltpans became the first Slovenian wetlands to be put on the Ramsar list because of their exceptional landscape and ecological value.



Salt-making museum


Over the last ten years, at the Giassi channel of the abandoned Fontanigga saltpans, a museum complex was created. The salt-making museum encompasses two renovated salt-makers' houses, two adjacent salt fields and the Giassi channel which is the main channel for the influx of sea-water. One of the museum buildings houses a collection of old salt-making techniques, while in the other, there is a salt warehouse and a modern room and kitchen intended for the workers of the two museum salt fields and occasional research and teaching activities. The salt-making museum presents the old salt-making procedure in individual production units, the beginnings of which date to the Middle Ages. The museum complex will in future be intended exclusively for visitors to the saltpans or the landscape park and will be turned into a teaching museum complex with the aim of reducing the visitor pressure on the rest of the saltpan ecosystem.



Saltpans - wetlands


Saltpans are one of the most threatened wetlands in the Mediterranean. In this century, pollution has caused increasing disappearance of this element of the Mediterranean cultural landscape, the strategic significance and cultural heritage of which for centuries has helped shape the Mediterranean civilisation. With it, many forms of life of saltpan ecosystems have been disappearing. As part of the policy of the protection of rich natural heritage, in 1993 the Republic of Slovenia joined the efforts for the preservation of these ecosystems by placing the Secovlje saltpans on the Ramsar list. The Secovlje saltpans are so far the only Slovenian wetlands on the list and are famous for their exceptional ecological and landscape value.




Boris Krizan, Inter-Municipal Institute for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage of Piran Zora Zagar, Sergej Masera Maritime Museum of Piran




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