Please note: following is the description of the whole area of Ljubljana Marshes. There are four different tours available, highlights only are included in the separate tour descriptions. All tours are self guided and at the same price, which includes bike rental and navigation pack. Tours: Barje Basic, Barje West, Barje East, Barje Around.
There are but a few capital cities that have such a vast and special green area as the Ljubljana Marshes at their doorstep, which can be reached by bicycle or even on foot. The area is not only special for its beautiful nature, it also boasts a very rich history and archaeological heritage. Each of our one-day Ljubljana Marshes Tours are designed to allow you to experience all aspects of this incredible area protected as a landscape park.
The Ljubljana Marshes, which are located in the Ljubljana Basin, stretch over an area covering 163 km2. On the southern edge of the Marshes, the Ljubljanica River flows out of multiple Karst springs. The river cut a deep bed a few metres into the deposits of the Marshes, but its descent is only about 1 m across its entire 20-km length, so spring and autumn floods, which can cover up to one half of the entire Marshes area, are an annual phenomenon and one of the major characteristics in this part of Slovenia.
The information about the river’s descent indicates that cycling can be enjoyed on mostly flat terrain, unless you wish to make things more interesting by ascending one of the hills surrounding the southern rim of the Marshes. There are countless of trails running amongst the meadows, fields, and forests, but those often lead only to a privately owned meadow or are blocked by one of the many canals that were built over the Marshes so that the land could be utilised and floods could be controlled. Your eye will most certainly be able to rest on the green area once outside of compact settlements concentrated at the foot of the hills, where you may encounter more animals than people.
The tectonic shifts, faults and river deposits occurring in the Marshes area formed swamps and peat bogs, where many, now rare and interesting plant and animal species, particularly birds and wild game, found their home. The wet meadows are inhabited by a large number of colourful butterflies, which count no less than 89 species, which is twice as many as in the entire British Isles. The area also serves as a nesting ground to 100 bird species, which is half of all bird species in Slovenia. Even greater in number are birds that spend the winter in the Marshes or stop here on their way to warmer places. Their diversity and large numbers are mostly the result of humid and wet meadows, which have not yet been transformed into fertile fields by way of drainage and are still kept by the owners using traditional, extensive farming methods, which are applied irregularly, with late mowing and without fertilisers.
Wetlands, such as the Ljubljana Marshes, are priceless ecosystems. Even though the Marshes are a flood area, they can protect the city of Ljubljana from flooding – peat and peat moss are able to accumulate vast amounts of water and they function as a giant sponge that protects the capital from water influx. This way, the Marshes are able to sustain extreme weather conditions. For example, during heavy rain, the ground stores water and releases it during drought, thus cooling the surrounding area. It provides an enormous supply of drinking water and serves as a natural water treatment plant, removing many harmful substances released into the environment by people. Furthermore, the wetland creates large amounts of green forage, which absorbs the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and releases oxygen.
In the Ljubljana Marshes, there are many remnants of cultures that settled this area throughout the millennia. In April 2002, archaeologists found the remains of a two-wheeled wooden cart dating 5100 to 5350 years back into the past. It is the oldest wheel found in Europe and elsewhere in the world so far. The wheel is on display at the City Museum of Ljubljana.
The Ljubljanica River was once used as a waterway. This is best illustrated by the famous finding of a Roman freight ship that was excavated in 1890 in the Kozlar Estate near the village of Črna Vas. The freight ship had a flat-bottom hull suitable for navigating shallow waters.
The area was once covered by a shallow lake, which turned into a swamp over the millennia. The first farmers came to this area approximately 6500 years ago. In the flood plains surrounding the lake, they built small settlements on piles – they are now called pile dwellings. In 1875, the first pile dwelling settlement was discovered near the town of Ig. Today, there are about 40 known sites, where pile-dwellers made their dwellings in prehistoric times. The remains of two settlements near Ig were entered into the register of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011.
Discovered artefacts dating all from different prehistoric periods to the modern age, especially the locations abundant in findings, indicate that the Ljubljanica River used to hold a cult-like importance during the prehistoric times as well as later, during the time of the Slavic settlements.
The landscape was first actively designed by the Romans. In the area of today’s Ljubljana, a significant city called Emona was built, mainly by using stones from under Mt Krim. To facilitate the transport of stone blocks from the Podpeč Quarry, a new canal was dug and the river bed of Ljubljanica was moved.
Humans settled the edge of the Ljubljana Marshes long before they first set foot into the heart of the wetland. Traces of human dwellings, work, and spirituality can actually be found on every safe hill. Numerous little Romanesque and Gothic churches, mainly built on sacred sites used by the prehistoric inhabitants, can be seen on every slightly elevated area.
In periods following the prehistoric times, the area was settled quite late due to flooding, and a construction technology similar to the one used by pile-dwellers was applied in a different way as this time, homes were built on piles! Up to 200 two- to six-metre piles or even longer were used per building; they were manually rammed by six men using a special pile driver weighing a good one hundred kilograms. In 1828, the first road crossing the Ljubljana Marshes was built and named the Ig Road (Slovenian: Ižanska cesta). The floating road built on bundles of brushwood covered by sand, which connects the Marshes with the area around the foot of Mt Krim, a distinctive hill dominating the southern edge of the Marshes, still has the same foundation today.
The sites worth visiting are described separately and are connected within the routes of individual tours, so that you can plan your trip depending on the places you would like to visit and view in greater detail.