A UNESCO heritage marshland area where they found the world’s oldest wheel.
As the name suggests, the Ljubljana marshes are a marsh (Ljubljansko barje). And yes, in case you were wondering like me, there is a difference between marshes and swamps: both are wetlands, but marshes are mainly plains composed of grasses and reeds, serving as a transition ground between land and water, while swamps are composed of shrubs and trees and normally found along the riverbanks and lake shores.
Anyhow, another thing we can deduce from the name is, that Ljubljana marshes are located in and around Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and cover a huge area (about 13500 ha). The marshes were formed by the Ljubljanica river and are a protected natural area: the Ljubljansko barje nature park. They are home to a variety of plant life and animal species, which are considered rare in Europe, and are a bird watcher’s paradise during the early mornings.
To make it more interesting, the Ljubljana marshes are also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. What’s a regular marshland doing on the UNESCO list, you might ask? Well, the area has been historically important since the prehistoric times and, due to the preservative properties of the wet ground, it is an archaeological goldmine. They dug out the world’s oldest wheel with an axle, which dates back 5000 years to the time of the Bronze Age pile dwellers, which are pretty popular in Slovenia. You can see the wheel exhibited in the Ljubljana City museum. However, it was the remains of 9 pile dwellers’ villages that made it on to the UNESCO list and if you are a history enthusiast you can book a tour here.
After the pile dwellers came the Romans and later on the peat excavators, who managed to dig out up to 6 meters of peat at various sites in the area. The Ljubljana marshes are probably the region that was most affected and modified by humans in the whole country, as the rivers were forced into canals and there were big plans for drainage and cultivation during the Hapsburg monarchy, but somehow (and luckily!) the traditional agriculture and the frequent political changes managed to preserve the marshes and their incredible biodiversity until today.
Impressions of the Ljubljana marshes
Much like Iški vintgar, any part of the Ljubljana marshes is a perfect nature daytrip from Ljubljana. In fact, Iški Vintgar is a gorge, which is actually a part of the marshes, but this post mainly refers to the part at the southern edge of Ljubljana, around Črna vas. The whole nature park is crisscrossed with walking and biking trails, all signposted with interesting historical fun facts, and you can pick and choose how long you wish to spend there. The entire area is mostly flat, so it makes for an easy walk along the river canal or through the fields and meadows. Since they’re located on the outskirts of Ljubljana, the marshes are always full of life and are particularly beautiful in the spring, when all the plants are blooming and the butterflies are out in full force. Apparently the Ljubljana marshes have twice as many species of butterflies as the entire British Isles, which is quite impressive!
Getting there: I recommend stopping at the interesting Church of St. Michael in Črna vas on the way, as it was designed by the famous Slovenian architect Jožef Plečnik and its bell tower is beautifully unique. Both the church and the Ljubljana marshes can be easily reached by city bus no. 19B (check for bus schedules here). Get off at the Plečnikova cerkev bus station, which is right at the church, and then continue on foot to the walking trail along the Iška river and beyond as long as your feet can carry you :).