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Salt pans and a salt pan worker

Photo: Arne Hodalič

Salt has been sustainably produced at the Sečovlje Salt Pans since at least 804.

The Sečovlje Salina Nature Park  is the largest coastal wetland in Slovenia, with an area of roughly 650 hectares.The Sečovlje saltworks are also one of the last saltworks in the Mediterranean where salt is still produced by hand according to a centuries-old method. This traditional method of salt production, kind to nature and to people, has over time enabled the development of special habitats within and around the salt ponds. Nature and human beings live hand in hand at Sečovlje. 

The saltworks were created during the reign of Charlemagne and the first written accounts of the Piran saltworks (of which the Sečovlje saltworks are a part) dates from AD 804. They are mentioned in a treatise by Charlemagne's envoys on the saltworks on the island of Pag. A more detailed account appears in the Piran statutes of 1274, in which conditions for producing and selling salt (including the price at which it was to be sold) were laid down. Salt production was at one time a vitally important activity. Salt was used both to conserve food and to make gunpowder. Today the saltworks no longer have a commercial role. 

The inhabitants of Piran  used to begin the saltmaking season with the departure, en masse, of the saltworkers' families to the saltworks on St George's Day (23 April). Entire families would live in the saltworkers' cottages during the harvesting of salt in the salt fields.

Salt was harvested in salt fields. Seawater was channelled from evaporation ponds to crystallisation ponds. Once the water had evaporated and the salt had formed, the salt-workers scraped it into piles using a wooden scraper called a gavero and left it to drain. On their feet they wore special sandals called taperini. Once the salt had drained, they transported it in handcarts (careli) to the salt warehouse. The season ended on St Bartholomew's Day (24 August). Following a special Mass to give thanks for the harvest, the saltworkers returned to their homes. This traditional process of harvesting salt, using techniques dating as far back as the fourteenth century, is still used in the saltworks today.

The Sečovlje saltworks are a reflection of Slovenian history and heritage and one of the country's most beautiful natural and cultural monuments. They are also extremely important as a remarkable blend of ecosystems that combine marine, brackish, freshwater and land ecosystems. At the same time they are an irreplaceable habitat for many endangered species. They are particularly known as a habitat for birds. Almost 300 different species of birds have been observed here to date, almost 100 of which also nest here, while for at least four species this is their only nesting place in Slovenia. The immovable cultural heritage of the saltworks includes the salt fields, the channels and embankments with their stone walls, steps and sluice gates, the saltworkers' cottages and the areas around them, and various paths and bridges.

The entire area of the Sečovlje saltworks was proclaimed a nature park in 2001. At the same time, the Museum of Saltmaking  area was proclaimed a cultural monument of national importance. The Sečovlje saltworks were also the first wetland in Slovenia to be included on the list of wetlands of international importance protected by the 1993 Ramsar Convention. 

Text by Tanja Glogovčan