The Ljubljanica River Phenomenon, Slovenia

The Ljubljanica River Phenomenon


The site:

The 23 km stretch of the Ljubljanica River between Vrhnika and Ljubljana and the surrounding floodplains, the Ljubljana Marshes, is one of the most complex archaeological sites in Slovenia. Many archaeological remains are present in the river, such as remains of wooden boats, port structures, stream control systems, buildings and checkpoints along the river. For example, pieces of tools from Mesolithic or late Paleolithic hunter-gatherers or Celtic weapons from the late Iron Age have been found. These discoveries testify to the particular role of the river for local communities. The remains of ships in the river bear witness to the vitality of the region and the role of river transport in the local economy.

The project:

The elements present in the Ljubljanica River have been protected as an archaeological complex since 2002, allowing them to be protected as archaeological heritage and State property. However, because this heritage is easily accessible, looting took place in the 1980s, a phenomenon that decreased significantly from 2002, when Ljubljanica was declared a cultural monument of national importance. This recognition has led to stronger controls by the authorities, accompanied by projects to raise awareness among the local population. Developments in the issue of heritage management are partly the result of the ratification of the Valletta Convention in 1999 and the adoption of a law on the protection of cultural heritage in 2008. The latter has set up a system allowing individuals to return the assets in exchange for financial compensation. This has resulted in the recovery of three large collections of underwater archaeological objects and has been exhibited in public museums. A major project, which is the result of a partnership between the Museum and the Ljubljana Gallery Institution (MGML), the Municipality of Vrhnika and the Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Ljubljana, on the sustainable management, safeguarding and promotion of the river's archaeological heritage, was implemented between 2014 and 2016.

Public access:

The project, entitled "Ljubljanica Exhibition and Discovery Site", aimed to protect the most at-risk areas of the site and improve access to heritage elements. The activities included: (1) the in situ protection and monitoring of the condition of a Roman barge on the riverbed near Sinja Gorica, discovered in 2008 during an underwater exploration operation as part of flood management works and researched in 2012 by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Slovenia; (2) the uncovering and removal of water from an oak canoe approximately 14.3 metres long, 1.35 metres at its widest point and 65 centimetres deep on the riverbed at Vrhnika, by the Institute of Underwater Archaeology in Ljubljana in collaboration with the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar (the canoe is currently conserved at the Restoration Centre of the Institute for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Slovenia in Ljubljana; (3) the establishment and opening of the above-mentioned Centre in Vrhnika, including a permanent exhibition on the archaeological heritage of Ljubljanica and a pressure piece specially designed to accommodate the canoe.

Due to the presence of a rich underwater cultural heritage in the Ljubljanica basin, it is important to raise awareness among the local population and promote quality recreation, while at the same time promoting the development of local tourism.

The main objective is to protect, preserve and revitalize the cultural and natural heritage present in the basin. The first phase of the large-scale project concerns an exhibition and discovery site in Ljubljanica.

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