At Sečovlje Salina Nature Park, the past and present still walk hand in hand. The ancient method of salt-making, learnt ages ago by the Piran salt-workers from their teachers, the salters from Pag Island, is still something special, even in the entire Mediterranean.
Not only that the traditional manual gathering of salt in salt fields is a special feature of the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean Slovenia, but it also provides for conditions that enable conservation of the most significant natural heritage of the Sečovlje Salina. According to the available written records, the Sečovlje salt-pans are more than 700 years old, and even much older according to some other sources. Once upon a time, salt-pans were quite common along the mouths of the rivers in the Gulf of Trieste and Istria.
As salt-pans are unique biodiversity-rich wetlands, it is no coincidence that many of them have been included in the NATURA 2000 network.
They are significant as well as exceptional natural environment inhabited by highly interesting plant and animal species that have managed to adapt to the extreme salina living conditions. Given that they are mostly encased between land and sea, a wide range of habitats can be expected in them, from those with fresh, brackish and sea water to those with water saturated with salt.
The cultural heritage of Piran salt-pans embraces the centuries-old life and work of the salters on the NE coast of the Adriatic Sea. Of the once numerous salt-pans in the Gulf of Trieste, only those at Sečovlje and Strunjan have been preserved, due to which their testimonial value has become even greater, placing them to the level of ethnological, technical, historical, settlement and landscape heritage of exceptional concern.
The salt-pans’ immovable cultural heritage encloses their salt-fields, channels and banks with stone walls, steps and sluices, salt-pan houses with their immediate surroundings, paths, bridges, pumps, etc.
The Strunjan and Sečovelje salt-pans are the only pans along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, where salt is made, with traditional methods in the entire process, through daily gathering in brine on the biosediment – the petola.
For centuries, the Northern Adriatic salt-pans exerted a great impact on the economy of states and city-states of this region. They were often the subject of political disputes and wars, for due to its applicability salt was a valuable raw material and a strategic commodity, important for the canning of food and for the production of gunpowder.
In the Gulf of Trieste and Istria, there used to be, apart from the Old Piran salt-pans at Sečovlje, Lucija and Strunjan, several smaller and larger pans (such as at Muggia, Koper and Izola). They were marked not only by political and economic interests, but also by the whimsicality of nature, which at times totally prevented salt-making for longer periods of time, or endowed it with superabundance at some other time.
The Sečovlje and Strunjan salt-pans are the only pans in this part of the Adriatic, where salt is still produced and where the traditional method of salt-making with its daily gathering has been preserved. Today, the economic role of the pans is subjected to the nature conservationist and cultural roles: the salt made here is a delicacy for gourmets; the preservation of salt-pan customs is sustaining the conscience of cultural heritage; the salt-pan area is giving a shelter to the rare or special animal and plant species and is at the same time a reserve of ecologically precious residential environment and a reminiscence of once rich Mediterranean cultural heritage and the rapidly disappearing landscape.
Salt is made in salt-fields, consisting of evaporation and crystallisation basins. Seawater is led from evaporation to crystallisation basins according to the principle of gravitation, or is aided by pumps. At Fontanigge, they used to be driven by wind wheels, while at Lera the Austrians introduced, about a hundred years ago, a modernised procedure with the use of motor pumps.
About one fifth of all basins are crystallisation basins, in which salt is finally made, once seawater has travelled there through evaporation basins, evaporating gradually. In crystallisation basins, the petola is cultivated (a few mm thick layer of algae, gypsum and minerals), which prevents the mud mixing with salt.
During salt-making, the salters use some very traditional tools. Salt is raked with special scrapers in large heaps. The strained salt is stored in special warehouses.
Guided tours through the Park are intended for visitors who wish to get to know a little more about Sečovlje Salina Nature Park and its salt-making tradition, apart from having a pleasant walk through it.
A guided tour through Lera lasts for at least one hour and a half, with the tour including a walk some two kilometres’ long from the Entrance at Lera to the Visitor Centre and back. During the walk, the guide (a nature conservation supervisor) presents Sečovlje Salina Nature Park (flora, fauna, cultural heritage) and the salt-making procedure to the visitors. In the Visitor Centre, a short film is envisaged to be shown to the visitors, as well as a presentation of the water regime with an interactive scale model of the salt pans. From the scenic viewpoint platform, a panoramic view of the wider area of the Salina is also possible, while in the nearby restaurant, Solni Cvet (The Flower of Salt), drinks are served, as well as food on a preliminary agreement. At Lera, the shop “Lera” is located, where salt and other products associated with it can be purchased. Above the shop is a gallery where art works by acknowledged as well as lesser known artists are exhibited.
The Museum of Salt-making is located at Fontanigge along the Giassi Channel, where one of the four restored salt-pan houses with a museal collection and a salt-field with the appertaining inflow channel with seawater is located. The Museum of Salt-making offers a guided tour to visitors as well! The trail along the Dragonja River from the entrance gate to the Museum is about 2.5 km long (one way). The Museum can also be visited by “Solinarka” boat, by bike, by foot and (exceptionally) by bus.
Free for visitors – the Museum of Salt-making by bike
Upon entering the Sečovlje Salina Nature Park in the area Fontanigge are available 25 bikes for free hire. It takes 10 minutes by bike to the Museum.