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Move Me a River

Oh my ... as we went to Ljubljana Marshes landscape park again (for the gazillionth time) to do some kite flying, kite testing and of course kite aerial photography, we certainly did not expect this KAP session to be so cool.

It was really amazing. A warm, soft, golden light of an early spring afternoon sun; a strong and steady wind; the fields and trees glowing; Ljubljanica river, its tributaries and ancient channels telling us about thousands of years of history.

And we probably got our best KAP shot ever :-)

Ljubljanica river, the railway bridge (this part of the railway through the Marshes is a technical and a cultural monument), the village of Podpeč and Saint Anne hill above it (with an Iron Age hillfort and a church of St. Anne, and a Roman marble quarry that will play a huge role later)

These stunning vistas of the Marshes from a kite are not just pretty pictures, they tell a story. The next photo shows the view in the opposite direction, towards Vrhnika (Roman Nauportus) in the west:

Ljubljanica flowing from the west across the fields and meadows crisscrossed by drainage canals

You notice the 'knee' where the river turns sharply to the east? You can see a line of bushes and trees that continues on to the right of the photo and then turns slowly, going to the left (north) of Ljubljanica:

"Old Ljubljanica" accentuated in orange

This is the so-called Old Ljubljanica, a silted-up, dry river channel, running almost parallel to Ljubljanica for over 5 km, some 500-700 m north of the river, leading back to it beyond Podpeč village.

And it has has a good story to tell.

The old Ljubljanica channel lined by trees and a path.

The old channel meanders a bit more than Ljubljanica river

Normally we wouldn't include such a tilted photo, but this one shows the Old and New Ljubljanica quite nicely - and the point they join again northeast of Podpeč village:

Ljubljana Marshes are incredibly flat. Ljubljanica drops for just one metre in its 30 km voyage from Vrhnika to Ljubljana - a 0.0033 % drop (that's the main reason for the regular floods on the Marshes), and one would expect that such a slow flowing river would meander a lot. But Ljubljanica doesn't meander much. Why is that?

One reason is that Ljubljanica emerges from the Karst underground in a series of Vaucluse-type springs at the edge of the Marshes and thus carries almost no sand or rocks, so being a slow-flowing river it can't erode much its banks - most of the erosion is concentrated in deepening the channel. The second reason is more interesting: it's us. Specifically, the story goes, it was the Romans.

When the flag emblazoned with SPQR first flew above the Marshes in early 1st century AD, they immediately identified Ljubljanica as an almost miraculous transport line. A river that sprung fully formed from underneath a sheer cliff? That's an attribute of a goddess!

And as soon the word 'transport' was uttered, the 'efficiency' was implied. Ljubljanica was not famous for its meanders, but meander she did; and shaving an hour from assembling the troops (or evenmore pressing, from delivery time) was then as precious as ever. There are certain reasons to believe the Romans straightened a part of Ljubljanica - namely, the Old channel and some of Ljubljanica proper, probably up to the confluence with the river Ižica.

The not-so-straight Old channel and the quite-straight Ljubljanica

With a shortened transport line and a better delivery process the good people of Emona discovered that they can both live in a nice place and get hot pizzas from the best tavern in Nauportus. The Roman colonia, the precursor of Ljubljana, started to thrive.

And thriving meant prosperity and prosperity meant palaces and palaces meant marble steps and marble columns and brand new antique marble statues. So when in early 2nd century Romans discovered a superb marble seam on the hill that was to be St. Anne, they were definitely thrilled - and they saw a huge problem as an opportunity.

Look! A train!

The problem was that the marble quarry was almost a mile away from the only viable route in the Marshes - Ljubljanica river. Imagine dragging huge marble slabs through unstable, soggy, flooded marsh ... even building a road was completely out of the question. So the good rich people of Emona and the owners of the quarry had only two options: move the quarry closer to the river, or move the river closer to the quarry.

As quarries go, they are pretty much immovable (they can be disassembled an carried off in small chunks, but that's how a quarry works), so they choose the easy way out - move the river closer to the quarry.

The opportunty was the fact both Nauportus and Emona had substantial military presence, the Empire was expanding, and the best route from West to East ran through right here So if the good rich people of Emona could present their river moving idea as a military necessity ...

Somehow they managed to do it. The idea was to further straighten Ljubljanica, this time by digging a whole new channel from the confluence of Borovniščica in a straight line to the hills (and the quarry), and then turn northeast to the previously regulated channel by expanding a small extant creek. You know, to shave a couple of minutes from the delivery time, add a couple of miles to an army's day march, carry huge marble blocks for the palaces in Emona, and the like. The Roman bureaucracy bought it - and so the Roman army went and moved the river!

1 - the marble quarry of Podpeč; 2 - the cargo port on the river, where the New channel turns northeast; 3 - the junction of the Old and the New channel

The palaces of Emona got their marble steps and columns, statues were commissioned and chiseled, the marble merchants got rich, the armies marched and the Empire grew. The next time some had the audacity to mess with Ljubljanica was over a millenium and a half later, when they dug the Gruber canal to alleviate the floods. The final regulation of the river in Ljubljana was finished in 1930s.

To be honest, this narrative is disputed; there are a couple of archaeological finds that put the whole story into a bit of disrepute - it's possible Ljubljanica moved its channel all by itself, guided by the mysterious Marshes. But it's still a good and a plausible story, well worth a tell.

Especially if accompanied by such nice kite aerial photos!

A whole other story is hidden here - on the fields around this creek a Bronze Age pile-dwelling was discovered ...

The kite flying and kite testing part went fine - a new CMYK lifter made by Dr.agon Kites flew perfectly, and we put the Trilobite up for company.

If you look closer, you can see a small white speck just above and to the right of the Trilobite - it's the Great White Delta taking kite aerial photos! :-)

The KAP kite managed to take a picture of these two from the air ... the kites are rather large (some 16 square meters each), so you can feel how high the camera flew:

Kites in the lower right corner!

All kite aerial photos shot with Nikon P330 in two KAP sessions on a Great White Delta kite.


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