A Sweet Story about Salt

The 700-year-old tradition of salt production in Sečovlje and Strunjan

By Slovenian Tourist Board

Sečovlje salt pans by Branko FurlaničSlovenian Tourist Board

In the north of the Mediterranean, at the mouth of the Dragonja River, the bond between man and the sea has been flourishing since the Middle Ages. 

Each summer, the saltworks in Sečovlje and Strunjan ensure the continuation of a centuries-old tradition, thus preserving the distinct cultural heritage and landscape.

Portorož salt pans, 1909 (1990) by Obalne galerije PiranSlovenian Tourist Board

700-Year-Old Tradition

The first mention of salt pans in Slovenia is from the year 804 AD. In the thirteenth century, the production of salt grew after the saltworks were restructured and organized under the Venetian Republic.

A salt pan worker from afar by Jaka IvančičSlovenian Tourist Board

Sečovlje and Strunjan saltworks are one of the last in the Mediterranean to use the traditional medieval method of manually harvesting the salt by raking it with wooden scrapers into heaps.

It is an arduous, yet rewarding process, yielding three different types of salt.

Salt on a tool called "kavedin" by Jaka IvančičSlovenian Tourist Board

Three Types of Salt

The different types of salt are the “first salt”, the “traditional salt”, “Piran salt”, and “fleur de selor “salt flower”. 

The latter is harvested with a wooden tool, which has a wire mesh on one end to trap the crystals. 

Salt and the layer of petola underneath (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

Petola

The salt production process begins in early June, when salt workers ensure that the ground in the salt pans is covered with petola, which is a dark, jelly-like layer of cyanophytes and cyanobacteria.

This layer ensures that the salt doesn’t get mixed up with the sea mud underneath. 

Sečovlje salt pans by Branko FurlaničSlovenian Tourist Board

A Nature-Friendly Business!

Petola is actually friendlier to the environment than a simple concrete layer, as it produces more oxygen than if the same surface area was covered with a 30-40 meters tall tropical rainforest!

Sečovlje salt pans by Jaka IvančičSlovenian Tourist Board

From start . . .

With the help of channels and dykes, clean sea water is led into the evaporation ponds. 

After it gets denser, the brine is then pumped into the crystallization ponds. 

Tools for salt production, "taperin" and "kavedin" by Jaka IvančičSlovenian Tourist Board

Workers put on their fashionable wooden shoes . . .

. . . and begin scraping salt into heaps using wooden scrapers. They have to be careful not to scrape at the layer of petola underneath.

Throwing the salt into the wagons by Branko FurlaničSlovenian Tourist Board

. . . to finish!

The heaps of salt are tossed onto a wooden wagon with shovels, and taken to the empty pools, where they are left to strain and stored in a warehouse. 

Istrian cuisine (2015) by Matevž Kostanjšek and Gruša Zorn, arhiv Turistično združenje PortorožSlovenian Tourist Board

The salt produced in Sečovlje and Strunjan saltworks is a true culinary gem. A sprinkle on top makes everything better. Locals will recommend baking Piran sea bass in it, or tasting it in the delicious handmade chocolate.

Sečovlje Salt Pans - Thalasso Spa Lepa Vida (2016) by Gojko ZrimšekSlovenian Tourist Board

Because of its health benefits, the salt is also used in wellness; you can find many salt beauty products or indulge yourself with special exfoliating massages. 

Birds at the Sečovlje Salt Pans by Branko FurlaničSlovenian Tourist Board

Biodiversity

Salt pans are not only valuable to humans, but also to the 296 species of birds who come here in the summer to nest, and the variety of plants that thrive in difficult saline conditions. They’re also home to the brine shrimp! 

Sečovlje Salt Pans by Branko FurlaničSlovenian Tourist Board

The saline conditions are extremely favourable to halophytes, a type of plant that usually colours red in autumn. 

Because of such biodiversity, the wetlands of the salt pans are protected to ensure that plant and animal life continues to thrive.

Bird's Eye View of the Strunjan Salt Pans and the Slovenian Istria (2019-11-15) by Dražen Štader, Produkcija StudioSlovenian Tourist Board

“Salt is the sea that could not return to the sky”

The salt that is harvested in the Sečovlje and Strunjan saltworks is a memory of the once widespread and fundamental power of salt harvesting. 

So, next time you sprinkle kitchen salt on your meal, you will be tasting history a thousand years in the making, the proof that man and sea have always been and will continue to be an invincible pair. 

Piran salt pans in the summer (2018) by Dražen Štader, Produkcija StudioSlovenian Tourist Board

Proverbs Including Salt

Another proof that salt has left a mark on humanity is the myriad of Slovenian proverbs and sayings that include it, usually connected either to smartness or to money. 

Proverbs Including Salt by Meta Wraber

Salt in One's Head

For example, “he/she doesn’t have a lot of salt in their head” means that somebody is not very smart. Additionally, “to take something with a pinch of salt” means to not take something literally but to take time to think about it first.

Piles of salt in the Sečovlje salt pans (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

Salt can also be a metaphor for money: “he/she doesn’t even make enough to buy salt” has come to mean that somebody is poorly paid. Certainly, a saying that we hope does not get used too often.

Saving the drinking water from a spring at Pokljuka (2019) by CJ STUDIO d.o.o., foto Ciril JazbecSlovenian Tourist Board

Now that you’ve read about the white gold of Slovenia, you shouldn’t miss out on discovering The Liquid Treasure, too! It will certainly leave you feeling thirsty.

Credits: Story

✏️ Story by: Slovenian Tourist Board
🎨 Salt design by Meta Wraber

📣 Special thanks to Portorož Tourist Board
Tourist Association of Slovenia (Turistična zveza Slovenije)  
Turistično združenje Portorož, g. i. z.
Portorož & Piran

📖 Sources:
Environmental monitoring of the Sečovlje salt pans
Economic history of salt pans (bachelor's thesis)
Fran phrasal dictionary - "sol"
Sečovlje Salina Nature Park
Spoznajmo soline (book)
Saltern

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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