Feb 02


‘Where should we start an exhibition on Water; the invaluable substance that dwells within us and is circling all around us? Its circulating is infinite, as is our selfishness in taking it for granted.  The same liquid, gas, or solid for billions of years; one of the basic elements that make the world’

(Voda Exhibition Guide (2015), Museum of Ljubljana)


Last week I spent a few days in Ljubljana courtesy of the GREENSURGE project (http://greensurge.eu/).  Some of the sessions were in the City Museum of Ljubljana where I was delighted to find the Voda (Water) exhibition which runs from 24.6.2015-8.5.2016. (http://www.mgml.si/mestni-muzej-ljubljana/mestni-muzej-ljubljana-389/aktualne-razstave/voda/).  This is an excellent collection of objects, films, poetry, paintings and ideas based around awareness of water, primarily focused on the area of Slovenia around Ljubljana. 


The River Ljubljanica, Ljubjana

The city is situated on the edge of extensive former marshes to the South.  The city water resources are based on the aquifers of the surrounding area and these have supported settlement in this area for over 5,000 years.  Running through the city is the River Ljubljanica.  Much of the city identity, heritage and pattern of built form relies on this as the key reference point.  Bridges are therefore important features of the city.  An extensive area of the city centre is pedestrianised, including a number of these bridges.   The Museum exhibition explains various different aspects of the river and bridge development: the canalisation of the riverbed and construction of a series of locks to regulate the level of water (1939-44 during the Second World War) has created a languid linear pool-like water body that provides a setting for townhouses, cafes and bars and allows the boats full of revellers and sightseers a depth of water for navigation.


River Ljubljianica Bridges: Butchers or Lovers Bridge, and the Dragon from the Dragon Bridge

The wider landscape character of the whole area around Ljubljana is very much about water.  In the 17th century the flooding of the city was recognised as a particular problem related to the Ljubljana marshes.  In 1689 these were identified as being four miles long by three miles wide by Valvasor who recommended creating Dutch-style ditches. In 1769 a decree by the Empress Maria Theresa led to the drainage and colonisation of the marshes which by that time were raised bog – a 30-65mm layer of dense waterlogged moss covering a layer of peat of several metres thick.   In the Neolithic period the marsh area was actually a lake and an important cultural centre.  The marshes have revealed some of their secrets in terms of the very early timber boats and foundations for Neolithic houses which were stilted buildings. The Church of St Michael, built 1925-39, is situated in the marshes and has a raised nave to guard it against seasonal flooding – perhaps something we could learn from here in the UK.  No doubt, like the Borth Bog (part of the Hydro project site in Wales), these ‘swamplands’ encouraged the evolution of myths and legends amongst the local people.  Much of the Ljubljana marsh area is now a landscape park with strip-type cultivation with by tree-lined ditches.  It is protected under Natura 2000 status and has been a UNESCO cultural heritage site since 2011.


Ljubljana fountains: Fountain of the three Rivers and winter fountain protection with water & energy billboard

Back in the City Museum a fascinating aspect of the exhibition is the display of domestic plumbing objects – from Roman pipework, to water bottles and thunder boxes of various types. The exhibition discusses the city’s foundation as the Roman city of ‘Emona’ and the water features (e.g. aqueducts and sewage systems) that allowed people to survive.  Twenty-five wells have been found so far within the Roman city bounds and water was distributed through a network of lead pipes.  Less is known about the city’s medieval water systems although reservoirs, wells and wastewater canals are documented.  The first modern water supply system in Ljubljana was in 1890.

In-between the GREENSURGE sessions, I dropped in and out of the exhibition.  We also had an excellent field visit to green spaces and to consider the green infrastructure of the city.  Wandering the city made me realise how this exhibition really brought to life the potential for raising awareness of the many connections and relationships people still can have with water in cities.  This exhibition also provides insights to the intangible relationships of people with water including reference to the traditional dedications to Achelous the river deity worshipped in Greece and found through the archaeological record in the city; the ‘marsh goddess’ Equrna who was adopted by the Romans from the local people; and the ballads, poems and stories which reference water as a symbol of physical and spiritual life, purity, fertility and rebirth.  Both the exhibition itself and the excellent museum guides provide rich pickings for those interested in Hydrocitizenship; they cover many social, cultural and environmental water issues from the local to the global.   The exhibition is also very much about future relationships with water.  It describes  the ‘Museum Water’ initiative and the story of Yunan who lives in the Nuba Mountains in Africa.  Yunan has no access to flowing drinking water: ‘Museum water is a mirror, it offers a look at the local and global environment…[it] brings a message to each one of us, to our society and to mankind’.



Gaspari, Andrej et al.  (2015) Voda Water, Vodnik Po Razstavi/Exhibition Guide Ljubljana: Muzej in galerije mesta Ljubljane. ISBN 978 961 6509 43 5


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