The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears, or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen, 1885-1962
Adriatic Sea Salt Harvesting
Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline may only be 28 miles long, but this stretch of the Istrian Peninsula is awash in deeply-held customs associated with the sea – especially the harvesting of Adriatic sea salt. During a visit of several days, I bobbed between the towns of Piran and Portorož, dipping my toes in centuries-old traditions that included salt harvesting and thalassotherapy.
Admiring the 180-degree panorama from atop Piran’s highest point, a mount where the Cathedral of St. George is perched, it was easy to appreciate the affinity locals feel with all things nautical. Piran occupies the tip of a narrow finger of land that stretches into the shimmering Gulf of Piran, and even at an elevation of almost 1,000 feet the presence of the sea is overpowering.
As I stood on the city’s ancient walls, my guide Irena Pahor gave context to my sensory impressions, sharing her own history and that of Piran. Breathless from both the stunning view and a ten-minute walk up the steep hillside through a maze of narrow alleys, I contentedly soaked up Piran’s ambience and Irena’s description of growing up in this idyllic spot.
The name of the town is said to originate from the Greek word pyr, which means “fire.”In antiquity, Piran’s residents kept huge bonfires going on the very tip of the peninsula as a sort of lighthouse, serving as a warning for Greek boats going to their colonies.
“My family came to live in Piran in autumn of 1968 from Koper when I was a baby,” Irena said. “My mother Emilija was a nurse and my father Dimitrij worked for the Splošna plovba shipping company.”
“One of my favorite memories of those days is of our family’s Sunday morning walks around the city,” she continued. “After breakfast, my sister, mum and I dressed very pretty and, with my father, we went on our circle walk. We left our home at the top of the city walls, went first by the St. Georges church, than to the lighthouse at the top of the peninsula. From there, we walked on the riva, the promenade along the sea, to the main pier, where there was a sail boat with a restaurant. It looked like an old pirate’s boat and eating there from time to time was something special for me.”
Irena and I replicated her childhood strolls, reaching Tartinijev Trg, the town square. Here I gazed not down but up at the facades of the buildings lining the expansive plaza, charmed by the Venetian Gothic architecture, a legacy of the centuries the city spent as a part of the Venetian Republic. I admired a striking structure painted in a shade of a deep rose, which Irena told me was the oldest building on the square, built by a rich Venetian merchant to house his mistress. The lovers were not deterred by gossip about their affair; Irena pointed out an inscription between the upper windows, which says Lassa pur dir, or “let them talk.”
To continue reading and see the slide show, turn the page!