The town of Piran features an ancient city centre with a rich architectural heritage and a unique cultural landscape in the form of its salt-pans, which are still partly in use today with production based on traditional cultivation. The Piran peninsula has a very attractive position – the mountain ridge on the north shields it from the bora wind, while the steep slope and the bay in the east gives good control over the only land access.
It was settled already in the prehistory. During the time of the Roman Republic the Piran coastline was strewn with several maritime villas, probably aggregating the economic activities of larger estates and at the same time serving maritime connections in the Northern Adriatic. Piran was first mentioned in the 7th century together with other Istrian towns in the Cosmographia of the Anonymous Geographer from Ravenna. After that the town seems to have led a continuous life, only changing governance.
The core of the settlement was on the ridge since prehistoric times. Here were the castle of the Aquileian gastald and the main town church of St. George. The town evolved first in the area of Cape Madona, pivoting on Piazza Vecchia – the square that housed the original Town Hall during the reign of the Aquileian patriarch. At the same time the first of the now visible walls was erected. This early medieval image of low buildings bordering on the seashore, two longitudinal streets and a central square has remained the essential urban layout until today.
Salt-panning, together with maritime transport and salt trade, had been the most important economic activity in Piran since the Early Middle Ages.
The geological features of Piran’s hinterland, in the alluvial plains of Strunjan, Lucija and Sečovlje, the high percentage of salt in the Trieste gulf, the climatic conditions (many sunny days, propitious winds) – all these were very favourable for the building of salt-pans. Traditional salt-panning gained new momentum at the end of the 14th century as a new surface layer of algae microorganisms, plaster and salina mud, called petola, was cultivated, with which pure white salt was produced in Piran.
The salt-pan areas in Strunjan and Sečovlje are under special protection as nature parks, as they are inhabited by rare, endangered and characteristic wildlife species in a typical salt-pan ecosystem formed through long-term activities of man. In Strunjan the high sandy cliffs give the park a special signature, while Sečovlje houses a wetland in an abandoned part with an exceptional landscape and great ecological value. Halophile vegetation needing high concentration of salt thrives in the salt-pans; true halophile fields can be found in some places, while the shores of the saline channels, and the banks of basins and dykes are overgrown with vegetation characteristic of their individual habitat, which also provides a home to some bee species. Almost 300 species of birds live in this habitat, some only nesting in the salt-pans; among them is the noticeable small white little egret (Egretta garzetta), the symbol of the Sečovlje nature park. The Piran salt-pans are the work of human hands during a millennium of tradition. Out of the numerous salt-pans in the Northern Adriatic, only the ones in Strunjan and Sečovlje have been preserved in their original scope and production. They represent a good example of heritage nestled in modern life and are more than just a historic, economic, technical, landscape and aesthetic monument.