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Why is Ljubljanica The River of Seven Names?

Where does Ljubljanica really spring to the surface? And what do baby dragons got to do with it?

The river Ljubljanica has a special position among Slovenian rivers. It is supplied with water from many karst influent streams belonging to two main catchment areas: Cerknica and Pivka. Its course is long and varied. It vanishes into the ground and comes to the surface many times along its course, each time with a different name. From its source in the foothills of Mount Snežnik it is known as the Trbuhovca, than later as the Obrh, then the Stržen, Rak, Pivka and Unica rivers, until it rises to the surface for the final time near Vrhnika as the Ljubljanica. Its springs are divided into three major groups: Močilnik, Retovje and Bistra. In addition to these, there are many smaller springs, wells and affluents.


Močilnik is a limestone steephead valley, out of which waters from Big Močilnik Spring (Veliki Močilnik) and Little Močilnik Spring (Mali Močilnik) flow to from the Little Ljubljanica River (Mala Ljubljanica). Big Spring Močilnik lies below the Devil’s Cliffs (Hudičeve skale), which are 40 m high. According to Greek mythology, Greek heroes – Jason and the Argonauts – ended their sail along Ljubljanica right here, in Močilnik. Jason was furious as they couldn’t go any further and he hit the rock with his fist – you can still see the imprint today. The Argonauts disassembled their ship and carried it on their shoulders to the Adriatic Sea. As a memorial to these Ancient Greeks and their journey, Vrhnika’s emblem is an image of the ship Argo, and locals and visitors remember them every year during the festival Argonaut Days.

Not far from Močilnik is Furlan Hot Springs at Mirke (Furlanove toplice na Mirkah), where the water has a constant temperature of 23° C.


In the Retovje Valley, slightly hidden in the wooded foothills of Raskovec Hill and Ljubljana Peak, are the springs of Big Ljubljanica (Velika Ljubljanica), which join the Little Ljubljanica (Mala Ljubljanica) from Močilnik after about 1 km in Verd. From here on, the river is called Ljubljanica. There are number of springs in the valley: ‘Pod skalco’, ‘Pod orehom’, ‘Malo okence’ and ‘Veliko okence’. The springs of Big Ljubljanica produce the greatest volume of watter of all the Ljubljanica springs and in the 19th century more than 10 water powered sawmills were located here.


Bistra Springs can be found at the foot of a steep, tectonically-shaped karst hillside halfway between Vrhnika and Borovnica. Their streams form the Bistra River about 400 m away. The position of these streams played a protective role for the Bistra monastery. Springs’ source waters are from the Cerknica Karst Field, Rakov Škocjan Park and the Planina Karst Field. In the past, the water powered mills and other equipment at the monastery and Bistra Castle. The flow of water was controlled by sluice gates close to the mills and sawmills.


Another natural wonder among Ljubljanica Springs is Lintvern Spring, the source of the Bela Stream. Lintvern is a natural monument and karst phenomena. The water discharge is not constant; sometimes the water gushes out with great force but at times the spring completely dries up. The Slovenian polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor wrote (1689) that the Lintvern Spring occasionally spews out baby dragons. These ‘dragons’, off course, were probably offspring of human fish.