Javascript must be enabled to continue!

Constantza


Authors-Travellers    EN

Author: ARDELEANU KONSTANTIN

Constanţa started to be visited by foreign travellers since the 1830s, during the period when the Austrian Steam Navigation Company used the route across Dobrudja in order to shorten the journey between Vienna and Constantinople. Many such travel accounts are referred to in the large collection “Călători străini despre Ţările Române în secolul al XIX-lea” [Foreign Travellers on the Romanian Principalities in the 19th Century] (8 volumes so far).

Hector de Bearn (1828)

“On 11 August we finally entered Constanţa, the small citadel taken from the Turks at the beginning of the campaign. This city placed on the coast of the Black Sea does not have a harbor, but is only an unloading point; from the mainland it is defended by a simple wall with bastions” [1].

Hans Christian Andersen (1841)

“In 1809 Constanţa was completely destroyed by the Russians, and everything looked like having happened a few weeks ago. Poor houses, half destroyed, made up the main street which was quite broad; here and there were columns of marble and of grey stone, which seemed to belong to a past age. At several houses the roof or a balcony were supported with a wooden beam, placed on a ancient marble capitol. The minaret of the only mosque, fallen into ruins, was made of whitewashed planks. There also was a coffee house, but its aspect, as well as its guests, was poor. Here, on the balcony, there were several Turks smoking their pipes, drinking their coffees and ignoring us, the foreigners” [2].

Patrick O’Brien (1853)

“Kustendji itself is situated on a promontory jutting out in the sea, the southernmost point of which forms one side of the bay or small roadstead. The town is in a state of ruin, from the visitation of the Russians, who appear to have exercised unnecessary severity in their destruction of the place. Kustendji is situated at about one hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. The small port formed by the mole, said to have been erected by the Romans, has at present only about six or seven feet water, it being filled up by the ruins of the mole and the sand brought in by easterly winds from the sea. This port is only capable of containing twelve or fifteen small vessels. The bay or roadstead would be tolerably protected were the mole restored and extended, and the bay cleared of the sand and ruins. It might then give shelter to about fifty or sixty vessels of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred tons burthen. The facilities for restoring the mole are very great, as hewn stones of all sizes are on the spot” [3].

Charles Doussault (1854)

“Constanţa, a small open harbour, sufficiently bad for mooring, is a place than does not deserve to be called town. It stretches towards the bay along the pier and can easily become extremely powerful for that which controls the sea. Before the war, Constanţa presented, as all the Turkish towns from the Danube, the image of chaos and desolation. While withdrawing after the peace of Adrianople, the Russian army blew up the fortifications of all these towns” [4].

Ferdinand Quesnoy (1854) [5]

“Constanţa, as all the Turkish towns in Dobrudja, is today nothing else than a pile of ruins. When we arrived there, some beams were still smoking after the last fire lit by the Russian. No inhabitant remained on the spot; everything was deranged and unclear. You can find at Constanţa numerous traces of the old Constantiniana. The promontory on which the town is built offers a narrow part that communicates with the mainland; the Romans built their settlement on this isthmus, which thus provided good conditions for its defence. Under the ruins of the Turkish houses, built with stones from the Roman building, there were the foundations of all buildings; at the ground level you could see the stone layers that drew the streets. […] During the Turkish times, the population of Constanţa could not be large; there only was a single mosque in the centre, and the houses, whose destruction dates from the Russian invasion of 1828, are largely ruined; few were restored to host the new inhabitants”.

Henry C. Barkley (1858–1860) [6]

“During the afternoon of the third day we topped a long rise, and there, about four miles before and below us, we saw Kustendjie. It was a joyful sight to us all, for we were weary and feverish, and some of us full of aches and pains; but at the same time I felt disappointed, for I had heard so much for months past of this place that my imagination had pictured it quite a grand Oriental town, instead of which I could distinguish through the clear air only a small collection of wretched mud huts with the minaret of a mosque sticking up from the midst. The village stands on a narrow neck of land which, stretching out into the Black Sea, forms an open bay on its western side. This, then, was to be my home for years! Should I ever learn to like it and be able to look back to this part of my life with pleasure? […] Rattle, rattle, rattle, down this hill and the next, through the gap in Trajan's wall, in and out among the numerous barrows which cluster round the base of the promontory, past the khan, and through the market-place, and here we are on the edge of the cliff just under the mosque and between it and the sea. Here we soon have all the male portion of the village squatting round us with open mouths and dull, stupid faces, wondering at the strange beings that have come among them from some distant land called London, miles beyond Stamboul. In half an hour the tent is pitched, beds arranged, boxes brought in, guns and pistols fastened round the tent-pole, and those who were sound gone off for a swim in the sea, while we poor cripples have to content ourselves with a damping from a little water poured Turkish fashion over our faces and hands. We manage to spend a merry evening, and for the last time enjoy the rollicking French songs and amusing tales of our two friends, who are to start on their return journey the next morning. […]

All the early part of the morning was taken up with visits from the 'Mudir,' or Governor, the chief Mollah,' or priest, the chief of the Zaptiehs, and then all the other leading men of the village. They all came separately, all smoked, and all drank coffee. They could not come together and so let us get over all our salaams in a lump, for each wanted something through our supposed influence, and dare not mention it before the others – the Governor and the officials all wanted more pay, and hoped we mfght be able at some time to say a good word for them in Stamboul. All the others wanted to be made Governor. If only half they said of the existing one was true, he must be a hoary-headed old sinner; and if a quarter of what each said for himself was also true, here was a nest of men all fit to be Grand Viziers!

We were entreated to consider their houses and all that they had in the world as our own, and were only to ask, to have. We did ask at once for a house to hire, and then found they all belonged to Turks, and no Giaour could be allowed to live among the Children of the Prophet! So much for an Oriental's offer.

During many years of travel, I have remarked a very curious coincidence. Whenever you go to a fresh place or country, it is always an exceptional year there. Either it is extraordinarily hot, or cold, or wet, or there never were so many mosquitoes, flies, or fleas. There always is something never known before. Our visit here proved no exception to the rule; for no sooner were we settled than it turned as cold as the first days of December, and down came the rain and down it continued to come for ten days in a way quite unprecedented, for here September is generally one of the finest, hottest, and driest months of the year. A good English tent is not an over-nice home in cold and wet, and a bad Turkish one is only fit for frogs or water-snakes. Then acute rheumatism is not a nice bedfellow under such circumstances; but we had to put up with it, for it was three weeks before we could get a room to shelter in, and then only one in a Jew's house, so small that, when the three little camp beds were opened out, they covered all the floor, and the door could not be opened. Besides this, the ceiling was only five feet from the ground, and the only window was one foot square and glazed with bladder. Another drawback to our comfort was a door with cracks one could put one's hand through, communicating with a drinking-shop kept by our Jew landlord, or landlords, for there were about half a dozen of them. Night was made hideous by the howls of the drunken beasts that frequented it to drink raki; and, do what we would in the way of stopping up cracks, we were nearly suffocated by the aniseed scented fumes, and I can never again smell aniseed without being carried back in mind to that stuffy little hovel. One night, whilst my elder brother was away, we were awakened by fearful screams, and, on pulling open one of the cracks in the door and taking a peep into the adjoining room, we saw a lusty Israelite sitting on his prostrate wife, apparently occupied in knocking out her brains with a black bottle, while a dozen other cowardly brutes sat looking on with as much indifference as if he had been hammering a stone. […]

Besides the actual line we had a lot of building on hand. Houses had to be erected for ourselves, staff, and the numerous European workmen, and offices and shops put up for them to work in. The former were all placed in a large fenced-in field, or compound, of at least fifty acres, just at the base of the promontory, and commanding a fine sea-view – the latter, near the point where the harbour works had to be commenced. All were built of stone, most of which was procured by pulling down old fortifications and grubbing up the foundations of the numerous Roman buildings those enterprising people had left behind them hundreds of years before. From the sea-cliff on the east to a point in the Bay of Kustendjie, there ran an old Roman fortification about a mile long, cutting off the whole of the point and a good piece of land along the bay from the plains, thus making Kustendjie, in those days, quite secure from the attacks of the barbarians. […]

There were now living at Kustendjie, and on the line, a considerable number of Englishmen with their wives and children, but up to the middle of the summer the only religious service anyone had bad a chance of attending was the funeral, and there were many who were anxious this state of things should be amended. A meeting was held, at which it was decided that as there was no hope for the present of obtaining the permanent services of a clergyman, a service should be held on the works every Sunday morning, at which the prayers and lessons for the day should be read by one of the congregation. At the same time a gentleman undertook to write to Mr. Curties, a clergyman, who had long resided at Constantinople, working for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and beg him, if possible, to pay us a visit from time to time. This was more particularly desired, as several children had been born at Kustendjie, and were unbaptised. At first there was some difficulty in fixing on a place to hold the service in, as most of the buildings were unfinished, or for some reason unavailable. Close to the sea-beach were two large parallel rows of sleepers, and by laying planks across on the top, a rough sort of room was formed that, if not quite as perfect as some of our cathedrals at least provided shelter from rain and sun. Then what more could be desired for seats than sleepers laid in rows up the primitive church, and what better reading desk than a packing case placed at the end? Well, such as it was, we held service there every Sunday, till winter storms drove us into a magazine that had just been finished, and from this time it was a rare exception if a Sunday passed without morning prayers being read”.

Bruto Amante (1887)

“Constanţa, the main city of Dobrudja, is shortly to gain a great importance. It is placed halfway between Constantinople and Odessa and it will rival and perhaps surpass, due to its maritime position, the latter and will become the best and most visited port of the Black Sea. Constanţa has long and broad streets, on both sides of which there are and there will be built good buildings. The poor houses were completely demolished in 1878 by the Bulgarians, during the Russian–Turkish war, and the ones that still stand, due to private speculations, are ready to be transformed into rich and comfortable edifices. During the summer Constanţa becomes the place where the Romanian society spends its spare time; it is the Leghorn of Romania and thus the improvements of its buildings are extremely rapid. Prefect Opreanu leveled several streets, others were systematized, built on the sea shore the beautiful Elisabeth Boulevard where there are pavilions, gardens, banks, and left everywhere traces of his wise activity. The old and barbarous names of the streets were replaced with names that remind of local history and civilization” [7].

 


[1] Hector de Beam, Quelques souvenirs d'une Campagne en Turquie (Paris, 1828)

[2] Hans Christian Andersen, Eines Dichters Bazar (Leipzig, 1843).

[3] Patrick O’Brien, Journal of a Residence in the Danubian Principalities in the Autumn and Winter of 1853 (London, 1854), 35–36.

[4] Charles Doussault, “La Dobrudja”, L'Illustration, no. 591, Paris, 24 June 1854, 395.

[5] “La Dobrudja. De Varna a Custendje”, L'Illustration, no. 604, 23 September 1854 and no. 605, 30 September 1854, 236.

[6] Henry C. Barkley, Between the Danube and the Black Sea, or Five Years in Bulgaria (London: John Murray, 1876).

[7] Bruto Amante, La Romania (Rome: Bruto Amante editore, 1888); also see Arcadiu Petrescu, “Oraşul Constanţa la 1884 descris în cartea La Romania de Bruto Amante”, Analele Dobrogei, new series, 5:2 (1999), 133–139.


Back