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Uspenia Monastery

The Lipovans are an important minority in the northern Dobruja. One of their most distinctive traits is their religious devotement. They are old-rite Christians, which mainly means that all of their religious holidays are set about two weeks after those of the new-rite Christians.

[adsense]Lipovans left Russia a few hundred years ago because of the religious persecution. They settled in Dobruja and the neighboring area and over the years they’ve been here, they’ve built a series of monasteries throughout the region.

The center of the old-rite Christianity is the Uspenia Monastery, located about three kilometers outside the village of Slava Rusa (Staroslava). The Lipovans settled here between 1680 and 1769.

Every year, on 28-29 August, Lipovans believers from all over the country and abroad gather here to celebrate the Holy Mary holiday.

It is believed that the monastery was founded around the year 1769 when a wooden church was built here, together with the hermitage for the monks, by the priest Evfrosin. He died shortly after, and for many years, the Lipovans didn’t have a priest. They finally elected Ambrosie as head of the church in 1846.

In 1883, they built a brick church in place of the old one. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Although big enough for it’s use throughout the year, in these two days of holiday you can barely move inside.

There is also a smaller church, built in 1860, currently used mainly in the winter.

Uspenia Monastery

Here’s an old painting of the monastery, dating from the early 20th century. These days, is looks somewhat different.

Old image of the Uspenia Monastery

As a kid, I loved going there because every time, there were plenty of small shops selling toys and other fun things at the entrance.

[adsense]Also, they had a nice old water mill powered by the small stream going through the center of the monastery. As a kid, I loved going inside to find out how it worked.  Unfortunately, it has not been used for many years and they finally demolished it a few years ago.

From what I understand, there were only two water mills in northern Dobruja, and this was one of them. Wind mills were much more popular (they were in the hundreds). You can still see one at the Celic Dere Monastery.

Inside the monastery, there is a cemetery for the clergy. A few years ago, I went there with my mother and we set our tent right there amongst the graves. Waking up in the morning was indeed a very nice sight.

According to my mother, one of my great grandfathers was a priest or a monk there.

This year, I didn’t really feel like attending the mass, so I decided to head out to the woods. I didn’t really know where I was heading so I followed the road. After I found out that it was leading to Fântâna Mare, I knew I had to get there, because I wanted to do that since I was a kid. It took me about three hours round trip, but I enjoyed the road. There were plenty of great sights.

If you’re on a religious tour in the northern Dobruja, make sure to visit this place. It’s really worth it.

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Places to Visit

Celic Dere Monastery

One thing that you’ll love about the northern Dobruja, besides the Danube Delta, is the fact that it has an abundance of religious monuments.

[adsense]One of the most important monasteries, widely considered the center of Christianity around here, is the Celic Dere Monastery. It is located just half an hour away from Tulcea, between the village of Telița and Frecăței.

The site is beautifuly situated in the middle of the woods, in a beautiful clearing on the Cilic valley.

The first church was built here in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century by a group of monks from Transylvania and Bucovina. They lived on the Athos Mountain in Greece for a while and they decided to settle here, near a village built by Transylvanian sheepherders.

Unfortunately, that first church burned down. Nowadays, archeologists uncovered an old cemetery there. Also, they found a necropolis from the sixth century just a few kilometers from here.

Celic Dere MonasteryThe Cilic Dere monastery was founded here in 1841, with Athanasie Lisavenco behind the project.  He had the written approval of the Ottoman sultan at the time, Abdul Medgid, as well as the Greek Church.

It was initially a mixed monastery, but in 1846, all monks had to move to a different site called Cilicul de Jos, leaving Celic Dere to the nuns. Later on, they would build the Saon Monastery.

In 1946, they opened the first church. The building of the curet church started in 1901 and was completed in 1916, with the paintings taking another 16 years for completion. The architect was Toma Dobrescu, while the painting was done by Ion Dinea.

The Wind Mill At Celic DereAs you enter the monastery, you’ll be delighted to find an old wooden wind mill. Back in the nineteenth century, these mills used to everywhere throughout the northern Dobrogea. I have an old photo with no less than five of them on a small site near Tulcea.

Back then, visitors going down the Sulina channel could see tens of them lined up on the side of the Danube, near the village of Crișan. Too bad they were taken down… We could have had a netherlands thing going.

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The Museum Ship „Republica” in Tulcea

If you’re out for a walk of the Tulcea promenade, you’ll notice there is a very old paddle ship near to the place where people take the boat to cross the Danube to Tudor Vladimirescu.

[adsense]Its name is Republica and it’s one of the oldest ships in Romania and one of the surviving three or four paddle ships in the Country.

It was built in 1903 in the Linz Shipyard, in Austria. It had the name Csobanc and had a commercial use until the uear 1916 when it was fitted with weapons to be used in the First World War. It was mainly a patrol ship, but she also layed mines along the Danube.

At the end of the war, it was captured by the Romanian forces. Over the years, she change her name to “Arad” (1919-1930), „Căpitan-comador Păun” (1930-1944), „Republica” (1947-1991). For a brief period, she was given the name „Locotenent-comandor Vasile Păun” which had nothing to do with the history, so in 2003 she was named, yet again, „Republica”.

Republica Ship

A few fun historical facts

[adsense]It seems that throughout its history, Republica has welcomed a number of high profile personalities. The first was Austrian General Von Mackenstein, the commander of the Austrian-Hungarian front during the First World War, Admiral Wolf, the commander of the Austrian fleet.

After she became a Romanian possession, it seems that Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, the country’s first communist president, invited Nikita Hrusciov on board of the Republica in order to renegotiate the war compensations.

It is rumored that it was on this ship that Nicolae Ceaușescu had a secret meeting with Tito, the dictator of former Yugoslavia.

Republica Ship

Republica today

Having served for over a century, Republica is a living monument.

Although the engine now works on diesel, the actual machine that powers the paddles is 100 percent original.

These days, it stands as a floating restaurant. Below decks, on the other hand, a museum was organized. You can see all the original parts and find out more about her history from her captain.

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Places to Visit

Murighiol

On your way to Dunăvățul de Jos, you’ll pass through the beautiful village of Murighiol. It’s name means “violet lake”, thanks to the breathtaking reflection that the nearby lake has in the evening.

[adsense]The village was first mentioned in 1543 with the name Mor-Kasim in a Turkish document. In the mid nineteenth century, its name was Mori-Gol, only to evolve into Morughiol in the early twentieth century.

The Russian – Ukrainian influence on the architecture of the place is pretty visible. Most houses are decorated using traditional Slavic motifs (such as the mermaids or the rays of the sun), or motifs representing the activities that the villagers engage in (the fish, the tree of life, the branch).

How to get to Murighiol?

The fastest way is certainly by car. You leave Tulcea using the 222C road and 38 kilometers later you’re there.

You could also rent a boat in Tulcea and head downstream on the Sfântu Gheorghe arm. About 8 kilometers after you pass Mahmudia, turn right on the Murighiol canal and you’ll find yourself in the village’s marina.

What can you see in Murighiol?

The Lake

The main attraction has to be the lake that the nearby lake. Besides it’s violet reflections, it is also a fantastic place for bird watching and fishing. It is connected through a series of canals with the Sfântu Gheorghe arm.

The harbor

The village also has a small harbor that connects though a short canal with the Sfântu Gheorghe arm, and from there, witht the rest of the Danube Delta.

The Murighiol Wharf

The church

The church is also worth visiting. It was built in 1883 and it hold a number of very rare religious paintings.

The Halmyris Fortress

It is no doubt that one of the most important attractions of the place is the Halmyris stronghold. Located about halfway between Murighiol and Dunvățu de Jos, it is a site that tells a beautiful story about the north of the Dobruja.

The fortress has 15 towers, three entrance gates and three defensive ditches.

Aerial View of Halmyris FortressIt was originally built on the shores of the Halmyris gulf (which means “salt water”), which whould lated become today’s Razim Lake.

[adsense]From its earliest days, archeologists uncovered two Geti necropolis.

Later in history, during Roman times, it became the easternmost point of the Moesia Province. The Romans built an important stone harbor and kept a sizeable fleet here. Their ships were small, just perfect to police the Danube Delta.

In the early fourth century A.D., emperor Constantine the Great built an important basilicahere . What is most interesting is that under the altar, archaeologists discovered a crypt. Inside it, they found the bones of Saints Epictetus and Astion who were beheaded here in 290 A.D., during the reign of Diocletian.

They also found a beautiful fresco that identifies the two martyrs, and also mentiones the torture of the Christians.

Because the Danube altered its course over the years, Halmyris was eventually abandoned.

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Babadag

Geographically, the city of Babadag doesn’t really belong to the Danube Delta. It is located somewhere between the hills, a few kilometers west of the Lake Babadag.

[adsense]However, the story of the Tulcea County and the Danube Delta cannot be complete without it because  it’s been one of the most important cities in the North of Dobruja for many centuries under Ottoman rule.

According to the legend, it was founded by Sari-Saltuk-Baba-Dede in the year 1262. He was allowed by the Byzantine Emperor at the time to settle here an army of 12.000 Turkish mercenaries that were going to defend the borders of the Byzantine Empire.

An Arab geographer, Ibn Battuta, made the first official account of the city in the year 1330 when it had its founder name, Baba-Saltuk. Its current name means “The Father’s Mountain” in the old Turkish.

Immediately after the Ottoman Empire conquered the whole region in the early fifteenth century, it became the capital of Dobruja and a major headquarter for the armies that were fighting in the North.

By the eighteenth century, it was already the biggest city at the mouths of the Danube, with a population of over 100.000. At the time, Babadag had four mosques, many more houses of prayer and numerous public baths, among other public service buildings.

The decline of the Ottoman Empire, however, led to the downfall of the city. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were only about 3300 people left. There were three Christian churches, two mosques and one synagogue.

What can you see in Babadag?

The “Cetățuia” Fortress

[adsense]2.5 kilometers out of the city, on the lake with the same name, you’ll find “Cetățuia” a settlement that dates back from the XI-VII centuries B.C. Later, during the Roman occupation, a fortification was added.

At the time, it lied on the shore of the Black Sea, but the expansion of the Danube Delta closed its access to the sea, the same way it happened to Heracleea. You can actually see Heracleea in the distance, up on hill, overlooking the surrounding land.

I’ve got to say that in the morning, just as the Sun rises, the view from Cetatuia is spectacular.  The beautiful fiery-red reflection of the Sun on the clear blue lake… With the Heracleea fortress in background somewhere to the right. It’s almost surreal.

The Panaghia house

If you want to see the way Muslims used to live here, this is the place to visit.

The exposition hosts traditional costumes both from this area and other far away lands. There are also weapons, jewelry, prayer mats and much much more.

The Tomb of Sari-Saltuk-Baba-Dede

This is the final resting place of the founder of Babadag. It became a pilgrimage place and Bayazid II built a public bath and a mosque nearby. Unfortunately, these last two were lost.

The Mosque of Ali Gazi Pașa

This monument was built by the the general with the same name back in the seventeenth century. Near the mosque, until 1971 there was also an important caravanseray nearby.

The Ali Gazi Mosque in Babadag

The Tomb of Coiun Baba

One of the hills to the south of the city is called Coiun Baba. It is named after a sheep herder that lived here about eight centuries ago. He belonged to the first generations of turks that inhbited Dobruja.

The legend says that he saved the city from disaster. There were massive flood waters coming down towards Babadag and he somehow managed to divert them using the wool from his sheeps.

If you go up that hill, you’ll find his tomb, surrounded by shredded cloths hung on the trees. People believe that this is some kind of homage that they pay to the saviour of the city.

The Yemelik and Kalaigi Fountains

The first was built in the eighteenth century by vizier Yusuf Pașa in the northern part of the city, while the second one is located in the center of the city, near the Ali Gazi-Pașa mosque. Both of them function today and they have the tastiest spring water. The Kalaigi fountain was built in the seventeenth century by Muslim pilgrims.

The Kalaigi Fountain in Babadag

The sculptures

At the foothills of the Coiun Baba and the neighboring hills, you’ll find numerous sculptures scattered around the field. I can’t say for sure, but I think they were built sometime in the year 1984, as I could distinguish that one of the rocks there.

I’m sorry I don’t have a good picture of them, but they are definitely worth visiting.

Why aren’t there more monuments standing up in Babadag?

After all, the place has a rich history. Many more should be found here.

That has a lot to do with a peace treaty signed in 1771, following a war between Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. The treated stated that any fortress that was destroyed during the war should not be rebuit.

Because of that, many of the Babadag’s monuments fell into ruin and are now vanished. I would definitely would have loved going to that caravanseray built by Ali Gazi Pașa…

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Nufăru and the Proslavița Fortress

Going down of the Sfântu Gheorghe channel, the first village you’ll see is Nufăru. It lies exactly at the point where the Danube makes a sudden left turn to avoid a rocky hill.

[adsense]One of the most important things the you’ll find in Nufăru is the medieval fortress.

While doing the excavations here, archeologists discovered the ruins of the city of Periaslavetz (Proslavița, Pereyaslavets or Preslavetz). What the name meant was “little Preslav” in reference to the Bulgarian capital in the tenth century a.d..

Maybe it’s no surprise then that the village of Nufăru was also known as Prislav until 1968.

The city was actually built by the Byzantines, but was taken over by the Bulgarians when they started their expansion north.

Here’s a view of the Danube from the cliff the main part of the fortress was located.

View of the Danube From the fortress of Proslavița in Nufăru

The Bulgarians and the Kievan Rus’

The Bulgarians were actually making the law around these places back in the day and Peryaslavetz was a thriving commercial center, controlling most of the traffic here at the Danube’s mouth.

[adsense]What I found most fascinating was the fact when the Kievan Rus were finally fed up with them, they conquered most of the Bulgarian territory, including their capital. Then, they settled their own capital here, in Peryslavetz, in 968. Can you imagine that?

When the Sviatoslav Kniaz conquered the city in 958, he described it as a major commercial center at the crossroads of many routes bringing in goods from Greece, Russia, Hungary and Bohemia.

Unfortunately for him, it only lasted for about three years because the Byzantines also had some unfinished business here and conquered the whole place back in 971. It is possible that they renamed the city as Theodoropolis, in honor of one of the generals who took place in the final battle.

An Aerial View of Proslavița Fortress in NufăruThe city was completely destroyed in 1241 when the place was invaded by the tartars.

The excavations led to various discoveries throughout the Nufăru. On that main hill they’ve uncovered two towers. Close to the modern Danube crossing point, they’ve discovered the port of the ancient city.

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Places to Visit

Sulina Beach

No doubt, one of the primary attractions of Sulina is its beautiful sunny beach. People come here because it’s one of the few places in the country where you can actually see a wild beach. The reason it is so wild is because it keeps on growing, year after year.

[adsense]The beach that you see today is much further out in the sea than it used to.

I was looking at an old map from the mid nineteenth century and the line of the beach was starting close to the ECD lighthouse and was passing  just a few meters from the Maritime Cemetery.

Actually, during powerful storms, the sea would rush into the cemetery itself and dig up some of the graves.

By the time that Jean Bart was writing his books, and especially Europolis, the beach was already hundreds of meters further out than it was in the previous paragraph. By this time, there were already massive projects in place to straighten and make the Sulina channel more suitable to navigation which innevitably pushed the shore line a few kilometers further out.

In his book, he often mentions that the beach started right at the foot of the south dike lighthouse. I’ve seen a picture from 1928 that proves just that.

1928 Picture Of Sulina Beach and the North and South Dike LighthousesSulina’s officials finally organized the beach the way we see it today in 1939 to be a touristic spot.

So, how to get to the beach?

That’s easy. Just go East 😀

[adsense]I’m not kidding. There are just so many roads in the city and they all pretty much lead into two directions.

I personally like going by foot, but if you feel lazy, you can take one of the frequent busses or even a taxi… I actually hate  the idea of having so many vehicles in Sulina, but what can I do? Times do change.

About half way there, you can visit the Maritime museum. It’s a great place. They have pirates too 🙂

What will you find on the beach?

Only the softest sand you’ve ever seen. Really. I’ve seen many beaches throughout the world, but none has had sand so soft. It probably has something to do with its origins. While most beaches’ sand is made from eroded rock, the sand here comes from the silt brought by the Danube.

The North Part Of The Sulina BeachIf you feel like taking a walk, you have plenty of room to do that going to the north. To the south, if can get across a canal, you have thirty kilometers of completely wild beach, all the way to Sfântu Gheorghe. That’s the road me and my friends took when we went to the Anonimul Film Festival this year.

It is also a great place to see the famous wild horses of the Danube Delta.

Sulina Beach From The AirNow, although I said that the beach was organized in 1939, it doesn’t mean that they’ve  done more than that. Besides a few terraces and, more recently, two wooden piers, the place has been left for nature to shape the way it best saw fit.

How about a place to stay?

Well, there isn’t any yet. I’ve seen that they’ve build a couple of wooden huts which will house tourists some time in the future, but for now there’s nothing.

If you feel like tenting, you can set it right there on the beach. Unfortunately, there aren’t many sources of water for drinking or showers, but you’ll do just fine with a couple of beers at Tip Top.