Places to Visit

The Roșca-Buhaiova Reserve

Danube Delta is a huge biological laboratory, with twenty strictly protected areas where the lack of human intervention has allowed nature to develop in a way that you’ll never find anywhere else in the world.

[adsense]Probably the most important of these protected areas is the Roșca-Buhaiova reserve, located somewhere in the north of the delta, between the Chilia and the Sulina channels, just a few kilometers from the Chilia Veche village. What this place is known for is the mind-blowing number of pelicans that settle here every spring.

There are over 2500 pairs of Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) living in the Danube Delta and about 100 pairs of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus Crispus). Of these, you’ll find that their highest concentration is in the Roșca-Buhaiova reserve, a 9.625 ha area that’s been protected from human intervention since the 1940s.

Roșca-Buhaiova is located just north of the Matița-Merhei basin and is consists of a number of lakes, canals and other swamps. The precise area of the reserve is separated from the rest of the delta by the Cernovca canal to the north, the Sulimanca canal to the east, the Roșca canal and the Merhei and Merheiul Mic complexes to the south, and the Rădăcinoasele canal to the west.

Pelican Colony in Roșca-BuhaiovaAt the center of the area lie the Roșca and Buhaiova lakes which appear as an endless sea of reed and water lillies. All the ways into the reserve, such as the Lopatna canal which I used the last time I was there, are completely covered with beautiful water lillies.

Every year, a swarm o pelicans, cormorants and many many other species call this place their home.

Pelicans in Roșca-BuhaiovaFrom listening the stories of people who are actively studying the birds, it looks like the pelicans here have a rather interesting strategy when catching fish. Unlike their North American cousins who prefer to hunt individually, the pelicans in the delta totally love hunting in packs.

[adsense]What they do is to make so much noise that they scare the fish into swimming close to the shore of the lake where, in the big congestion created, all that the pelicans have to do is dip their heads in the water and get a mouthful of fish.

Opportunistic, the cormorants hunt the fish that lay somewhat deeper, just a bit out of the reach of the pelicans. This way the two species avoid any clashes and live together in harmony.

A pelican’s nest and younglings

For a bird this beautiful, you’d expect it to have some really spectacular skills at building its nest. A majestic bird, the symbol of the delta, definitely has something interesting to show, right?

Not really… You’ll be surprised to find out the a pelican’s nest in nothing more than a small pile of dirt that offers just enough shelter for the egg so that it doesn’t roll over accidentally. But when the egg hatches, that little bird looks like a reptile or a little dinosaur. It’s beautiful!

Great White Pelican ChickWhen they grow a little, all the chicks pack together in ‘nurseries’, waiting for their parents to return from fishing. This way they are much easier to supervise by the adults that stayed home for the day.

It’s cool watching the younglings of the two pelican species because they are so different. The chicks of the Dalmatian pelican have some sort of a grey-white color and they look pretty much like their parents. The chicks of the Great White pelican, on the other hand, are unbelievable. They are so black that you’d think somebody actually spray painted them. Incredible!

Young Great White Pelicans in Roșca-Buhaiova

Other species

I only spoke about the pelicans in the Roșca-Buhaiova reserve because that is what this place is known for. But there are a bunch of other interesting species that you’ll find here.

[adsense]Some of these are the otter (Lutra lutra), the mink (Mustela lutreola), the ermine (Mustela Erminia), the muskrat (Ondathra zibethica), the raccoon dog, the fox, or the wild boar.

The same diversity is present in the vegetable world. Besides the white and yellow water lillies, you’ll find crows feet, Hydrocharis morsus wound Limnanthemum, Trapa natans, Stratiotes aloides. The low nitrate waters in offer a great place to live for a series of carnivorous plants.

Hope you loved finding out about the Roșca-Buhaiova reserve and that you’ll consider visiting it in your next Danube Delta trip.

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Places to Visit

Fântâna Mare (Bașpunar)

In August, when I was visiting the Uspenia Monastery with my family, I didn’t really feel like attending the mass. I’ve been there many times and it holds no more misteries for me.

[adsense]Since I have this passion of just roaming around the countryside to visit places, I decided to head to the woods following an old dirtroad. I did have an idea of the geography of the area , but I didn’t know exactly where that particular road was leading.

So I kept on going deeper and deeper. The road was vaguely following the small river which you could barely hear flowing downstream. Somewhere along the way, I run into some villagers in a carriage and asked them where exactly the road was leading. They told me that it was going to Fântâna Mare and that there were only 2-3 kilometers left.

I wanted to go there since I was a kid, but I never got the chance. This was my lucky day! I kept going, only that the two kilometers turned out to be more like ten. But it was interesting. I even had dogs follow me. What was interesting was that some of the sights were reminding me of  Tuscany.

I finally reached the village, which wasn’t big by any standards. A couple hundred of souls at most.

The Main Street in Fântâna Mare (Bașpunar)It’s old name is Bașpunar, which in Turkish means “The fountain at the top of the hill”. People in Slava Rusă and Slava Cercheză (where my grandparent from my mother’s side come from) still refer to Fântâna Mare using its old name.

Coming out of the woods, when you first spot the village, you notice the white church which is by far the tallest structure of the place. When I got there, people were just leaving the church after the Sunday morning mass.

The Church in Fântâna Mare (Bașpunar)The Church in Fântâna Mare (Bașpunar)When I got closer, It struck me! The church looks strikingly similar to the Sfântu Nicolae Cathedral in Tulcea. I thought that maybe the same architect designed them. Funny enough, after this, I started paying more attention to churches and realized that there are actually quite a few throughout the country that share the same basic architecture.

[adsense]Inside the yard, you’ll find the tombs of a number of soldiers that fought in the Second World War.

Truth be told, there isn’t much else to see in Fântâna Mare. The location is great however. Located in between the hills, it is a really nice place to relax and have a barbecue.

When I was growing up, I envisioned this place somewhat differently. Not that I’m dissapointed, but I though I’d find something different.

How can you get to Fântâna Mare?

You could try my route, through the woods from Uspenia monastery, but that would shake you a little.

The easiest way it to follow the DN22A till Ciucurova, then turn to DN22D for a couple of kilometers then going deep in the woods following the DJ223A.

Places to Visit

Saon Monastery

A great place you should visit in northern Dobruja is the Saon Monastery.

[adsense]A group of monks that left the Celic-Dere monastery after it became specialized in nuns founded the Saon chapel in 1846. They first built the Cilicul de Jos hermitage not far from the Cilic valley, before finally settling on this beautiful site on the banks of the Saon lake.

They chose this place because it was close to Celic and also because it was just 11 kilometers from the village of Niculițel, one of the most important places in the history of Christianity in Dobrogea. In the village, you’ll find the oldest basilica in Romania while just outside, in the woods, you’ll find another monastery, Cocoș.

The Site of the Saon MonasteryIn its early years, Saon functioned as a chapel under the control of priest at Celic. After Dobruja was reunited with Romania in 1978, all the remaining monks at Celicul de Jos were moved to Saon which became independent.

The Old and the New Churches

[adsense]That very same year, the monks built the first church on the site. Although they used simple materials like mud and wood, it still stands today, known as “The Old Church” or “Biserica Veche”. They use it mostly to hold the service in the winter.

At the start of the twentieth century, a big fire destroyed most of the site. The church survived unharmed, but the following years were difficult financially and Saon was put under the administration of the Cocoș monastery. It regained its independence in 1916, and in 1930, it became a monastery for nuns.

In 1909, under the rule of bishop Nifon, they started building a new and much bigger church, with three towers.

The Front of the Saon MonasteryThe First World War slowed the pace of the building, however, especially that the Danube became a front line. Later, the church sustained gread damage during the earthquake of 1940, when the towers collapsed. They were finally rebuilt between 1956-59 and they started service here.

The Main Church at the Saon MonasteryUnfortunately, that year this holly site was dissolved and all its posessions were taken by the Lower Danube Episcopate.

Saon reopened its gates in 1972 and it finally became a monastery in 1990.

The Windmill, the Peacocks and the Ostriches

What I like about Saon is that they still preserve one of the many windmills that once covered the whole of Dobruja. The structure of the one here resembles that of the mill in Celic Dere monastery, only that instead of six paddles, this one only has four.

The Windmill at the Saon MonasteryOne other thing that I particularly enjoyed was the ostriches that the nuns raised here. It was the first time when I saw ostriches in real life and I was surprised how big they were. I fed them some grass I tried to see if they would bite me. Turns out that it doesn’t hurt as bad as you’d think 🙂

Feeding Ostriches at the Saon MonasteryThey also have quite a few peacocks. Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious that the climate here is not really appropriate for them and they don’t really display those huge colorful feathers.

How to get here?

Fairly simple. If you’re in Tulcea, head west on DN22 for about 23 kilometers. About here, you’ll find a road on the right DJ229D. Follow it for another two kilometers and turn left on the DJ229E and in just a little over a kilometer you’re there.

On the other hand, if you’re coming from Galați or Brăila, all you have to do is to follow the DN22E or DN22 respectively and after you pass Isaccea and Niculițel, turn left when you see the sign to Saon and Parcheș.

If you’re coming from Bucharest following the DN22A, you can take a shortcut by turning left on the DJ229A in the village of Cataloi.

Places to Visit

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.

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.

Places to Visit

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.

Places to Visit


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.