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Places to Visit

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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Places to Visit

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.

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Places to Visit

The Aquarium in Tulcea (The Danube Delta Museum)

I visited the Aquarium in Tulcea this Saturday. My uncle wanted to show my two-year-old cousin the museum that everybody is talking about, so we took the whole family for an intellectual expedition.

[adsense]Last time I’ve been there was two years ago, just after the grand inauguration. It hasn’t changed much, only that this time I had a much fuller experience.

I was actually interested in reading all the documentation on the panels. It turns out that you can learn a whole lot more just by paying attention. There was also my uncle there who knew more about the fish and animals there.

Danube Delta Museum - The AquariumAlso, my being curious caught the attention of one of the supervisors there. I thought he was just a guard, but he was actually one of the researchers and we had an interesting conversation. Turns out that many of the things I took for granted as a kid roaming the woods near my mother’s village are actually rare plant species. Things like the Dobrujan peony and the snowdrop. They are all protected. Who would have guesed?

What does the Danube Delta museum offer?

The genesis of the Danube Delta

First, you get to see maps and images showing the genesis and the evolution of the Danube Delta. It’s cool to see that this huge territory was born only 10.000 years ago. There is a really nice interactive map where you push some buttons and you see the areas that were inhabited by various populations.

Who knew that Caraorman was inhabited by the Gets at the time when it was only an island on the Black sea? Or that Nufăru was founded by people moving from Chilia?

A typical fishery

After that you get to see how a traditional fishery was laid out, with all the typical tools of the trade, including the famous lotca, the traditional boat that fishermen use here in the Delta.

Typical fishery in the Danube DeltaI could hardly keep myself from tasting one of the fish that were dried there… God, it smelled fantastic!

Dioramas of typical Danube Delta and Dobruja scenery

[adsense]As a kid, I loooved these features of the museum. In the wild, you can’t get that close to the pelicans, the wolves or the wild boars, but in the museum, they’re right there. You’re not allowed to touch them, but they’re right there, at arm’s length.

There are four or five dioramas, picturing scenery from the continental delta, the maritime delta, and few other places in the Dobrudja, including the Măcin Mountains natural reserve.

The dioramas in the old museum had the walls painted. For kids like me, the museum was a delight. I was fortunate to visit it for the last time in the twelfth grade, because less than a month after that, they closed it forever. I’m not sure, but I think there are fewer dioramas in the new museum.

What were  found interesting was a fossilized fish from 100 million years ago that they found in a quarry in Slava Cercheză, my mother’s home village. As you can imagine, she was pretty excited about the fact 🙂

The aquarium

At the lower levels, there are the aquariums. They have there both local and exotic fish species. It’s pretty interesting, even for somebody who doesn’t really care about fish, like me.

Again, I can’t help comparing with the old museum. Although the new aquariums are much bigger, I’m pretty sure that there are fewer fish than before. I can’t say that for sure, but that’s my feeling.

The reptile expo

Now, we were pretty fortunate to ran into this reptile exposition. I think they are here only for a week or so, but there were all sorts of snakes, a cayman, an aligator, and even a komodo dragon.

We were even allowed to hold and take pictured with one of the most peaceful boa snakes in the world. How’s that?!

So, is it worth visiting the aquarium in Tulcea?

Most definitely yes! The place is great! With a trip there you’ll find out more about the Danube Delta and Dobrudja than you can imagine.

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Places to Visit

Periprava

It’s incredible how time can change thing in such a way that you can’t find any traces of a place’s past. Old buildings make room for new ones, old swamps are turned into tennis fields.

[adsense]Something like that takes place in the village of Periprava. Historically, the place has always been isolated, being located far away on the Chilia branch of the Danube.

And if there is a dirt road there, it only leads to the neighboring villages of Letea, C.A Rosetti and Sfiștovca, which aren’t exactly the biggest road hubs of the Danube Delta.

But Periprava will forever remain in history for it was here that fifty years ago the communists agreed to create one of their main labor camps and send off their political enemies.

Periprava

The Church in Periprava

The Licostomo (Lycostomium) Fortress

Close to Periprava, researchers locate the medieval fortress of Licostomo. Its name means “Two Wolves’ Mouths”. It might as well be the village of Vâlcov, located in Ucraine.

[adsense]According to various sources, it was here that the Byzantine Regional Fleet had its headquarters around the ninth century. The fleet was dispatched here to police the mouths of the Danube which were frequently plundered by pirates. It was also frequently dispatched into various military expeditions.

Other sources say that it was built by the Genovese who were the main merchants in these parts starting with the XIth century.

Mircea the Elder conquered the city in 1404, but it completely disappeared from history after the Turks conquered Dobruija in 1418.

There are also a number of researchers who identify Licostomo with Kilia, claiming that the same settlement had two names. However, it is much more likely that they were separate as Kilia was a trade city, while Licostomo was mostly military.

Periprava and birdwatching

Today the village is one great place for birdwatchers. Although the Ukranian border is right north, going east or west takes you into some really interesting swamps and canals. These places are packed with all sorts of bird species.

With that in mind, a few years ago, a french guy came here and renovated all the old buldings of the former labour camp and turned the whole place into a five star resort, with birdwatchers in mind.

Also, just a few kilometers to the south you will find the Letea forest, which hosts one of the most diverse universe in Europe.

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Places to Visit

Gura Portiței

One of the most facinating place in the Delta that they taught us in school is Gura Portiței which, geographically speaking, was the only gap where the Razim-Sinoe lagoon could communicate with the Black sea.

[adsense]Well, in 1970, that gap was finally closed and now Razim, Golovita and Sinoe are officially lakes. I’ve no idea if that happened naturally or somebody had something to do with it.

Gura Portitei used to be a small and chick fishermen’s village.  The people who lived here were lipovans who pretty much lived off the fish they could capture.

That pretty much changed a couple of years ago when the whole site was completely transformed with the construction of the new and modern Gura Portitei resort.

Gura PortițeiThey’ve called the resort ’Eden’, and that’s not that far from the truth. There are plenty of cozy bungalows for plenty of people. It is a great place for a family vacation.

You can easily relax and bathe both in the black sea and in the Golovita Lake.

It’s great that every few days there are nights when groups of lipovan women gather up and start singing traditional songs. Here’s a video I found from the night of May 1, to get an idea:

I recently discovered that you can also enjoy a wide array of water sports like windsurfing and jet-skiing, so make sure you do that too!

So, how do I get to Gura Portiței?

That’s easy. You’ll first need to get to Jurilovca, another lipovan village. Your best choice is by car, because otherwise you’ll have to rely of all sorts of weird connections. The distance is about 300 kilometers from Bucharest, 90 from Constanța and about 50 from Tulcea.

[adsense]Once there, you’ll have to take a nice little boat that will take you directly to Gura Portitei. It leaves three times a day (that’s during the summer at least).

Here’s the full schedule:

From Jurilovca: 09:00  /  14:00 / 18:00

From Gura Portitei: 12:00 / 16:00  / 20:00

The boat ride is not very long, but the scenery is divine. You’ll have the chance to see hunres of pelicans going about their lives, as well as numerous other species. Birdwatchers do feel at home around here:)

Care for an adventure?

If you feel like having an adventure, you can also get to Gura Portitei by folowing the coast, either from Sfantu Gheorghe in the North or from Vadu, in the South.

Ok, coming from Sfantu Gheorghe is a really challenging idea, so don’t run off into the wild and then blame me for whatever happens 😛

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Places to Visit

Mila 23

Mila 23 is a small and chic village right in the heart of the Danube Delta. If you want to find out what it feels like to live completely surrounded by water, than this is the place to visit.

[adsense]Without winning too many points for originality, the village has this name  because the Sulina channel measured exactly 23 miles at this point(measured from the river’s mouth) following its old course, before the European Commission of the Danube straightened it over a century ago. If you take a look at the map of the Danube Delta, you’ll notice a huge “M” right in the center.

The only way to get here is by boat, making it the perfect retreat for a nature enthusiast or somebody who simply wants to get away from the busy life of the city.

The villagers are mostly Lipovans, Russians, Ukrainians and who support themselves through fishing. The Lipovans were the ones who founded the village in the early nineteenth century and they currently represent about two thirds of the population

They completely blend in with the surrounding scenery and you can easily see this from the way they use and respect everything that they get from nature.

Mila 23
Mila 23

Just walking through the village, you’ll get to see how they’ve been living and building their houses and other necessities out of traditional materials that could be gathered from the nearby area.

[adsense]Mila 23 is located on the left bank of the old course of the Sulina channel, which was shortened and better prepared to suit navigation needs back in the nineteenth century. Getting here is easy using a couple of regular ships that leave Tulcea at various hours every day.

For accommodation, you have a wide choice from the numerous guest houses that function in the city. The hospitality here is unique and you’ll get the chance to taste some the most tasty fish foods, while also learning some of the tricks that the local fishermen use to get the most sought after prey.

Being surrounded by a myriad of lakes and canals, Mila 23 one of the best places where you can enjoy a bird watching trip, catch some great fish or relax among the endless fields of lilies.

How about some adrenaline rush with windsurfing?

Yes, if you’re one of those adrenaline junkies that loves to constantly live on the edge, or you simply want to try an exciting new sport, then you’re in for a lot of fun because Mila 23 is one of the two places in the Delta where you can windsurf.

It’s been going on for a few years now, and there seem to be more and more people who come here to do just that.

With so many lakes around the village, it would be weird not to windsuf here. Truth be told, I’ve seen people do it in Tulcea, on the Danube, but right here in Mila 23, the place is just right.

Ivan Patzaichin

Mila 23 is probably best known for the fact that this is where Ivan Patzaichin was born in 1949, a sprint canoer who’s won four gold medals at the Olympic games and a bunch of other trophies over the course of his career.

Nowadays, he’s the coach of Romania’s canoe team and still lives here most of the year.

Here’s a video of his 1972 performance: