Danube Delta is not only an impressive spectacle of nature which bewilders travelers from all over the world with its unique biodiversity and culture. It also has a darker, gruesome side.
[adsense]Half a century ago, it was not a protected UNESCO site. It was only a low populated and isolated region of the communist Romania. This made it the perfect site for one of the forced labor camps where Gheroghe Gheorghiu Dej, the dictator of that time, to send his political enemies and forget about them.
The site for this camp was set in Periprava, a village on the north east side of the Danube Delta, the last human settlement before the Chilia branch of the Danube reaches the Black Sea. It is one of the most isolated spots in the country, which can only be reached by boat. In the years it’s been active, it has witnessed many atrocities, a dark chapter in the county’s past.
Well, recently, there have been a number of attempts to get rid of this legacy and revitalize this area with tourism. The site itself is located in the middle of nature, right next to the forest of Letea, a unique oak tree forest protected by UNESCO.
A Frenchman, Sylvain Remetter, who found himself in this place a number of years ago, is now planning to build a nature resort right in the old barracks of the gulag which hopefully will awaken Periprava, a village of 150 people, from its Stalinist legacy and turn it into an important tourist spot.
[adsense]The hotel is called “The last frontier” or “Ultima Frontiera” and is housed in the building that used to be the command center of the camp. The idea is to attract the nature enthusiast, birdwatchers and fishermen starting this spring. With a number of Pelican colonies nearby and a healthy population of catfish, the plan looks promising.
He is also planning to build a small museum to remind people of the events that took place here. Having spoken with the last commandant of the camp, he knows the inside stories of the place.
I hope this project takes of and is successful. Most people are still suspicious about it, but it has the potential to change the area and bring in a fresh breath of modernity.
[adsense]The building of this lighthouse was decided on 2 November 1865 at Galati, after the establishment of the European Commission of the Danube.
The plans and the building of this objective were realized by the English engineers Ch. Hartley and M. Engelhardt who also helped create the plans of the digging and maintenance of the Sulina branch of the Danube.
The lighthouse was built in two stages and was finalized in 1870, being the property of the European Commission of the Danube.
The lighthouse is located in the middle of the city, somewhere in the back of the European Commission Palace, on the main road to the beach. In total, there are three lighthouses in Sulina.
[adsense]This one is often mistaken for the old Sulina observer lighthouse, which is further out of the city, accessible by boat or by foot using the long dike on the left side of the Danube. I hope I managed to clear this misconception, because visitors often leave this place with a wrong idea.
I spoke to an old man who’s a former director of the “Lower Danube Administration of Galati” and he explained that while the observer lighthouse helped solve the problem of finding the entrance to the Danube, ships would still get stranded on the shores of the channel given the lack of consolidations at the time, and would usully fall prey to the pirates that roamed free in this area.
The building of the European Comission Lighthouse solved this new issue by helping ships stay on course by tracing an imaginary line between the two powerful lighthouses.
Between 1856 and 1921, the headquarters of the European Commission of the Danube were at Sulina, in the E.C.D. Palace on the I St No.202, being relocated after that to Orsova.
When the European Comission was dissolved, the lighthouse entered the patrimony of the Lower Danube Administration of Galati, and it later was given in administration to the “Danube Delta” Museum in Tulcea.
From here, it is taken by the Ministry of culture in 1991 and is now under the administration of the National Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments.
The European Commission of the Danube Palace is easily the most imposing building in the whole of Sulina.
[adsense]Located right where the passenger ships from Tulcea lands, you will have plenty of time to admire its beautiful architecture during the ship’s mooring procedures.
It is a U shaped two storey edifice and was used as the headquarters of the European Commission of the Danube until 1921, when the offices of the Commission were relocated to Orsova.
The construction of the palace ended in 1868 and over the years, it housed several other local and national organisms that controlled the Sulina harbor, as well as the Sulina channel and the surrounding area.
The bombardments in the First World War affected the palace which was later rebuilt.
In the Second World War, this is where the German military High Command was housed. The building was set on fire and only the brick walls survived.
In time, the interior was slightly reorganized. Old pictures suggest acroteria on the frontal side of the building, lost long time ago.
The architecture of the building which reminds of that of a huge University, fits the neoclassical style, with a symmetrical composition.
[adsense]Built during the European Commission of the Danube, the observer lighthouse is currently unusable. It is located on the left bank of the Danube and the link with the continental part is made through a long stone dike.
What is fascinating about this dike is that it still holds the inscriptions of those who built it more than a century and a half ago.
The observer lighthouse in Sulina was used in the Romanian Television masterpiece “Toate panzele sus”, “All sails up”, which shows the story of a few sea adventurers who start their incredible journey in Sulina, during the former glory days of the city.
The grace of the architecture and the wilderness of its location give the observer lighthouse a mysterious and archaic appearance.
The first time I went to Sulina, several people told me to go look for the ghost at the lighthouse. The story goes that a young bride supposedly jumped from the lighthouse in the dangerous waters and is now haunting the place.
To my disappointment, when I got there, instead of the bride, I only saw two drunk old men, talking about the bitterness in their lives and the memories of places visited as sailors.
If you happen to go to the lighthouse by water, make sure to hold tight to the boat, because the waters really are turbulent there. The above story may hold some truth to it!
When you go to Sulina, the first sight of the city is the tall, orange water tower that stands on the right side of the Danube. Its distinctive appearance make it one of the city’s best recognized monuments.
[adsense]The exact date when it was built is not yet known, but it is in perfect condition today and is doing a fantastic job at supplying Sulina with fresh water. And I must say that I never tasted a better water than here.
The elders of the city say that during the Second World War, the German army tried to blow this landmark up, but they only managed to destroy the upper part.
The water tower is a construction that impresses through grace and resistance. It is the first building that the traveler will see when coming to Sulina and one of the most important symbols of the city.
Sulina is the second of the two cities in Danube Delta, with a population of only a couple thousands of people.
[adsense]Although its geographic features set it apart from any other city in Romania (the country’s easternmost point, lowest altitude – only 3.5 meters above sea level, accessibility only by water), its history makes it truly unique.
The settlement was first mentioned in 950 AD by the Russians during their march against Constantinople. Later, extensive documentations of the city, either as Solina or Selinas, were made by Italian merchants who by the XIVth century were the main commercial force in the area.
Once the Turks conquered Chilia in 1480, they raised an important fortress in Sulina to control the entrance to the Danube and counteract the pirates and the Kazaks.
The most interesting period in the city’s history began in 1856 when it became the headquarter of the European Commission of the Danube, an international organism that was meant to neutralize the ‘hot spot’ that the Russian-Turkish wars created in this area throughout the centuries.
The ECD had representatives from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Russia and Turkey, so the no one country had supreme control over the lower Danube. This way, everybody’s commercial interests were protected.
The city became a free port and very soon, every important shipping company in Europe had an office in Sulina. Sulina became one of the most cosmopolite cities in the region, with over 18 different nationalities living and working together in harmony. Testaments for this are the six different churches, St. Nicholas, Ukrainian, Greek, Protestant etc.
Most of writer Jean Bart‘s work is also centered in Sulina, with Europolis being a fantastic masterpiece accounting the lives of the people here in the first half of the past century.
Sulina’s cemetery, unique in Romania, is also a place where you will see the how all these different people coexisted. There are British and Austrians, buried next to Germans and Russians, with their resting places marked either with simple crosses or complicated monuments. Once, there was even a Cantacuzino princess in there, but she was later moved to Constantinople and only a monument reminds us about her.
[adsense]What I found the most interesting was that there is a Greek pirate buried a few meters from the princess. When I heard about it, I just had to go there and see it. As I was taking a picture, I couldn’t get a good angle, so I had to move back a little. Funny thing, I stepped into a big hole and fell over the grave behind me 🙂 I think I may have broken the fence, but one of the maintenance people said not to worry about it 😀
The sad thing is that The Second World War and the communist regime destroyed pretty much everything that Sulina used to be. Besides the Palace of the European Commission of the Danube, the water tower and the cemetery, there isn’t much to remind of the old days.
The city is now an important touristic place and old buildings and monuments are slowly being restored to their former glory. Sulina, for me, is definitely of the most important places to see in Danube Delta and next summer, if I don’t fit anything in my schedule, I’ll make sure to spend my holiday there.
The Sulina beach
The beach in Sulina is definitely of of the city’s main attractions. It is still keeping its wild aspect, making it one of the best retreats for the nature enthusiasts, as well as anybody who want to cool off during a hot summer day.
It continues to the south towards Sfantu Gheorghe, making it one of the largest stretch of wild sand in Romania. If you’re up to it, the thirty kilometer walk between the two is a unique way to test your endurance and enjoy nature.
In the last few years, Sfantu Gheorghe has become by far the most important attraction in the Danube Delta, much of its popularity being gained thanks to the ANONIMUL International Independent Film Festival that takes place here every August.
It is the best place to experience the natural wonders of the Danube Delta and join a huge outdoor event where you can meet both important names in the Romanian and international cultural world and teenagers having a great time at camp fires on the beach.
Sfantu Gheorghe is a small fishermen’s village situated right where the Danube meets the Black sea. It is the only village in the Delta where you can see both the Danube and the Black Sea at the same time.
It’s one of the most isolated places in the Danube Delta. It can only be reached by boat or, if you’re particularly adventurous, with a car from Sulina, a town 30 km to the north, which also can only be reached by boat. That’s great because in the whole place, you’ll only find about 5 cars, two of which are the “Trocarici” tractors that carry tourists from the camping to the beach.
ANONIMUL Film Festival
This was the sixth year for the ANONIMUL International Independent Film Festival and as I mentioned, for a week or two a year, it transforms Sfantu Gheorghe from the quietest spot in Romania to one of the most cosmopolite places in Europe.
It is the place where many talented film makers from all over Europe can present their movies to a mixed audience made of scholars, popular film makers and actors, cultural personalities, students and teenagers. And it’s all taking place in the open air! That’s why they call it “ANONIMUL, a festival on sand”.
Where can you spend the night?
For housing, you have a number of alternatives. My favorite is, of course, staying in a tent in the Delfinul (Dolphin) Camping. This is where they put the huge screen and project the movies at night. It’s got everything you need: showers, toilets, outlets, great atmosphere and lots of young people. There’s also a great open air bar and restaurant, where they obviously serve only traditional food! It’s perfect.
If you want a really comfortable bed but don’t want to miss out on the great atmosphere, you can rent one of the fifteen – twenty huts in the camping.
And of course, if you want five star comfort, you can rent a room in one the numerous villas in the eco-village right across the street. Every villa in there has everything you’d ever ask for top accommodation. They are right on the banks of the Danube River, have very nice ponds with nice bridges and great places to just sit and relax. It’s all very rustic and perfect for day dreaming.
What are some of the attractions?
The Sfantu Gheorghe Beach
Sfantu Gheorghe has one of the best and largest beaches in the whole of Romania. It stretches 30 kilometers, all the way to the Sulina beach to the north. It’s wild and basically untouched by man. It is situated about 1.5 kilometers east from the village and you have to follow a beautiful sandy road to reach it. It’s great for walking, but you can also take the Trocarici which will get you there faster.
The water is not very deep and you can walk for hundreds of meters and still touch the bottom. Most of the time, the water is actually sweet, not salty, because the Danube flows in the sea just around the corner.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a chance to see the wild horses roaming around.
The Modern Lighthouse
As soon as you set your foot in the village, you’ll notice the imposing lighhouse located in the east. The structure looks so good, that it gives you the impresson that it’s twisting.
Unfortunately, you can’t go up there. But just imagine the sight you’d get from up there… However, I had the chance to fly a plane in Sfântu Gheorghe, so I can tell you that it’s breathtaking.
I’ve no idea how tall it is, but it’s tall enought so you can see it from Sulina, for instance, which is 30 kilometers to the north.
On the other side of the Danube, going towards the Sachalin-Zătoane reserve, you’ll also have the chance to visit the ruins of the old lighthouse, which was built in 1865 by the Turks.
Sfantul Gheorghe Nature
Finally, the most important thing about Sfantul Gheorghe is that it’s surrounded by wilderness. Just south are the Sahalin Islands, the newest land in the whole of Europe. It is the beginning of a new secondary delta and the abundance of wildlife there is astonishing.
You can rent a boat from one of the locals who will gladly take you there. You will be amazed.
Well, that was the short story of Sfantul Gheorghe. I will expand on some of the subjects here soon. When you come here, make sure to leave only your footprints and help preserve this place.