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Dobrogea, Dobrogea !

Periplus out of Time

Sometimes I dream with the eyes wide open. And then I see oceans and wastelands, mountains and forests, sunflower fields and ancient ruined citadels. And thus, when the evening creeps into my room and the sun is red at the horizon, I tend to believe that that adventure was such a dream and I don't know any more if I've seen for real the strange Dobrogea landscapes ...

Day one
The heat of August was melting the asphalt, but we were rushing on the highway almost feeling already the invigorating sea breeze. In less than three hours we are in Constanta and there we head directly towards Mamaia, where the holiday atmosphere is at home. We pass beyond Mamaia and enter Navodari, where we are unpleasantly surprised by the new buildings which seem to stifle the space. Navodari is very long, but finally we leave it behind and suddenly we reach an immense oil distillery which spreads the oil smell everywhere.
And then we apparently enter another dimension, around us the space expands and among the yellow and green fields appears timidly the village Corbu. At the entrance a traffic sign points to the right, to the beach, and we obey scrupulously. The narrow country road leads us through sun burnt cornfields, sunflower fields, myriads of thistles and the dust we leave behind seems to be stardust, covering the fields with a strange powder, like the snow. And suddenly we reach a tall cliff and from there, triumphant and impressive the sea stretches to infinity. Thalassa, Thalassa ... Dumb with admiration we still have the strength to find the road down the cliff, to the beach, where we stop and without much ado, we take a rewarding bath. The water is warm and rough in the sweet light of the sunset. There are there 3-4 tents, as many cars, some straw umbrellas and for the rest - a long wild beach covered with shells and kingfishers. We find out there is no drinking water around, so we drive the four kilometers back to the village where we buy supplies. Finally, as the night falls we put up the tents and, after a stroll on the beach under the moonlight, we come back to the tents and sleep like babies.
Corbu
Landscape near Corbu beach
Corbu
Corbu beach
Corbu
Sunset at Corbu

Day two
Saturday morning starts with dogs barking and with an unbearable heat that drives us out of the tents. We lie on the almost completely deserted beach - it's only us and the kingfishers. Towards lunch we go to the village for supplies and then we head to Mamaia, where we eat decently and then take a dip in the sea. It can't be a greater contrast between our wild beach at Corbu, apparently out of time and space, and this beach in Mamaia, noisy and full of tourists. We stroll in the resort, the night falls and the atmosphere becomes increasingly strained, the streets get filled with new expensive cars, from everywhere we hear noisy music and we see irritating disco lights. But we are lucky, because there's a beautiful folk concert on the beach, part of the Folk You festival, so we stay there until it becomes really late. Razvan comes from his Fatboy Slim concert and we leave gladly and sleepy for Corbu. On the road, the lights of the huge oil distillery catch our eye - it looks like an alien town on a strange planet. Finally we reach the tents and we fall asleep immediately.

Day three
We are woken up again by the dogs and we take advantage, because we plan to see many things today. After a frugal breakfast, we head towards Sinoie and from there to Histria ancient citadel, the oldest town in nowadays Romania, founded in the 7th century B.C. and continuously inhabited for over 1300 years. Initially the small, cozy museum doesn't look that promising, but soon we begin to comprehend the vastness of this town built by the ancient Greeks from Milet. From a hillock we see many impressive ruins, spread on the hills all around.
Histria ancient citadel
Histria, the residential district
We stroll past the Roman thermae dating from the 2nd-3rd centuries A.D., past the 6th century Christian basilica and under the gate of the late Roman district, where the ruins are spectacular. We reach the large square of the Roman town, built in the 6th century and then we head towards the ancient Greek sacred area, from the 7th-1st centuries B.C., beautifully located on the shore of the Sinoie lake, at that time an important bay of the Black Sea. Maybe the most beautiful part of the citadel is the residential district dating from the 6th century A.D., where one can reconstruct from the ruins old stone homes, with beautifully ornate pillars and with a main street leading to the lake. We stop on the shore to admire this wild region, with tall reed and from place to place a water snake rising his head from the water or green frogs hiding in the silt.
Histria ancient citadel The Roman gate
Babadag mosque Babadag mosque Towards lunch we leave Histria for Babadag. The trip reveals a fascinating landscape, green and sometimes arid hills stretching lazily under the hot sun, everywhere immense sunflower fields, lakes, valleys with small forested villages, foxes crossing the road, everything seems to be made to amaze us. In Babadag we stop to visit the mosque dating from 1522 and we meet more and more people with Turkish-Tartar looks. Obviously, it's a region of cultural and social confluences, inhabited in antiquity by Getae and Dacians, Greeks, Romans and later by Turks, Tartars, Bulgarians and even Italians who came here for the high quality grit stone.
Enisala citadel Enisala citadel

Short after we leave Babadag we see in the distance a hilltop with an impugnable citadel, above a small village, on a lake shore. It's Enisala. Hadn't we know where we are, we could have believed we are somewhere in the Middle East, together with the crusaders in pilgrimage towards the Holy Land and it seems that from behind any hill packs of camels with the beduins are about to appear. The road to the citadel crosses fields of sunflower and suddenly the landscape becomes arid and here we are, climbing a hill pierced by redish rocks. Here lies the Byzantine citadel from the 12th century, a romantic ruin perched on a summit dominating the horizon. At its feet the village strecthes in one direction and in the other direction there's a big lake beyond which we can guess the Danube Delta. Just in front of the citadel, another yellow hill with terraces meandering across it seems to come directly from a science-fiction movie. And they went as far as New Zealand to produce "Lord of the Rings" ! And they even used special effects ! How could they know at Enisala they would get everything for granted ? We are speachless, we don't want to leave the place.
Enisala
View from the citadel
Enisala citadel
Enisala citadel
View from the Enisala citadel
View from the citadel
View from the Enisala citadel
View from the citadel
Enisala citadel
Enisala citadel
But the evening falls and we hurry up to another legendary place, the ancient citadel Halmyris. The road crosses villages with small but cozy houses, vividly painted and with with reed roofs.
In Sarichioi we meet many Lippovans returning from the church service. They are beautifully dressed in their traditional costumes, the men were patriarchal beards. Another trip into history, a history we live and which stubbornly rejects the modernity. The landscape becomes increasingly wild as we approach the Danube Delta, storcks stand undisturbed in the middle of the road, cows cross our way, Dobrudja donkeys pull huge hay carts.
Enisala citadel Enisala citadel

We enter Murighiol and without much ado, we go directly to an inn where we appease our hunger. We eat, of course, fish: fish broth and fish grill. Satiated and refreshed, we conquer the last citadel we had in our plans for today: the Roman citadel Halmyris, where the first Romanian saints were martyred, namely Astion and Epictet. This recent discovery lures here archeologists from all over the world. Bun now, towards the sunset, there is nobody and we frisk about the ancient ruins, like true explorers we have become. Under a wooden building serving for protection, we discover the old Christian basilica where the martyrs were buried. We descend the traps and, using a flashlight, we run into the two tombs and an inscription on a disk painted on stone. Then we walk through this revived city and under the surrounding hills we guess the vastness of the citadel. We realize that many generations of archeologists will dig here and many interesting discoveries will be made.
The last rays of light play with the clouds, contributing to the feeling we are exploring a mysterious land, a new terra incognita. We return on the same dusty road, guided by the red sun.
Late, under the full moon, we arrive again to our tents on the deserted beach and, thinking about the day that ends here, we fall asleep.
Lippovans
Lippovans in Sarichioi
The ancient citadel Halmyris, the Christian basilica
Halmyris citadel
Sunset at Halmyris
Sunset at Halmyris
Day four
Monday we decide to rest, thus we lie on the beach and we dabble in the warm and clean sea. Towards lunch we leave for the village and we stop on a lake shore, at a motel. There, we finally take a shower and then we eat - even though there is a students' camp, we are welcome. We rent two yachts for two persons each and the next hour and a half, helped by a strong wind, we tour the lake. We leave the windsurfing for the next time, thanking our kind hosts and promising to come back some day.
The evening finds us again on the beach at Corbu, where a jeep from France appears, carying a tent on top - a very unusual sight for us. It's a French couple making an adventurous trip throughout Romania, together with their three children. The dinner follows - this time we gather wood to make a fire -, then the usual stroll on the beach and the sweet sleep.
Adventure Jeep with tent
Macin Range
Macin Range
Day five
We can't leave Dobrogea without visiting the mountains of Dobrogea. So be it. Early in the morning we head towards Greci village, up North, and on the way we stop at a picturesque restaurant in Istria where we eat scrumbled eggs. The Dobrogea landscape can't stop fascinating us with its interesting colors and its special light.
We enter the village Greci (Greeks), with a community of stone masons of .... Italian descent. Ahead of us, a vast perspective reveals the Pricopanului Range, with Tutuiatul Peak, the highest in Macin Mountains at only 468 meters ! The oldest in Europe, Dobrogea mountains were long ago about ten times taller than today. This is what the climate can do in a few thousand years.
Macin Mountains Pricopanului Range
As we climb the range, a strange landscape unveils, arid and rocky, but with wonderful forests with trees clinging stubbornly to the rocks, wrapping their roots around them. On the stones, the lizards lie in the sun and we see even a turtle. In less than an hour we reach the peak and the panorama towards the Greci village and to the other ranges is impressive. You would believe you could be in Fagaras Mountains, not on a mere rock at less than 500 meters altitude. We eat on the peak and then we descend using another path, guiding ourselves permanently by the village at the foot of the range. On the path we pick blackberries from bush which apparently grow directly from rocks ! We step on such a beautiful grit stone, that we want to take it with us. On the village alleys we reach out to plums and wax cherries, we stop at a well to drink the fresh water and to wash. Then we head towards Macin town in order to buy supplies - food for us and for the car. We find out that Arrubium citadel still lies uncovered under the hills and besides it's late, so we leave directly for Corbu. Once there, we find our tents ravaged by the strong wind, so we fix them back and we strenghten them with the few rocks we can find around. After the stroll on the beach, we fall in a dreamless sleep.
Macin Mountains Macin Mountains Macin Mountains Macin Mountains

Day six
Wednesday morning I wake up together with the sun and I take a walk on the deserted beach. On the sea I notice the fishermen in their boats coming towards the shore, with fish still struggling in the trawls. The fishermen are Lippovans and Romanians, they have harsh complexion and hands, just like hard workers, they are thin and ageing, but they have resolute sights.
Back to our small camp, we pack the tents and prepare to leave. But the day will offer us enough adventures. After a last dip in the sea, we leave for Constanta and further to Basarabi, for the interesting catacombs dug by early Christians. There we have an unpleasant surprise, as we are told we have to get a special permit from the Museum of Archeology and History in Constanta. A few years ago we managed to visit the catacombs without any permit, but this time it's impossible. We leave disappointed and we choose the South Dobrogea route, to Adamclisi.
Macin Mountains
Macin Mountains
Adamclisi, Tropaeum Traiani
Adamclisi, Tropaeum Traiani
Cetatea antica Adamclisi
Basilica Forensis, Adamclisi

At Adamclisi we have a wonderful revelation: besides the famous monument Tropaeum Traiani, known from history books, which we visit fast, towards the exit out of the village we notice on a hill the impressing walls of a citadel. It's the citadel called also Tropaeum Traiani, built by the Roman emperor Traian in the 2nd century A.D. on the place of an ancient Getic-Dacian settlement. Spreaded over more than 10 hectars, we walk on broken pottery, just like in Halmyris, and we are impressed by the ruins, especially the Basilica Forensis with its forest of chopped off pillars. Again, it's only us there, expolrers in a city woken up after so many centuries of oblivion.
When we leave, two turtles cross the road, so we pick them and put them back in the grass. We go up and down the hillocks spotted with sunflower fields and at a certain moment the Danube shows up and we also see the Bulgarian bank. We want to stop for a photograph, but the car remains with a wheel stuck in a ditch on the side of the road. We are helpless, the road is empty and alone we can't do much. Just out of the blue a wagon appears and then a car. They stop without hesitation and the drivers come to help us. Then some other pedestrians show up and help, appearing also apparently out of the blue. Thus, in a few minutes we hit the road again. And I think to myself it's so good that we have a beautiful country and that it's inhabited !
Dervent Monastery
View from Dervent Monastery
The Danube
The Danube
The Danube
Fisherman on the Danube

In a few minutes we reach the Dervent Monastery, on a picturesque hill with a wonderful view over the Danube. We thank God we survived the accident, we cool down with fresh water under a vine arbour and we follow our way. We ride past the Bulgarian town Silistra and, surprisingly, the border consists of a hence, behind which we can almost reach out and touch the blocks of flats. It's like we are passing through the town. And thus we are on the Danube bank, where the ferryboat is waiting for us to load the car. We couldn't find a better time to cross the Dunarea: the sun is at sunset and is sinking slowly into the river and we head towards it. Two priests peering the horizon deepen the sensation of mystic. The scene is complete when a lonely fisherman paddles against the wonderful red sun. The crossing takes less than twenty minutes, but it seems we are out of time again. Spellbound, we get off the ferry and continue our trip to the sleepy city, where we arrive under a full moon.

And if all this was just a dream, all I can add is this: a necessary condition for the dreams to become reality is to dream as much as possible. I say it based on my experience.

Sorin-Alexandru Cristescu, August 2006
Cetatea Enisala


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