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Dan Sambra / Administrator

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Friday, February 11th 2011, 10:08am

1842: Kustendje, viewed by Francis Ainsworth, Constanta

1842: The Communication between the Danube and the Black Sea

Author: W. Francis Ainsworth, Esq.
Published: The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction: containing original papers, London, 1842

Quoted from "The Communication..."

That great and noble stream, called the Donau, or Danube, and which for continuity of course, volume of water, and political importance, has with justice been termed the prince of European rivers, has, it is well known, a generally eastern course, tending slightly to the south. Just as it is about, however, in the natural prolongation of its course, to empty itself into the Euxine, or Black sea, it turns off to the north, and finally divides itself into numerouus branches, which, by drawing off the waters from the main channel, render the navigation of the mouth tedious and difficult; and while the navigation of this great river by steam vessels has been effected by the enterprise of Austrians, it has been the policy of Russia to fix a station on the Sulaniyeh, the chief navigable mouth of the river.

The positive gain of time, amounting, even in steam navigation, to a day and a half, or two days' difference, as well as political reasons, have long led the powers of Turkey and of Austria to interest themselves in the question, as to whether there formerly existed a channel of communication between the Danube and the Euxine, at the point where they approximate most nearly, or whether such a communication could without much difficulty be established.

The existence of a series of small lakes united by a common channel, extending along nearly the whole length of the line, and a raised embankment, which stretches along its whole length, and which is generally supposed to indicate the line of a canal of communication estblished between the river and the sea, at the same point, by the Roman emperor, Trajan, pointed out such natural and artificial facilities for re-establishing this communication, that under any other government than one so poor, so feeble, and so supine, as that of Turkey, it would, no doubt, have been established long ago.

Pending, however, the open discussion which, to the shame of the Osmanli government, exists between them and Austria concerning a part adventure of capital in the undertaking, the "priviledged Royal Imperial (K.K.) Steam Boat Company" have arranged that each alternating boat from Constantinople shall ply the one from Galatz on the Danube, and the other to Kustendjeh on the Black sea, taking the passengers across the Danube by land carriage; and as this mode of travelling gave to the author an opportunity of examining into the merits of this debated question, and of exploring a line foreign to the pages of Quin, Claridge, and other Danube tourists, he has ventured to pen the results of his experiences.

Kustendjeh is, in the present day, a Turkish hamlet, containing about two hundert cottages, and the remains of a stone pier, advancing into the bay, which is small, but with deep water and well-sheltered anchorage from northerly and north-easterly winds. The morning of our arrival at this place the fog was so dense, that although the captain asserted we were within a few miles of our destination, the coast could not be perceived; so we lay to, awaiting for the fog to dissipate, which it did after a few hours, when we found ourseves within little more than a mile of the harbour.

The company have erected a small house for the convenience of passengers, which is divided into three compartmentson the first floor, the two lateral ones, one for first-cabin passengers, the other for second ditto, and the central one for a general tavle d'hote. The kitchens are bellow, and there is a balcony in front for smoking; when there are ladies, a retiring place is also provided for them, but we did not carry our researches in that direction. The agent of the company has taken possession of one of the largest houses in the village, and the vehicles used for the transport were distributed about the yard.

The appearance of these few European houses contrasted strangely with the usual characteristica of an Osmanli village. The whitewashed gable ends, the painted balcony, the cleanly pigsty, the uncovered females, the quick movement of both men and women, and the general appearance of resources and airiness, were, even in so small a community, in immediate juxstaposition to crumbling houses, shut-up shops, shrouded useless women, and men too proud to work.

What was not European had the stillness of decay and death; what was, had the sprightliness of youth and life. Although early in the morning, the heavy baggage having to be forwarded in wagons (arabahs) drawn by oxen, we could not start the same day, which was to myself a source of gratification, as giving an opportunity of examining the environs.

The village of Kustendjeh is erected on an eminence that rises about sixty feet above the level of the sea; and these heights, as well as the country that is continuous with them, at or near the same level, and seldom rising to anything above two hundert feet higher than the sea, are composed of alluvium or detritus, which repose upon hard lacustrine, or fresh water limestones. These limestones, visible on the edge of the water, are exceedingly fossiliferous, and the beds are nearly horizontal, and do not rise many feet above the level of the water.

This, it will be perceived, is an important point in considering the expense of carrying a canal through this district, as much labor and expense is avoided by these natural advantages. I could not, however, satisfy myself as to the existence of any former outlet of a canal or river, as is marked on some mapson entering this bay. The embankment certainly existed; and I am inclined, from other circumstances, to look upon the so-called Trajan's Canal as an intrenchment carried along a line of lakes, and over the higher land to sea.

There are also many remnants of ancient times scattered about and around the village. Among these are fragments of columns and other hewn stones, which shew that under the Roman or Byzantine empire it was a port or station of some importance. Under the latter it was known by the name of Constantiana.

The general start was made early next morning; and as the number
of passengers was rather considerable, the variety of vehicles that were pressed into service was great. There were rude Russian britchkas and forms of barouches as yet without a name, for the first class, and an open omnibus for the second; but as this would not contain more than one-half of the leech-merchants, adventurous Periotes, and others, who constituted this numerous body, they had to be stowed away in carts and wagons of the country.

All these vehicles were driven by Sclavonians of Servian or Wallachian race; and, after the Russian and Turkish fashion, with ropes for traces, very slight harness, and whips of exceeding length. The half-trained steeds tore impatiently away, mingling chariots with carts and britchkas with wagons, and ultimately bringing one in rude contact with part of an antique column that still stood erect, throwing the passengers into the middle of the street. This was another hour's delay; but at length the horses were got upon the right and open road, and away they scampered at a fearful rate, over an almost natural but good road accompanied by the agent galloping alongside, chiding the drivers or encouraging the horses, but still most anxious that everything should be done to the honour of the "Royal Imperial Priviledged Danube Steam Company".

The country we were now lounched upon was equally beautiful and remarkable. A nearly level and boundless greenward, unbroken by a single tree, with only here and there a shub of spiny aloe, swept gently, on the one hand, down to the clear lagoons of the sea-shore, and rose, on the other, into gentle eminences, so gentle that the summits, forming a line on the horizon, became continuous with the plain when reached.

Here and there an encampment of pastoral nomades shewed itself in the distance; flocks of sheep and cattle were still more frequent; but villages were rare and at long intervals.The whole district, to one who has not extended his travels beyond the Osmanli capital, will give a good idea of the plains of Mesopotamia or Syria. The vegetation is also not unlike, and was, at the time of this journey, chracterized by the universal Nigella damaescena.

This tract is inhabited chiefly by a tribe of Tatars, who are said to have emigrated from Crimea. They wear the Mohammedan turban chiefly with white folds. Their residence here has caused the country to be distinguished by the Turks as Dubruj Tatary, as may be seen in all modern maps; and it belongs to the Sanjak of Silistria. The Osmanlis scarcely exist here, except as taxgatherers, and as residents at Kustendjeh.

The next most remarcable people that are met with here are travellers, not dwellers - Transylvanians, who descend from the valleys of the Carpathians in winter and spring-time to drive their vast flocks across the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia, and passing the broad Danube, encamp on these fertile plains. They are easily known by their broad-brimmed hats; but in other respects their dress is oriental, but very poor, the shepherd having sometimes merely a chemise and waistband for outer covering.

The highest level - itself but small - between the sea and the river, is passed but a few miles from Kustendjeh, beyond which the winter rains pour down gentle vales that lead to the lakes and their tributary, designed on the maps as the Tchernavoda river. Passing in the distance Burlak, the residence of a Tatar bey, near the head of waters, and driving a large flock of bustards before us, we came, after a drive of two hours and six minutes, to Kustelli, a hut with two rooms, erected by the company for the convenience of travellers by the side of a lake.

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Friday, February 11th 2011, 3:03pm

Kustendje, 1842 - part #2

Quoted from "The Communication..."

My amusement was not small at finding, in the single room devoted to cookery, refectory, dormitory, and everything else, on a side shelf, two bottles of champagne, two of Bordeaux, and two of Barclay's Porter. Imagine porter and champagne on the plains of Dubruj Tatary ! It was evident that the demand was not great, for the supply was limited. After breakfast, with that modesty of charges which is so characteristic of the agents of company, the meal was announced as comprised in the morning's payment, made beforehand.

We were then soon trundled off again, along the line of numerous lakes which extend over a country of nearly thirty miles in length. The entrenchment raised by Trajan to give additional defence to this naturally strong and narrow line was always visible, ascending hill and dale on the south side of the valley. On the Karasu Goli, or Blackwater lake, also called, in some maps, Fagh Fur Goli, was a large village called Shalabchah. To the north was a smaller village, Dokuz Oghlu, "the nine sons". At Chelibi Keuy, "gentleman's village", a mere ruin, we rested a moment, to drink at a well, but the waters were brackish.

In this part of the journey beds of horizontal limestone began to shew themselves, rising as much as thirty feet above the level of the lakes; and a little more hilly and rocky. Trees now made their appearance; and we came into cultivated land, along which we still had to drive a few miles ere we descend into the vale of Tchernavoda, a large village of Turkomans and Tatars, with fierce dogs; and beyond which, on the green banks of the Danube, lay the steamer Argo, waiting for us, with gilded saloons, Mrs. Trollope's "Austrians" in the library, and a cheerful Genoese captain, who had been long in the British merchant service, and spoke its language well, but had not learnt to love our proud and supercilious countrymen when in the character of steam-boat travellers.

I have appended a sketch, made during the above drive, as being more detailed than any I have yet seen; and it will be found from it, as was stated at starting, that nothing but enterprise and a very moderate outlay is wanting to make that wondrous improvement in the navigation of the Danube which would be effected by the opening a direct road for it to the sea, or establishing a canal communication between the two.

It is to be observed that, geologically, as there is only a tertiary lacustrine and lagoon formation between the two, there is every reason to believe that the long line of river and lakes belonging to this district once formed part of the bed of the olden Danube.

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