A Short History Of A Few Settlements In the Danube Delta

Museum of History and Archeology Institute for Ecomuseum Research in Tulcea

An insight into the written sources related to Dobruja shows that life has been continuous and constant in the historic dwelling places of this area. This statement is valid for the settlements in the Danube Delta too. Medieval and modern maps and the Byzantine chronicles mentioned them over a period of time, depending on the occupation regime. In some Turkish sources or in some maps, villages with a non-Turkish toponymy are mentioned, which is a proof of ethnic diversity. But Romanians continued to live in those settlements, even if the names had been changed by the Ottoman administration. Chilia, the "key-fortress from the mouth of the Danube river", so called because of the important economic role that it played in the medieval period, is situated on the sand bank Chilia, on the right bank of the arm Old Chilia, 80 km from Tulcea. The oldest records regarding the existence of this small town date back to the 10th century and describe an ancient, large and rich settlement. The settlement is mentioned in medieval maps as a place where Genovese trading took place. After the year 1403, Chilia becomes part of Wallachia, ruled then by Mircea the Old, and, until it is conquered by the Turks, it is considered to belong either to Moldavia or to Wallachia. In 1479, Stephen the Great builds the New Chilia "with 800 masons and 17,000 hands", which is mentioned later, in 1683, in Jacobus Sandrart's map. In 1484, Chilia and Cetatea Albă (White Fortress) are lost by the Moldavian king in favor of the Turks, led then by sultan Bayazid II. During the Turkish occupation, Chilia is named Eski-Kilia. During the medieval and the modern period, Chilia plays an important economic role, because of its geo-strategic position: the end of the Moldavian trade route. The trade with beluga and grey mullet brings significant incomes. Although it goes through periods of recession, Chilia is seen by Paul of Alep in the 17th century as a "renowned fortress, with a large and mighty castle… it is the border of Dobruja and the mouth of the Black Sea channel." Unfortunately, after the Independence War of 1877 and the entrance of Dobruja under the authority of the Romanian state, Chilia falls into decay and, at the moment, it is a rural settlement, where inhabitants of different ethnic groups live and work mainly in agriculture. Saint George is where the Saint George arm flows into the Black Sea. Historical documents mention that Darius' army passed along this arm on their way to Isaccea, where they landed and left from, crossing the Danube against the Scythians. The settlement, an old place for fishermen, is mentioned for the first time on the Genovese Vesconte's map, where it can be found with the name San Giorgio. It can be found with the same name in Castaldo and Ortelius Mercator's 16th-17th century maps. Cadarlez administratively belonged to Caraorman. In the beginning, the inhabitants were living also in the Buhaz Bank in the south of the Saint George arm. The settlement was inhabited mostly by Russian fishermen who took refuge there in the 17th century due to the political or religious persecutions. The first Romanians (from Transylvania) settled in these places at the beginning of the 19th century. Germans also settled there, coming from the Russian colonies to Dobruja in 1841. Starting from 1820, the fishermen from the Saint George arm began to have business dealings with the Greek ships. Because they had not found the business profitable, in the following period they sold their fish on their own in Galaţi, starting to do business with Romanian traders. In the 19th century, there were three Saint George fisheries owned by the Greek Iani Melanos, who did not take into consideration the fishermen's interests. The latter's attempts to stop the Greek's abuse by organizing an association led by Spirea Gramovschi failed. The novelist V. Crăsescu, who lived for some time among the fishermen, described their morals and their patriarchal life style as it follows: "The whole village was a fishery and its owner was Iani Melanos. The settlement had a rectangular shape, with straight and wide streets, alders on every side. The houses were all high, simple and clean. Order and togetherness was all over. One could notice the luxury of the village women. At the margin of the country you might be tempted to think they are savage, but the things are not like this…" The village church was built in 1820. It burnt down in 1880 and was rebuilt in the same year. In 1896, a new fire determined the demolition of the church, which was redone this time. The choice of the toponym for the medieval settlement demonstrates that the name Saint George had taken root in Dobruja due to the Christian legend of the beheaded Roman soldier in Cappadocia. The change of the toponym during the Ottoman occupation from Saint George into Cadarlez demonstrates that the Turkish inhabitants knew the role of this Christian saint, as a protector of vegetal and animal rebirth, by changing the name with a similar notion from the Turkish ethnography. To be more specific, it is about the Turkish feast Hidirlez, which has the same role in the Muslim tradition as the Christian tradition. The settlement bore the Turkish name until 1909.

by Mădălina Ciocoiu; Iuliana Costea