Sulina: Past And Present

In the late 19th century, Sulina, although modest in size, was one of the most prosperous towns in Romania, thanks to the activities of the European Danube Commission. Numerous edifices and monuments (presented below), which have survived to the present day, although now in an advanced state of decay, complete the image of a once flourishing and cosmopolitan port. The Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas was built in a number of stages, between 1910-12 and 1933-34. Its foundations were laid by King Carol I himself, on the occasion of his visit to Sulina in 1910, to commemorate the historic act whereby Dobrudja was returned to Romania in 1878. The church is remarkable for the harmony of the whole, the unity of its Neo-Romanian forms, and its picturesque details. In its architectural design, the central band of cable moulding and the mosaic medallions are particularly worthy of note. The Saint Nicholas Orthodox Old Believers' Cathedral, built in 1866 and displaying obvious Russian influence, is trefoil in plan, with a large spire soaring above the altar and two belfries above the entrance. In the 19th century, it was the only Christian place of worship in the town, and was declared a cathedral church by the Bishopric of Galatzi. Renovated in 1923 and 1956, the church is now gravely deteriorated. The Greek Church of Saint Nicholas was built in 1869, in the form of a nave with a single, low spire. On the facades, the stone frame with small decorative frontons above the lattice windows is complemented by the presence of a side entrance. In front of the church, there is a separate bell tower, with three bells, two of which bear the inscription "Sulina 1933". Inside the church can be remarked the white-painted pulpit and icon screen specific to Greek churches, and a beautiful wooden baldaquin, carved with floral motifs, which is again white with gilded details. In addition, there are a number of valuable icons, painted in the 19th and early 20th century: the Deisis (1824), St Gherasim, Spiridon and Dionysius (1874), St Pantelimon and St Charalambos (1898) and St Parascheva (1904), painted by Enache Cardaş. Although the exterior of the church is in good condition, the interior is deteriorated, and the paintings and icon screen are blackened by candle smoke. In 1833, a parochial house was built in the courtyard of the Greek Church, which housed the first Greek primary school. The Roman-Catholic Church of Saint Nicholas, which serves the small Roman-Catholic community of Sulina, was built in 1863. It is in the form of a basilica, with three naves and a single roof for the entire length of the building. The interior is high and well-lit, thanks to the four stained glass windows. In 1864, the Catholic parochial house was built in the churchyard, and temporarily housed the Italian school on the ground floor. The fact that most of the places of worship in Sulina are dedicated to St Nicholas is because most of its inhabitants are mariners or fishermen, who honour this particular saint as their patron. The Palace of the European Danube Commission (EDC), in the Neo-Classical style, dominates the Danube cliff. It was built in 1866 and comprises the offices of the Navigation House and the Port Authorities, the facilities required for meetings of the EDC, and flats for staff. In 1939, it became the headquarters of the Lower Danube Fluvial Administration (LDFA). It seems that the Waterworks was built between 1897 and 1907, through a donation by the Dutch Royal Family. With a number of technical improvements having been made over the years, without affecting the building's architecture, the Waterworks still supplies the town with water today. The town hospital was built by the EDC in 1869 and provided modern facilities: wards for EDC employees (clerks and labourers), mariners, and also townsfolk; an operating theatre (in 1902, a surgical service was established to take responsibility for the exigencies of medical practice); a room for sterilising surgical materials; a laboratory; a consultation room; a pharmacy; and cabinets for medical and infirmary staff. The outbuildings housed a canteen, disinfection room, laundry and morgue. The building still serves its original purpose today, without, however, reaching the standards of its heyday. The building has been altered over the years and was damaged during the two world wars. On the left bank of the Sulina Canal, as part of the present-day Remat SA Shipyard, four of the workshops of the shipyard founded by the EDC in 1860 have been preserved, as well as workers' dwellings. Today, the activities of the Shipyard, although greatly diminished since the time of the EDC, comprise repairs and construction of small craft and river barges. Since the closure of the fish canning industry, the Shipyard is Sulina's main industry. Sulina's burial ground, situated about two kilometres east of the town centre, is known as the Maritime Cemetery. The latter name was first used by Jean Bart in a collection of sketches published in Bucharest's Pagini literare magazine on 11 February 1899. Founded by the EDC in 1864, the cemetery is the final resting place of foreigners, in particular employees of the EDC, mariners, and also townsfolk. Depending on the religious denomination of those buried here, the cemetery is divided into a number of plots: the Christian Cemetery (Protestant, Roman-Catholic, Orthodox, Orthodox Old-Believer), the Muslim Cemetery, and the Jewish Cemetery (at present devastated). It is the only cemetery in Romania where believers from these three major religions rest together. Among the high-ranking EDC officials who were buried in this "historic reserve" may be mentioned the following: William Simpson, foreman and head of the building sites at the mouths of the Danube (the right-hand man of C. H. Hartley, who, for thirteen years, supervised the construction and extension of the jetties, the construction of wharves and lighthouses along the Sulina dykes; he died on 28 July 1870, before he could take part at their inauguration); Eugenius Magnussen, EDC resident engineer; Giovanni Matteucci, Director of the Navigation Office; and Abraham Farrar, head of the Shipyard. Then there is the grave of two young lovers who drowned at Sulina in the summer of 1868. Young officer William Webster came to Sulina to visit his father John Webster, chief mechanic on one of the EDC's ships. He was accompanied by his fiancé Ann Margaret, and her mother, and her sister. The inscription on the tombstone tells of a shipwreck in the waters of the Danube, which only the sister of Ann Margaret survived. In the Greek cemetery, part of the Christian Cemetery, the tomb of Princess Ecaterina Moruzi, niece of Ioan Sturdza, Voievode of Moldavia, can be seen. Legend tells that the Princess, born in Constantinople, accompanied her one true love to this part of the world. Her father disinherited her for her recklessness, but on learning of her death he wept bitterly and erected this funerary monument, employing a watchman to make sure it would always be surrounded by blooming roses. Legend also tells of how Giorgios Kontoguris, whose tombstone bears a skull and crossbones, the symbol of piracy, was the most dangerous pirate in the region. Nevertheless, the plaque erected by his brother claims that Giorgios Kontoguris was a very good citizen. Today, the cemetery seems a place forgotten amid the waters. Although it would be unrecognisable to anyone who lived through its glory years, Sulina remains a particularly charming town. Bibliography: Studies: 1.***La Commission Européenne du Danube et son oeuvre de 1856 a 1931, Paris, 1931. 2. Covacef, P., Cimitirul viu de la Sulina [The Living Cemetery at Sulina], Constanta, 2003. 3. Ionescu, M. D., Dobrogea în pragul veacului al XX-lea [Dobrudja at the Threshold of the Twentieth Century], Bucharest, 1904. 4. Lascu, Ş. Mărturii de epocă privind istoria Dobrogei [Period Accounts regarding the History of Dobrudja], Constanta, 1999. 5. Rădulescu, A. V., Bitoleanu, I., Istoria românilor dintre Dunăre şi Mare [The History of the Romanians between the Danube and the Sea], Constanta, 1995. 6. Stanciu, Ş., România şi Comisia Europeană a Dunării. Diplomaţie. Suveranitate. Cooperare Internaţională [Romania and the European Danube Commission: Diplomacy, Sovereignty, International Co-operation], Galatzi, 2002. Articles: 1. Zaharia, P., Sulina. Porto – franco, Peuce, 8, 1977-1978.

by Mădălina Ciocoiu