Constanta was our lunch destination on Friday 1st June, 2018. It is the fourth largest city in Romania and a large port city on the Black Sea, about an hour and a half’s drive from Tulchea on the Danube Delta. We were told that Dobraja was the oldest region in Romania with archaeological evidence of human habitation going back to the Neolithic period. Constanta promised some of these links with the human history of the Black Sea as it was the oldest city in Romania dating from around 600BCE.
The first settlements that history records in this area goes back to the sixth century when Greek colonists from the city of Miletus arrived. Their township was called Tomis, a name that is recorded in ‘Tomis Boulevard’ in the centre of the old town. However given that some guide books also suggest that Jason and his Argonauts called into this area of the Black Sea, heaven knows what this means in terms of the chronology of Tomis. The story of Jason is an ancient Greek myth that may hale from the 8th century BCE, from the time when Ulysses traveled with the invading Greeks to Troy. Hercules was one of the Argonauts and the tales of Hercules are lost in the mists and myths of antiquity. The story goes that Jason and the Argonauts sailed from Greece, over the Black Sea to Colchis (modern coast of Georgia) where he demanded the return of the Golden Fleece. The problem with tracking Jason’s return is that there is no original manuscript telling the story before the third century BCE. One unlikely version of his return travels has the heroes travelling up the Danube, presumably finding their way to the Baltic and coming the long way home via the Straits of Gibralter. If this version is true, there is some chance of Jason dropping into old Constanta for a few nights rest before going up one of the many channels that make up the delta of the Danube River.
In the main square of Constanta in front of the Archaeological Museum stands a wonderful statue of the Roman Poet Ovid. He was in the middle of his career as a highly acclaimed poet in Rome when he was suddenly and mysteriously exiled to Constanta on the Black Sea Coast by the Emperor Augustus – a long way from home in Rome and his third wife. He continued to write in exile.He also told the story of Jason in a number of his poems but alas does not mention the Argonauts’ long way home or any time in Constanta.
While that great monster slept, the hero took
the Golden Fleece; and proudly sailed away
bearing his treasure and the willing maid,
(whose aid had saved him) to his native port
Iolcus—victorious with the Argonauts. (Ovid ‘Metamorphoses)
Not far from the main square in Constanta there is a huge Roman Mosaic on the floor of a third century Roman Building that for the princely sum of 5 Lei we were able go and view. It was probably not around in Ovid’s time but it speaks of the time when this area of the Black Sea coast was overtakan by the Romans. While the mosaic was was impressive and well preserved, it was very dusty with little money available apparently to spend on its upkeep; something that could be said for the rest of the old town of Constanta.
The big draw-card for tourists in Constanta is an ageing, gray, concrete building on the shore front that is losing bits of itself as it decays without maintenance over the passing seasons. It is a building that began life in 1903 and has been a continuous source of argument and debate over its construction and its subsequent use. It was commissioned in the presence of Prince Ferdinand and our guide informed us that one of the issues in its failure to be maintained today was the claim by the old royal family for its return to them as it was financed by King Carol I. (Other sources suggest it is far more complicated.) The casino ran as a casino up until World War One when it was bombed by German and Bulgarian troops; it was then converted into a hospital for the wounded. It hosted Nazi troops in World War 2 and then bombed again by the allied forces. It was renovated after the war by the Communist Government using political prisoners. It was opened as a restaurant but was closed in 1990 due to the huge cost of repairing and maintaining this huge lovely building. There is word that repair work may begin again later in 2018. Given its tragic and miserable life as a building, it is surprising it is still facing the waves of the Black Sea and it deserves to be repaired to become a symbol for the future of Constanta and the Romanian future.