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Dobruja: Constanta

My birthplace is Constanta, a town located in the South-East of Romania, at the shore of the Black Sea in the province called Dobruja (Dobrogrea).  Growing up there I had the opportunity to see most of the attractions in the area from the all too popular and crowded summer resorts to the beautiful, less travelled paths.

During a discussion with a colleague she confessed that although she would enjoy coming to the Romanian seaside on vacation, she doesn't know what is there to do or see besides baking in the sun all day. I know most tourists come in the area for the sun and the legendary fun however the region, one of Romania’s smallest provinces is extremely divers and has a lot to offer to the curious travellers.

Historically, Dobruja has the oldest Romanian settlements, Histria and Tomis fortresses, established by the Greek around 7th century BC. After the Greek, there were the Romans until the division of the Roman Empire (5th century AD) when Dobruja fell under the influence of the Eastern Roman Empire also known as the Byzantine Empire. It was successively part of the Bulgarian Empire (for about 500 years) then it was an autonomous province, then under Romanian ruling as part of Wallachia and all of this just until 1419 when it became part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman rule ended in 1878 with Romania conquering its independence and linking Dobruja back to its mother land. Nowadays Dobruja is still a part of Romania, giving the land the peace it needed but the turbulent history created the region most rich in minorities (18 different ethnic groups), language and traditions in the entire country.

Being the biggest town in Dobruja and my birthplace it only seemed right to make Constanta the first stop on our ride. Built on the remains of the old fortress Tomis, the town got its name from Constantiana the half-sister of Byzantine Emperor, Constantine the Great.

A walk in Constanta should always start in the old part of the town that covers the seaside quay, Ovidius Square and the touristic harbour Tomis.  If you are a morning person or like to take spectacular foto’s I recommend you start your walk at sunrise on the seaside quay. Because of the Black Sea’s Eastern positioning the sun always rises from the water creating a must-see experience in Romania. If you are not a morning person but still wish to see the sunrise you have the option of partying all night and stay for the sunrise after party.

Constanta

On the quay you will see the symbol of the city: The Casino, a big, superb building that has been subject to controversy in the last many years and this unfortunately transformed it in an also superb ruin. Built between 1907-1910 in Art Nouveau style, The Casino was home of the rich and adventurous now it's silently waiting for its revival and return to glorious days.

Constanta
the seaside quay
 

The walk continues on the quay, past the Genovese Lighthouse and towards the touristic harbor. On sunny, warm days you can enjoy a coffee or ice-cream at one of the caffe’s while admiring the boats and fancying a trip at sea.  From here you can either go to the beach for some tanning as Constanta’s Modern beach is in walking distance (15 minutes) or continue exploring the old town

Constanta
The Casino

Uphill from the harbor you will find yourself in Ovidius Square where the centerpiece is a statue of the famous Roman poet Ovidius, exiled here by the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus.  The statue dates back to 1887 and is the work of Italian Sculptor Etorre Ferrari.

Three main attractions are listed in the square: The History and Archeology Museum, The Roman Mosaic Edifice and The Great Mosque Karel I.

Constanta
Ovidius Square

The Museum is the second biggest and most complex in the country after the one in Bucharest. As an institution, it was established in 1879 to protect the valuable artifacts against the productive smuggling from the archaeological sites.  The impressive Romanian-style building  hosts a valuable collection of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and medieval objects.

The most important pieces are on display on the ground floor: the Glykon Snake-unique in the world representing a Roman deity, The Fortuna with Pontos statues protective deities of Tomis as well as gold jewelry, gems, cameos and antique silver vessels. The other floors of the museum exhibit a chronological representation of Dobruja starting with the first inhabitants to the modern era.

Outside the museum, on the left there’s an outdoor collection of engraved and carved tones. Take a minute and read the engravings; 2000 years old and still quite touching.

Also on the left is the Roman Mosaic Edifice, a monument built between the 2nd and the 4th century, very big for its time. The Mosaic floor is worth a quick look but otherwise don't expect something grand.

Moving on we encounter the Great Mosque Karel I. Finished in 1913, the mosque is the main religious edifice for muslims in the country. The building combines Romanian, Moresque and Byzantine elements. The highlights of the mosque are a Persian rug that weights 500kgs and the 47 m minaret. Climb up the 144 stairs for a beautiful panorama of the old city, harbor and the sea. Please be aware that there is no elevator available.

The area of the old town is rich in pre-war buildings, very beautiful, sadly most of them in ruin. They are all included in the massive restorations but until then they can be the subjects of exquisite ghost-town foto’s. The jewel is the House with Lions, a magnificent work built between 1898-1902. The guard of the building is not exactly the friendly type but he told us that some good news meaning that the house has a new owner, is scheduled for restorations and to be re-open as a restaurant in the next couple of years (I know it seems a long time but locals have been waiting for this restoration for as long as I remember).

Constanta
The House with Lions

The people that want to explore this part of town in depth can visit The Aquarium, The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral- most important Orthodox church in Dobruja, the walls of the ancient fortress (Tomis) and the museum dedicated to Ion Jalea, one of Romania’s big sculptors.

In late afternoon through evening a good idea is Tabacarie park where you can visit St. Mina church, a small and cute wooden church that would fit better in Transylvania than in Dobruja. Best time to go here is actually at dusk for the sun sets over the park and the lake. A relaxing stroll in the park is just what everybody needs after a full day of sightseeing.

Best time to visit Constanta is of course during summer. If you want to avoid the massive crowds then June and late August are perfect.  The rest of the year is good for sightseeing, especially September and October as the weather is still warm. I would recommend winter only for those who love cold and windy days. The sea during winter is quite a terrifying image: black, rough and wild.

Administrative information: opening hours, fees, addresses

Name

Address

Opening Hours

Entrance Fees

The National Museum of History and Archeology

Ovidius Square no.12

In season: 9am-8pmOff season: 9am-5pmMonday&Tuesday closed

Adults:11 leiChildren&groups: 5 lei

The Aquarium

Sea quay

9am-5pm

Adults:10 leiChildren: 5 lei

The Mosque Karel I

Crangului str.No.1

In season: 8am-8pmOff season: 8am-5pm

Adults: 4 leiChildren: 2 lei

Ion Jalea Sculpture Museum

Arhiepiscopiei str. No.26

9am-5pmMonday&Tuesday closed

5 lei

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral

Arhiepiscopiei str. No.23

All day

-

The Roman Mosaic Edifice

Ovidius Square no.12

In season: 9am-8pmOff season: 9am-5pmMonday&Tuesday closed

Included in the ticket for the History and Archaelogy Museum

Personal advice: The old town in Constanta is currently undergoing massive works for restoration so touring is a bit difficult. I do recommend booking a local guide.

How to get to the old town without a car:

Busses: 2, 42, 44, 49, 51

Troley: 48

Station: Poarta 1, Constanta Harbour (the end of the line)

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Constanta
small beach next to the Casino
Constanta
St. Peter and Paul Cathedral and the ruins of Tomis


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