28 April 2013

Like wax on a dead island's face - last drawings of Ada Kaleh

In summers of 1964, 1965 and 1967 the Romanian island, Ada Kaleh was swarmed by students. They arrived from the Ion Micu University, Bucharest and their task was to make an achitectural survey of the area which will be flooded by buliding the Iron Gate hydroelectic power plant. Their aim was to document the monuments to be demolished, and to make plans for those buildings to be reconstruct later. It was like pouring wax on a dead island's face. The drawings remained in a hand-written, photocopied folder. With these artworks we can look inside the last days of this disappeared island. When these students put down their pencils, the deconstruction took place immediately. 

I received the "Monumente de arhitectură din localitățile dispărute sub apele lacului de acumulare al hidrocentralei "Porțile de Fier" (Architectural monuments flooded in the area of the Iron Gate reservoir) as a bilingual (English and Romanian) photocopied version through the internet. There are 3 main chapters: military, religious and civil buildings. This book surveys the whole flooded are up to Bazias (Serbian-Romanian border on the left bank) so Ada Kaleh only covers a part of it. I only publish the black and white drawings about this Turkish Island, as the most interesting part. I also used postcards from different sources to make this lost island more imaginable.

The fortress covers almost the whole island

This name, Ada Kaleh carries a bloody history. It means Fortress Island in Turkish language. Although its first fort was not raised by the Turks, but the Hungarian general János Hunyadi against the advancing Turkish Empire. It changed hands many times throughout history, sometimes in bloody siege, sometimes more peaceful circumstances. In times of peace, the fortress served the local population as an inexhaustible stone and brick quarry. The small Turkish town was built by the fortress' stones over the catacombs of the same fort. The walls were integral part of the town view.

During 20 years of peace after the treaty of Passarowitz (1719) the fort was reconstructed based on the idea of Prinz Eugen of Savoy after the most recent fortification solutions according to Vauban. 4 bastions were built, Charles, Eugene, Mercy and Wallis. After the Turkish regained the fort in 1739, they renamed the bastions. When the island was sunk in 1972 the fort still looked like in the eighteenth century. It was more of a western style, as Turkish (gates, ornamental patterns, bastions, etc).

Layout of the central fort

The Gun Powder Magazine layout and cross-section

The fort gates reflects the Baroque era. They were built in the same style like Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár), Peterwaradein (Pétervárad) or Osijek (Eszék). After archaeological excavations in 1968-1971, the fort was demolished brick-by-brick and was partly reconstructed on Simian island just downstream of the Iron Gate power plant. The plan was to migrate the whole Turkish community on this island, but they failed. The fort is swallowed by bushes, and the inhabitants dispersed into every corner of the world.

The main fort entrance on a postcard

The main entrance

The eastern gate

The western gate

Sections of the casemates and the 7th and 8th gate
Old street scene with a bazaar

The town built inside the fort had two main streets perpendicular to each other. The students draw all the facades in these streets, they found them worthy to capture it for posterity. We can walk these streets like memory lane, the line of houses were on the opposite sides of the street. It is quite interesting we can not find two similar buildings. On some of these sections we may recongnise the fort's casemates, from which the brick was obtained. In addition to the town view its worthy to pay attention to the trees. It looks like all of the trees lost parts of their greenery. It is a common phenomenon in riverine forests, when the ground-water declines through drought.
Western part of the town's longitudinal street

Rows of houses on the transverse street

Houses of the longitudinal street

Two opposite row of houses on the transverse street

In addition to these 50 years old "street views" the houses that bore special architectural characterics were also drawn. The most important building was Regep agha's house, who was the "major" of the island in the 19th century. His house was built outside the fort on the Danube bank, just nort from the old Turkish cemetery.

It was a two-storey building, built from bricks and wood, with a huge kitchen and multiple rooms, an airy veranda and of course with a real Turkish bath. In terms of size it was the largest house on the island.

House of Regep agha - part of the facade

House of Regep agha - layout and facade
House built over gate Nr. 3.

House of Ali Kadri, XIX. century

Turkish shop within the fort

Ada Kaleh's most distinctive building was the mosque and the minaret, built on the eastern flank of the fort. It was built in 1720 as a Franciscan monastic quaters, when German settlers arrived to repoulate the empty land, called the Caroline island that time.  After 1739 when the Turks regained the island it became a mosque. The sultans payed a special attention to this distant Turkish disperse, in 1902-1903 the minaret was built by the sultans benefaction. The floor of the two storey high  chamber of paryers was covered by a huge 480 kilogramm (1060 lbs.) persian carpet also granted by the sultan. This mosque was unique in the world because of its late Baroque style.  After the island was flooded the minaret still emerged above the water surface as a thin finger, but few years later it collapsed into the reservoir.

The mosque and the eastern gate

Cross secton and layout of the mosque
Scene of the mosque from east and from  a bird's eye view

There are only three drawings remained from the old Turkish cemetery's tombstones. They were carved in the 19th century, but the quality of these pages do not allow us to read them. However the turban and the rose motifs are easy to recognise. The tombs of Ada Kaleh were also unearthed and "transported" to the new island, Simian.

As an epilogue with Patrick Leigh Fermor we say: Everything was gone. From the sunken island only this painted wax death-mask remained.

In the last days Ada Kaleh was filmed too. The documentary movie called The Last Spring on Ada Kaleh is available here. It is better to see this film with the drawings for the better understanding. 
Postcards from: muzeumantikvarium.hu, art.com, mercuriustour.ro

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