01 June 2018

The two bridges of Ada Kaleh

The island of Ada Kaleh was famous of many reasons; its Turkish inhabitants, its rose petal jam, its cigars, its minaret, its fate and history. And it was famous for its fortress, the survivor of many sieges. This fortress was not only built to hinder the Turkish forces sailing up on the Danube, but it also guarded a river crossing. This crossing has been witnessed by two bridges in the 18th century.

Ada Kaleh in the 18th century

The first fortress of Ada Kaleh was started to built in 1691 by Veterani, a general of the cavalry of the Habsburg monarchy. This general gave the name of the famous Veterani caves nearby. Due to its strategic position the fortress witnessed many sieges. At the end of the 17th century the fortress was built up by weak earth ramparts so a Turkish counter attack captured it and the peace treaty of Karlowitz (1699) left the island in Turkish possession. In 1717 Habsburg troops besieged Ada Kaleh and after months of encirclement eventually they captured it in August and two years later the Treaty of Passarowitz confirmed the conquest. 

After the peace treaty a new fortress has been constructed with twenty year's effort. The rectangular shaped fortress was made up by stones and bricks, positioned in the middle of the island, but ramparts and bastions protected the entire area. On the right side of the Danube (then Turkey, now Serbia) a watchtower has been built and named fort Elizabeth. This tiny outpost was connected to Ada Kaleh through a pontoon bridge — according to a contemporary drawing. Fort Elizabeth has been demolished by the independent Serbian government in 1868. 

The new fortress on Ada Kaleh remained in Austrian possession until 1738, when a new war broke out between Austria and Turkey. After several month of siege, the Turkish army managed to capture the island with the just finished fortress. The seriously damaged Ada Kaleh was rebuilt and the German settlers has been ousted and replaced by Turkish people. 

Ada Kaleh in 1790.

After a half century's peaceful period a new Austro-Turkish war broke out and the fortress changed its owner once more, however only for a short time. In 1790 Austria captured Ada Kaleh, but they were forced to leave after the peace treaty of Sistovo. 

This short Austrian rule is represented with another pontoon bridge, which can be found on mapire.eu, the map of Wallachia in year 1790. The bridge connects Ada Kaleh with the left side of the Danube and obviously served military purposes. This second bridgehead was situated near a gap on the ramparts seen on the 1737 situations plan. There is no such gap on the other side, facing Fort Elizabeth, this pontoon bridge might have a bridgehead near one of the bastions. I found no evidence if these two bridges co-existed, but it might have happened during times of war or when Fort Elizabeth and Ada Kaleh has been built at the same time. 

The two bridges of Ada Kaleh

After 1790 a peaceful era started on the island lasting with only one period of war (1916-1918) until 1972, when the whole island submerged due to the construction of the Iron Gates 1. dam. The Turkish military did not maintain the two pontoon bridges, as the fortress slowly lost its military importance (and garrison as well). With the decline of the Turkish rule on the Balkans Turkey has first lost the left side of the Danube, and later the right banks as well. But Ada Kaleh itself remained in Turkish possession until 1912. The inhabitants had to use boats and regular Danubian passenger ships to leave the island. But that is another story...

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