18 May 2022

Three sentences on Kovin


Szent Ábrahámtelke, now Ráckeve  as of autumn of 2020.

According to medieval Hungarian charters, after Smeredovo fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1439, a group of Serbians fleeing from the royal free town of Kevevára, an important Danube crossing point on the southern border, wandered for months around Pest and the Szentendre Island, until they finally settled in Szent Ábrahámtelke, in what is now Ráckeve, on the island of Csepel, Hungary, a place where a ferry crossed the Danube, similar to their former home.

The fort of Kovin and the Dunavac (source)

The formerly fortress of Keve, which was originally located on a Danubian Island, was not only threatened with destruction by the Turks (it was invaded in 1552 at the latest), but also by the condition of the southern walls of the fortress and, according to Frigyes Pesty's writing on the disappearing counties, by the Danube, or more precisely by its branch called the Dunavac, which was constantly being washed away: '"In 1879, a fall of more than a hundred metres occurred, and a considerable part of the fortress fell victim to the river again. On this occasion, several objects from the barbarian period are unearthed and news of the ancient antiquity of the settlement is brought to light."

Keve county in the Kingdom of Hungary (source: C. Tóth Norbert)

After the peace treaty of Passarowitz liberated Temesköz, now known as Banat, from Turkish rule, the world changed so much that the southern Hungarian counties, such as Keve County, like Bodrog County, were searched in vain by experts in the revival of the contemporary administration, who, based on military considerations, finally turned part of its territory into a military frontier, and its seat was no longer called Kevevára, but Kovin.

24 March 2022

The Belene Archipelago


Nature can create hell on Earth, but a volcano emerging from a cornfield is different from a man-made communist correctional labour camp on an island in the Danube. The Belene prison island in Bulgaria wants to forget the horrors of the communist era, in some ways too well underway, but the black stain of the past is probably indelible from the green island.

Marshes on the eastern part of Belene Island © Александър Иванов (source)

I first read about the history of Belene Island in Nick Thorpe's book "The Danube - A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest". Its history is quite unknown, but perhaps the story of the Soviet Gulag Archipelago can be paralleled. Belene Island is also unique in that it is the largest island in the Danube in Bulgaria and is located close to the southernmost point of the Danube. We are closer to reality when we talk about the Belene as an archipelago, because sandbar and island formation is still active in this stretch, not only in the main branch but also in the smaller Danube riverbeds. Here, the islands die a "natural death", attached to the larger islands or to the riverbanks. 

The Belene archipelago consists of a main island, also known as Persin (Персин) Island, joined to the north by Kitka (Китка) Island (elsewhere Golyama Barzina), with only a narrow Danube-branch marking the thinning boundary. By the shapes of the floodplain, we can discover several smaller islands hidden in this backwater. To the north of Kitka there is the beautifully named Milka (Милка), in this case not a chocolate, but a female name. Calvados (Калвадос) is the only island in the Danube to my knowledge that is named after a type of alcohol, Calvados being a distillate made from cider from northern France, which some local with a sense of humour must have edited Google maps. There are also a few unnamed Bulgarian islands that have merged with the Romanian or left bank, some that are real islands on the Romanian side of the fairway, and extensive bars in the Danube at lower water levels.

There are three other islands in the southern Danube arm, near the settlement of Belene, namely Magaritsa (Магареца), Belitsa or Štureca and the lowest downstream, Predela (Предела). They also have a descriptive name, and in the same order they are translated in English as Donkey-, Cricket- and -Frontier island. The latter takes its name from the fact that it lies on the border between the Bulgarian provinces of Pleven and Veliko Tarnovo.

The Belene archipelago covers an area of about 54 square kilometres, roughly the size of Szentendre Island in Hungary. It is 14 kilometres long as the crow flies, 16 kilometres according to river kilometres and has a maximum width of six kilometres. In contrast to Szentendre Island, the entire area of the Belene archipelago lies on the floodplain and is basically unsuitable for permanent human settlement.

The Belene Archipelago (edited from Googleearth)

Until the spring of 1949, Belene was a relatively poor village with a Catholic Bulgarian population. Its poverty was due to the fact that much of its land lay on the flood plain of the Danube, and not only the islands but also the land on the right bank was flooded almost every year. And the flooded land was not suitable for wheat, only for maize, so white bread was considered as a luxury. The population of Belene used the islands for floodplain farming, mainly for animal husbandry. In the spring, cows, pigs and sheep were driven across the Danube and then driven back to the village in the autumn. The islands provided timber for building and firewood, the low-lying wetlands were full of fish, and the extensive flower meadows were a great source of bee-keeping. This idyllic land use ceased overnight in May 1949. 

The pontoon bridge at Belene (source)

On May 1, 1949, just four days after the Bulgarian Interior Minister's decree approving the construction of the correctional labour camps, two officials appeared in Belene and the islands were effectively seized on behalf of the Interior Ministry. This involved the arrival of guards who drove the 20,000 livestock of the locals, hives and all, off the island at short notice. Until then, the communists had not had much support in the village, but sentiment reports this summer indicated that the dissatisfaction of the population was so great that the investment was in doubt. 

Later, as time went on, this animosity slowly faded as many of the villagers found work and a good living as camp employees. Among them were most of the guards and administrative staff. Some prison guard later became mayor of Belene.

The situational map of the Belene Island's forced labour camp sites (source)

The first group of inmates arrived on the island in the summer of 1949. The arrivals were difficult to keep secret, as the only pontoon bridge to the island was via the centre of Belene. The first 300 inmates were still living in branch-covered pits, and it was their job to build the camp and barracks. A wide variety of social groups were gathered here, including former members of parliament, members of opposition parties, prominent members of the middle classes, including the former mayor of Sofia, singers and church people of all denominations. There were intellectuals, military officers, kulaks, anarchists, monarchists, social democrats, agrarians and later even communists. In the 1950s, even listening to western music or dressing in western style was enough to get you into a forced labour camp. The only thing they all had in common was that they were all sent to Belene without a conviction. Initially, it was only possible to send someone to a correctional labour camp for six months, but in 1951 the duration was increased to three to seven years. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon to be imprisoned for 14 years in various Bulgarian forced labour camps, as Belene was not the only one, although it was the largest and longest-running. The other equally notorious place was Lovech, in the Balkan Mountains, but there were at least 40 other labour camps, although this is not an exact figure either, as there were temporary labour camps.

There were five camps scattered on Belene Island, marked with a Roman numbers. Site I is still in operation as a prison, since 1953. Currently, 500 prisoners are serving their sentences here. It is the closest to  Belene settlement, with a straight road leading from the pontoon bridge. What distinguished it from the work camp was that the prisoners were brought here by court order, which did not mean that there was no overleap between the camp and the prison. In 1953, when following the death of Stalin amnesty was granted to political prisoners sentenced to forced labour in Bulgaria, many were not released but transferred to the prison. In 1957, the supervision of the prison was transferred to the Ministry of Justice. Site No. II was the actual forced labour camp, enclosed by barbed wire, moats and watchtowers. It was far away, in the eastern part of the island, surrounded by marshes, 10 kilometres from Belene. Here political prisoners were overseen by guards with machine guns. Because of the island's great distances, these guards were mounted on horseback and equipped with whips. The prisoners here did hard physical labour, building dykes, draining swamps, agricultural work and deforestation.

According to camp residents' recollections, the barracks had no heating, there was no medical care and contact with the outside world was restricted. The camp was designed for 3,000 people, but between 1949 and 1953 a total of 12,000 people stayed there. If we take the whole period between 1949-1989, this number could reach 30,000. The food was most often diluted soup, with dry and/or mouldy bread, and sometimes the soup or tea was frozen in winter. Most died of starvation, freezing, lack of medical care and torture. According to survivors' recollections, the bodies of prisoners were sometimes fed to pigs, but flogging was a common punishment, after which the prisoners were tied up naked in a swampy place where the mosquitoes carried out the rest of the torture. The people who died on the island were buried in mass graves, but their location has not been discovered to date. 

Site IV was located on the island of Shturets, where the women prisoners were housed. Camps III and V were working places for prisoners, one was an agricultural facility and the other a brick factory. On Belene Island, a total of 2,000 hectares were farmed after the Danube floods were eliminated by a system of dykes built by forced labour.

Belene Site II. (source:  Krum Horozov)

Despite being the longest running and largest forced labour camp in Bulgaria, Belene was not permanently in use. Such camps operated in Bulgaria from the communist coup of 9 September 1944 until the fall of socialism, despite Bulgaria's public denial. Even at the very end, in the summer of 1989, people were interned in Bulgaria without trial. Belene was first operated as a labour camp from 1949 to 1953, with a 3-year break until 1956, but the Belene prison continued to receive detainees. In the autumn of 1956, after the failed October revolution in Hungary, the camp reopened and operated until 1959. According to memoirs, this period was the most brutal period of Belene. In 1959 the camp was closed and the prisoners were transferred to the quarry of the Lovech forced labour camp. However, the bodies of the victims who died there were transported back to Belene Island by trucks until 1962. There were two rounds a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. The bodies were sometimes dumped in the Danube, but most of them were buried in unmarked mass graves on the smaller islands. The simultaneous operation of the prison and the labour camp blurred the boundaries in the memory of the locals. Very few of those who recalled the events could tell the difference between the two, so the two institutions were often lumped together. 

Site II. reopened in 1985, when the national-communist government began forcibly assimilating the Turkish and Pomak minorities. You could get to Belene just by refusing to change your name to Bulgarian. Typically, resistance leaders were interned on the island. These measures lasted until the fall of state socialism, and when the borders were opened 300,000 Bulgarian Turks emigrated to Turkey.

The Belene Island memorial (source)

The fall of state socialism in Bulgaria should be put between quotation marks, because in 1990, in the first free elections, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the successor to the Communist Party, won an absolute majority in the new Parliament. Although there were trials against the people who supervised the forced labour camps, none of them were convicted. On the one hand, most of these people were no longer alive, some of them died during the trials, but they were not fully prosecuted because the official documents were mostly lost or destroyed. In other words, in the absence of official documents, it could be said that such camps never existed in Bulgaria. It is therefore difficult to come to terms with the past, based solely on the accounts of guards and prisoners. The documents have disappeared, there are no traces of old mass graves, and the survivors are slowly dying out. In Bulgaria, survivors feel that there is a lack of confrontation, that there is no institution to deal with the crimes of the communist period.

And on the Belene Island, nature is slowly reclaiming what was once taken away. The eastern half of the island has been a protected area since 2000 and is home to many bird species. Four of the island's former large marshes are being revitalised; the dykes, built up from the inmates' blood sweat and tears, are being dismantled by conservationists to allow the Danube to reclaim its floodplain. This is why the Belene archipelago is now known as both "Bulgaria's Dachau" and the "Pearl of the Danube". 

Monographies, images and memories on Belene for further reading:

  • https://beleneisland.org/history/?lang=en
  • https://www.businessinsider.com/my-visit-to-the-gulag-where-my-grandfather-was-tortured-2021-9
  • https://vagabond.bg/dark-tales-belene-3275
  • https://us4bg.org/news/belene-2019/
  • https://webcafe.bg/report/483133946-belene-syakash-nikoga-ne-e-bilo/gallery
  • https://belene.bg/en/tourism/belene-memorial-park/
  • Daniela Koleva: Belene: remembering the labour camp and the history of memory. 2012.
  • Lilia Topouzova: Reclaiming Memory: The History and Legacy of Concentration Camps in Communist Bulgaria. 2015.

19 February 2022

The lost Danubian park of Paks

There are several bad examples form riverside settlements, just like qays in Budapest, on how to isolate the inhabitants of a municipality from the Danube with transport infrastructure. On a smaller scale, this has happened elsewhere in Hungarian rural towns. In Paks, this is still a sore point, despite the fact that the investment in question, the construction of Route 6, took place seventy years ago. 

The opening ceremony at Paks, with the Soviet monument still standing on the left.
(Fortepan / UVATERV)

The above picture was taken sometime in late 1952, at the opening ceremony of the Paks section of Route 6. The exact date is uncertain and the event was not reported in the press of the time. The Tolnai Napló also only wrote on 2 November 1952 that "the workers of the Paks Concrete Road Construction Company collectively undertook to connect the Route 6 between Szekszárd and Budapest by 22 November, the time of the 3rd Hungarian Peace Congress." In fact, it is even possible that the pening ceremony was postponed to the following year. According to press reports, the entire route connecting Budapest with Pécs was opened in May 1953, and there were inauguration ceremonies in the villages concerned. The construction work did not go smoothly, with workers often absent without justification or arbitrarily leaving the roadworks, presumably because of the cruel and forced working conditions during the communist era. It was not only the road that was built, but also the ancillary facilities attached to it, such as bridges, overpasses and road crossings. These workers were locked up for months on end in education camps. According to local memories, the road reached Paks from the north, from Dunakömlőd, where the local section was completed in 1951.

Certain geographical conditions at Paks also made the road construction difficult. The Danube floodplain widens for several kilometres north of Paks towards Bölcske and south towards Fadd and Tolna. However, at Paks, the tilted loess blocks of the Mezőföld rise directly above the Danube, for example, at the Brickworks section, more than 60 metres above the zero level of the Danube, but also at the roman-age Lussonium fortress (later Bottyán fort) at Kömlőd, part of which was eroded laterally by the Danube. Paks owes its advantage over other settlements in the area mainly to its location directly on the Danube, which is free of flooding. At the same time, the steeply sloping edge of the Mezőföld and the erosion of the Imsós bend made transport along the Danube impossible. On older maps, the road to Kömlőd was marked on the loess plateau west of Malomhegy. The situation was improved by the cutting of the Imsós bend in 1841, which deprived Kömlőd of its Danube bank, but at the same time deprived the Danube of a hairpin bend particularly suitable for the formation of ice dams. 

The almost vertically sloping embankment and the huge cost of securing it was the reason why the Pusztaszabolcs-Paks railway line was not completed as originally planned as far as Tolna. The Paks terminus of the railway, which was opened in December 1896, was far north of the town centre, at the brickworks. 

At that time, the major transport line of Paks was the Deák Ferenc Street-Szent István tér-Dózsa György út-Tolnai út, which passed through the city centre. This artery was moved to the Danube bank in 1952. Route 6 was built from the Rókus Chapel to Kölesdi út on a new route, with a significant section of the road being built directly alongside the Danube. The southern section of the new route also required the construction of an embankment, as it crossed a low-lying area (around the cannery) where maps a few hundred years ago had indicated a lake and marsh. Paks was thus separated from the Danube by an increasingly busy road, which also served as a flood protection embankment, and the new road meant that the Danube park, which is immortalised on countless postcards, had to be demolished. Once the main community space of the city, the Danube Park was created from the land of János Flórián. The rose garden with its pergolas and rose beds was later joined by a Japanese garden, and in 1898, the year Queen Elizabeth was assassinated, a chestnut grove was planted along the Danube. All this was lost in the road construction, and only the Elizabeth Promenade was saved. 

In 1976 another investment made the connection of the village with the Danube more difficult. The construction of the nuclear power plant made it necessary to extend the railway line, abandoned in 1896, but only as far as the construction site. After 80 years, the construction of the railway resumed, parallel to Route 6 on the Danube side. The Pusztaszabolcs-Dunaújváros-Paks railway line also used to carry passengers, but the service has been closed since 2009.

In Paks, there is occasionally discussion of improving the city's connection to the Danube, but this is unlikely to happen without relocating the road and railway. We conclude this post with a look back at what life on the Danube was like in Paks before the road and railway were built, with its water park and boat mills. We use postcards from before 1945 and photos of Paks dated 1937 by János Kenedi from Fortepan. 

Paks, Danubian park, demolished during the construction of Route 6.

Danubian panorama at Paks. In 1861 there were 56 boat mills in operation.

The Haga Danube pool next to the chestnut grove.

The Danubian pool at Paks and seven boat mills.

Full house in the pool.

Paks, ship station. The first steamboat arrived in Paks in 1846.
The scheduled passenger traffic ceased in 1964, after this time the Fishing cooperative used it.

Paks, Danubian detail

Boat mills of Paks

The ship station.

The ship station from the different angle, whith the chesnut promenade.

The chestnut alley planted in memory of Queen Elizabeth.
This is all that remains of the Danube Park today.

The trees of the Elizabeth alley.

Steamboat on the Danube at Paks.

The ship station with the chesnut alley.

Twilight of the boat mills. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

River crossing. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

Women washing linen at the ship station. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

On the bank of the great river. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

Drying fishnets. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

Waiting. (Fortepan / Kenedi János)

12 January 2022

In the traces of Saint Sigismund

On the left bank of the Danube, between Kismaros and Nagymaros, generations of islands hide underneath the flat landscape. There is a mysterious building on one of these island generations, according to an 18th-century map, which may be linked to the monastery of St Sigismund, previously thought to be on the opposite river bank, on the Szentendre Island. 

Text and images by: 
Illés Horváth 
(Center for Ecclesiastical Studies at the University of Pécs) 
and his team. 

View to the east, the Kismarosi and the Duna-réti Islands

The fastest emergence of Danubian islands

The site of archaeological interest nearby the Hatló creek.

View to the west with the Visegrád citadel

Although aerial images of the Danube bend itself, and the young archipelago on the border of Nagymaros and Kismaros, are not rare, it is worth saying a few words about the reason for the pictures; archaeological research. The focus of our research is the monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit, founded by the Hungarian king, Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437) sometime between 1414 and 1433, and consecrated in honor of the dynastic saint of the monarch, St. Sigismund. This monastery was previously thought to be on the opposite side of the Danube, the island of Szentendre, on the outskirts of Kisoroszi. However, according to the sources, the monastery stood on the 'island of the islands' between Nagymaros and Verőce in the diocese of Vác and functioned as a branch of the Toronyalja monastery until 1453. 
"At the same time, the king told a very complicated story about the island-island (Insulam Insulatos) in the territory of the Bishopric of Vác, in the former Kingdom of Hungary, near the Danube river (flumen Danubii propter), in a deserted place (ibidem existente loco deserto) between Maros (villem regalem Marus) and Verőce (villam dicti Voachiensis episcopi Voarenzae), he erected a chapel in honour of St Sigismund (capella constructam sub vocabulo Sancti Sigismundi in Regno Ungariae). And he entrusted the church to the Paulines, so that under the supervision of the soldiers of Christ, the devotion to God would be even more fervent."

In the course of our latest research, the area of the Waterworks within the administrative boundary of Nagymaros has also come under the spotlight, as the location of this area fits perfectly with the description of the monastery's location in the description of the "Henrik copia"; the aforementioned island-island, as it is known from the documentary and modern cartographic sources that the area around the island on the Danube was divided into several small islands in the 15th century. This situation may also have been valid in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Michael Karpe: Visegrad dominii - Nagymaros, the Hatló creek in red (source

The map of the Visegrad dominium shows how the Hatlo creek and its tributaries divided the Waterworks area into a further separate island within the island. Quite close to the river bank was a medieval building, as yet unidentified, not even recorded in archaeological topography, which disappeared without trace by the mid-18th century. During our research, we attempted to locate the building by means of aerial photography and personal fieldwork. The remains of the building were demolished after the Ottoman expulsion of the Turks, when the settlement of the area between Nagymaros and Verőce began. The island was filled in. In the middle of the 19th century, the area was divided up and separate narrow parcels of land were created for cultivation. The fact that most of the building was plowed up during this cultivation makes research very difficult. At the same time, during the construction of the waterworks in the 20th century, a large part of the site was filled with gravel sand. In addition, flooding has also significantly altered the morphology. 

Old property boundaries. Lidar image overlay on cadastral map (image by: Illés Horváth)

Although there was significant flooding overall, the survey images show that although a significant amount of water has passed through the area, the 150 years-old cultivation marks have retained their boundaries very well. As for the building on the 18th-century map, although it is now plowed up, its footprints can be seen to some extent next to the reservoir. Although not in this grassy and uncultivated area, in its wider surroundings a number of fragmented remains of exposed glazed pottery and roof tiles have been found, thanks to the so-called 'diggings' of wild animals.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

08 January 2022

Danubian islands by Abraham Ortelius

What is Aquincum doing on an island in the Danube on a 16th century map by Abraham Ortelius? Does this map depict a real geographical situation? Which island is it, anyway? How can an island be clearly identified in the absence of an inscription from half a thousand years away? In our journey through the history of cartography, we seek to answer these questions.

Aquincum on the upper tip of a Danubian island. Ortelius 1595. (source)

Abraham Ortelius was a Brabantian cartographer, cosmographer and geographer from Antwerp, where he was born in 1527 and died 71 years later. He was a cartographer from the age of 20 and is credited with the first modern geographical atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terranum (1570). This atlas was a novelty because it depicted the whole world, in contrast to the practice of the time, when atlases were compiled from selected maps (the Lafreri atlases). He is also credited as a pioneer in historical geography, as towards the end of his life he produced maps on ancient themes to illustrate historical works and helped with the 1598 edition of Marcus Welser's Tabula Peutingeriana. The Tabula is the only surviving record of the ancient Roman road network, showing the settlements and the distances between them. In total, 555 Roman settlements are listed, including Aquincum, together with 3,500 other inscriptions.  

The age of Ortelius, the Renaissance, marked a return to the classical ancient Greco-Roman tradition. Humanist scholars rediscovered ancient philosophers, sources and buildings. The translation of Greek and Latin works began, and their wider dissemination was later greatly facilitated by the invention of the printing press. This revival of interest led to the need for cartographers to depict not only the present but also the past. Ortelius published a map of the routes of the province of Gallia Belgica in 1584, followed in 1590 by an old map of the provinces of Pannonia and Illyria. It depicts an island in the Danube and the geographical name Aquincum. The Pannoniae et Illyrici Veteris Tabula is known in several editions, which may differ in colouring or inscriptions.

Abraham Ortelius: Pannoniae et Illyrici Veteris Tabula. (source)

To the modern observer, there are many oddities on the map, but that is because humanity has become much smarter in the last half a millennium about understanding the past. Ortelius' map shows several settlements in wrong locations; Sopianae (Pécs) between the Drava and the Sava, Sabaria (Szombathely) on the banks of the Rába, and Valcum (Fenékpuszta) south of Lake Balaton, close to the Drava. It also includes several names of settlements which, as far as we know today, did not exist or are unknown (e.g. Lacus felix). It is not known whether Ortelius happened to visit in the Transdanubian region. Given the distance from Antwerp and the parts of the Hungarian Kingdom under Turkish rule, this would not have been an easy field trip. It is important to note that there were no systematic and professional archaeological excavations at this time, unless it was a question of excavating Roman ruins for building material for castles. In their absence, it is more than likely that Ortelius could only have relied only on ancient sources and the Tabula Peutingeriana for his map. By comparison, it is a very well done work. 

Abraham Ortelius: Pannoniae et Illyrici Veteris Tabula 1608. Georeferenced (source)

In the Budapest area, most of the Roman geographical names of Ortelius can be well identified; Salva maniso is Esztergom, Ulcisia Castra is Szentendre, Aquincum is Óbuda, Salinae is Adony. There are two islands in the Danube, the larger of which is the island of Aquincum, at least according to Ortelius. If we were to identify the islands on the basis of this map, we would be in big trouble, because we now know that the city of Aquincum was not built on an island, the Roman-age built-up area extending westwards beyond the Bécsi street to the foot of the mountains. Identification is also difficult because it does not show the characteristic curve of the Danube Bend, but that does not mean, for example, that the Danube Bend did not exist 500 years ago. We see an island near Esztergom-Salva, which, according to the map, could be Helemba Island or the lost island of Lázár deák. Another question is whether Ortelius was projecting the river's course back to Roman times, or whether he was using the late 16th century's hydrology as a basis. If the second version is true, we have no choice but to look at other maps of the Hungarian Kingdom of the period, of which we fortunately have a good number.

Here is Giacomo Gastaldi, a Venetian map publisher who was a contemporary of Ortelius. He published a map of Hungary as early as 1546, probably based on Hungary's first map, the 1528 Lazarus map [1]. The image below is from a series of maps of south-eastern Europe from 1560. The detail also shows the area around Buda and Pest, but in a completely different light. The names of the settlements are familiar, the layout is broadly correct, and Ortelius' islands are given a new meaning. Opposite Vác is the Szentendrei Island, and the island between Buda and Pentele (Dunaújváros) is the Csepel Island. After all, it is written on it. 

The predecessor: Giacomo Gastaldi's map from 1560. (source

Ortelius was familiar with Gastaldi's work [2] and probably also with his map on south-eastern Europe [3], the latter being the basis for his historical map on ancient Roman themes. By comparing the two maps, it is possible to see how much Ortelius erred between the real and the depicted position of the settlements. However, the error in their relative positions is not so significant. Ortelius drew Aquincum on the island of Csepel, and precisely on the site of the settlement of Csepel, but at least on the northern part of the island, which is ten to eleven kilometres from its present position. Aquincum, which was shifted to the south, was followed by Ulcisia Castra, i.e. Szentendre also 'slid' down to the vicinity of Ráckeresztúr. And slides Esztergom-Solva to Szentendre, and Pilismarót-Herculia to the location of Buda. 

It is important to note that at that time Aquincum literally existed only on paper, the ruins of the legionary camp along the Danube or the palace of the governor Hadrian were known, but the geographical name Aquincum was not yet attached to it. After the destruction of the Roman settlement, the name of Aquincum was lost in oblivion, and scientific identification based on archaeological excavation had to wait another two centuries.

Map of the Hungarian Kindom by Wolfgang Lazius, 1575. (source

Finally, if you browse other map pages from the 16th century, you will see much the same geography. Wolfgang Lazius, a Viennese physician, dated his first map of Hungary (Regni Hungariae Descriptio Vera) to the coronation of Ferdinand I as Holy Roman Emperor (1556). Later, in 1575, Lazius published a modified map of Hungary showing the grey cattle of Cumania (see above). In this map the islands of the Danube are in a similar position, although the nomenclature is more abundant than on Gastaldi's map. This may be because Lazius and his assistants carried out specific research work in Hungary, and even tried to give Hungarian names to settlements even when the population was for example German [4]. On this map, the island of Vizze is shown next to Szentendrei Island, and Szent Margit Island is opposite Óbuda, while the identification of the larger island of Csepel is not in doubt because of the names of the settlements on it.

Wolfgang Lazius was also a contemporary of Ortelius, so it is not surprising that the 1575 Lazius map of Hungary was published by Ortelius in Antwerp. A version of Lazius' map was included in the Theatrum Orbis Terranum atlas, so that for a long time the educated Europe could get to know Hungary through Lazius' 'eyes'.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)


[1] https://www.arcanum.com/hu/online-kiadvanyok/pannon-pannon-enciklopedia-1/a-magyarsag-kezikonyve-2/a-tudomany-szazadai-9C8/a-terkepeszet-mesterei-A63/az-elso-magyarorszag-terkep-A6B/

[2] https://sanderusmaps.com/our-catalogue/antique-maps/europe/southeastern-europe/old-antique-map-of-pannonia-illyricum-dalmatia-by-ortelius-a-2027

[3] https://www.oldworldauctions.com/catalog/lot/126/604

[4] https://www.arcanum.com/hu/online-kiadvanyok/pannon-pannon-enciklopedia-1/a-magyarsag-kezikonyve-2/a-tudomany-szazadai-9C8/a-terkepeszet-mesterei-A63/az-elso-magyarorszag-terkep-A6B/

16 December 2021

Insula ”Goală” în umbra Porților de Fier



Construcția hidrocentralei Porțile de Fier 1 a schimbat temeinic peisajul, nu numai in amonte ci și în aval, pe Dunăre. Schimbările survenite în amonte sunt o temă mai frecvent abordată, în primul rând datorită insulei Ada Kaleh și a Orșovei, în timp ce schimbările din aval de hidrocentrală primesc atenție considerabil mai puțină. Aici, cel mai cunoscut subiect, este cel legat de insula Șimian, unde s-a încercat mutarea monumentelor și a populației de pe Ada Kaleh. Eșecul reînrădăcinării, de pe Ada Kaleh pe Șimian, era previzibil încă de la început, dar la fel a eșuat si un alt proiect, recultivarea insulei Golu, care aproape a dispărut complet ca urmare a nevoii de pietriș de pe santierul centralei.

Vedere de lângă turnul funicularului de pe Golu (Foto din colecția maistrului Gyulai Emil)

Practic nu am știut nimic de existența insulei Golu înainte de a primi de la Gy. Attila planul proiectului de recultivare. Probabil mi-am mai aruncat privirea pestea ea de câteva ori, când studiam hărțile cursului inferior al Dunării, dar nu i-am dat importanță. Oricum insulele de pe segmentul românesc al Dunarii sunt oarecum neglijate pe blogul meu, în primul rând din cauza distanței și a barierelor ligvistice din literatura de profil. În acest caz a trebuit sa pornesc de la zero, ceea ce în același timp poate fi și referire la denumirea turceasca; Çıplak Ada, adica și în turceste înseeamnă insula goala, pustie. Ulterior, obținînd din ce în ce mai multe informații, a devenit limpede că toponimia poate fi legată de pătura de vegetație specifică de pe insulă.

Această postare se concentrază în primul rând pe proiectul din 1982, cu incursiune și în trecutul mai îndepărtat al insulei. Istoria insulei ar merita un articol separat, bunăoară s-au găsit indicii ale existenței oamenilor înca dinainte de răspîndirea agriculturii, din epoca de piatră, până în evul mediu.

Dintre numeroasele aspecte obscure să începem cu denumirea insulei. În legatură cu insula au apărut trei forme de toponimie; Insula Golu, Insula Banului și mai sus amintita Çıplak Ada. Pe planul de recultivare apare Golu, dar în literatura arheologică de specialitate s-a răspândit denumirea Insula Banului. Legat de numele insulei există totuși ceva neclaritate pentru că înainte de construcția hidrocentralei, pe acest segment, existau cel puțin patru insule, din care doar Golu a mai rămas. Să adăugăm insă ca a rămas destul de răvăsită.

Insula Golu în anul 2015 (sursa)

Acest grup de insule a fost cândva vecinul din sud al Ada Kalehului, în aval de strâmtoarea Porțile de Fier și de Prigrada. La ieșirea din Porțile de Fier, la Gura Văii, viteza de curgere a apei scade și Dunărea începe să iși depună sedimentele. Formarea insulelor a fost ajutată și de sedimentele cărate cu abundență de pâraiele din văile apropiate, care au format conuri aluvionare în Dunăre, fapt ce îngreuna considerabil și navigația. La Gura Văii, conul aluvionar care strâmtează cursul Dunării, este format de pârâul Jidostița.

Golu, la 1600 de metri de baraj, a rămas "Ultimul Mohican" al grupului de insule ce formau odinioară arhipelagul. Am reușit să obțin o singură imagine cu insulele de dinainte de construcția hidrocentralei. De pe imaginea captată de Forțele Aeriene Britanice, in anul 1944, din păcate lipseste capătul de sus al insulei Golu dar unind cele două imagini găsite se poate vedea bine arhipelagul. Mai mult de atât, se poate stabili și mărimea de atunci a insulelor. Una din ele era despărțită de Golu doar de o ramură îngustă, lângă care era o insulă ceva mai lată, de cca. o jumătate de km., aproape de malul sârbesc.

Insula Golu (dreapta) și insulele dragate în 1944.
Pe celălalt mal conul aluvionar al Jidostiței.

La nord-vest de cele două se distinge o insulă ceva mai mare. Lungimea acesteia este de cca. un km., adica hidrocentrala a fost practic construita la vârful de sus al acestei insule, deci nu e de mirare că a trebuit săpată. Numele acestor insule au rămas marcate de mâna, pe o hartă topografică a Dunării Inferioare, ca "Serbische Insel" cea apropiată de malul drept al Dunării si "Gura Văii" cea din amonte de Golu. Gura Văii este si numele localității celei mai apropiate de aceasta insulă, pe malul stâng. Tot pe această hartă topografică, la Sip, este marcat km 943 la vârful insulei de sus, locul unde se va construi mai târziu hidrocentrala.

Hidrocentrala Porțile de Fier I s-a construit la stânga vârfului insulei.

Fără să aprofndez trecutul insulei Golu, e important să pomenesc de existența fortului roman Transdiana, cu patru turnuri, la vârful din amonte al insulei, care se presupune că a fost folosit ca cetate în perioada bizantină și apoi și în evul mediu. În perioada luptelor cu turcii, Luigi Fernando Marsigli a întrerpins cercetări amănunțite în regiune, și el a fost cel care a făcut legatura între rămășițele celor patru turnuri și Podul lui Traian. Pe fișa lui cu nr. XIV și pe o hartă militară a Munteniei din 1790 apare Transdiana, ceea ce înseamnă că și atunci putea fi vorba de niste ruine însemnate. Înalțimea pereților ajunge și azi până pe la 1,5 - 2 metri. Importanța strategică e dată de faptul că apăra de la nord punctul de trecere de la Severin, unde, pe vremea Romanilor, era podul împăratului Traian.

Insula Banului și zona acesteia pe o harta foarte detaliată întocmita de Marsigli în jurul anului 1700. (sursa)

La sud-est cetatea era mărginită de un șanț adânc, cu scop de apărare, umplut cu apa Dunării. În zilele noastre cetatea se poate recunoaște după un stâlp electric mare iar în sanț avem un turn urias din beton. Înainte de construcția hidrocentralei, insula a fost temeinic excavata dpdv. arehologic . Este foarte plauzibil să credem că insula nu a împărtășit soarta celorlalte trei insule dispărute și datorită sarcinii arheologice importante. Bunăoară arheologii au descoperit pe insulă așezări din epoca de piatră târzie (cca. 9500 de ani), neolitic si epoca timpurie a fierului ceea ce indică în același timp și perioada în care bazinul hidrografic al Dunării permitea locuirea permanentă. Importanța așezării din epoca fierului este evidentiată și de faptul că unul din stabilimentele culturii Halstatt, din epoca timpurie a fierului, a primit numele de grupul Insula Banului.

Funicularul pentru moloz dintre insula Golu (stânga) și fabrica de ciment de la Gura Văii.
(sursa: Turnu-Severin de altădată)
În vara anului 1966 au sosit constructorii pe insulă. Sarcina lor era să construiască o pistă din cabluri, de 450 de metri lungime, care să lege insula de fabrica de ciment de pe malul românesc, cu care materialul insulei putea fi transferat mai usor pentru prelucrare.
"De la Porțile de Fier până la Turnu-Severin sunt patru insule în albia fluviului: Cirkiste imediat lânga palpanșele de la Sârbi, la doi km. Golu - teritoriu românesc, mai jos Konaku și Pupaza.
Plasa metalica și cablurile funicularului împreună cu vagoneții sunt suspendați pe două turnuri uriașe din beton. Pe malul stâng, cu fundație de mulți metri, avem unul din turnuri, celălalt turn de susținere este pe Golu.
Așa cum o spune și numele, insula este goala, pustie. Doar nisip și pietriș cu doar câteva salcii prinse în partea de sud.
Reciful probabil a fost în responsabilitatea guvernatorului Timișoarei, un fel de loc de pază a graniței, de asta mai este cunoscută și ca Insula Banului. Al doilea turn de beton a fost înplantat în acest umăr de pietriș reprezentat de insulă.
Acest funicular face un pod cu o deschidere de peste jumătate de km (puține mai sunt cu așa anvergură în Europa) iar covorul de plasă are 22 metri lățime cu 31 de cabluri transversale ce formează un caroiaj de fix un hectar deasupra fluviului.
Toată această structură gigant a fost construită să protejeze navigația internațională în cei șapte ani în care se va clădi hidrocentrala. Nu cumva să aibă loc o nenorocire de la o piatră sau un vagonet care ar putea să cadă.
Zi și noapte, de la agregatele de pe Insula Banului, vagoneții de 1.5 metri cubi, cară pietriș și nisip la fabrica de ciment de pe mal. S-au și format pe malul Dunării trei movile cât munții, care doar ele ar putea bloca Dunărea. Chiar asta se va întâmpla. Până se construiește hidrocentrala o să se consume insula. Va ramâne doar o pojghiță subțire din ea. După îndepărtarea stratului de 3 metri de pietriș se va ajunge la o ruină de cetate romană. Apoi în 1972, pe ce a mai rămas din insulă, se vor întreprinde săpături arheologice asupra ruinelor ce au avut răbdare 2000 de ani. (Romániai Magyar Szó - Előre 1968. noiembrie 11.)
Prin dragarea celor trei insule din aval s-au realizat două ținte. S-a curățat albia de obstacolele nedorite și s-a asigurat necesarul de pietriș pentru șantier. Extracția de nisip și pietriș a avut loc chiar și în detrimentul sarcinii arheologice existente. S-au înființat în total trei cariere. Una în interiorul insulei, în vecinătatea ruinelor romane, dincolo de șanțul cetății. Două pe mijlocul insulei, acestea s-au umplut mai târziu cu apa Dunării. Sterilul extras a fost stocat pe vârful de jos al insulei, îngropând astfel straturile cu sarcină arheologică existentă. La acea vreme, cca. 1986-1972, insula într-adevăr și-a justificat denumirea de ”Golu” având în vedere peisajul sterp lăsat în urma minării suprafeței.

Planul insulei Golu la 1982. (sursa: Turnu-Severin de altădată)

La cca. 10 ani de la construția hidrocentralei s-a schițat un plan de recultivare a insulei Golu. Conform planului s-a prevăzut un muzeu în aer liber, o colonie artistică și un strand dar desenul are două aspecte interesante. Pe de o parte, pe plan, apar contururile reliefului de dinainte de santier în condițiile în care aceste reliefuri deja erau negative ca urmare a extracției, adică trebuiau să apară scobituri. Totodată interesantă este și plasarea ștrandului. Practic acesta este o groapă de carieră, umplută cu apa Dunării, dar desenată într-un loc unde azi nici măcar nu avem această groapă. Nu apar pe desen nici cariera făcută lângă cetate, nici cele două gropi din mijlocul insulei. Nu e greu să presupunem că acest plan a fost desenat înainte de începerea șantierului, chiar dacă este datat cu 1982.

Capătul de sus al insulei Golu, cu ruinele cetății. (sursa: Turnu-Severin de altădată)

Dacă s-ar fi materializat acest plan ar fi luat ființă o mică insulă stațiune fix la poalele barajului. În centru ar fi avut un bazin strand, pt. copii și pt. adulți, cu cabine de duș, garderobe, cu deschidere spre malul Românesc. Confortul ar fi fost asigurat de un club, locuri de cazare, restaurant și punct de împrumut accesorii pentru îmbăiere. La capătul din sud-est era prevazută o livadă iar la celălalt capăt, la ruine, un muzeu în aer liber și colonie artistică. Pe plan nu avem însă prevazut un debarcader. Din cauza costurilor uriașe de operare a funicularului e greu de crezut că acesta s-ar fi modificat pentru transport persoane. Bunăoară acest funicluar a fost demontat deja în 1978.

Ștrand în groapa rămasă după exploatarea carierei de moloz. (sursa: Turnu-Severin de altădată)

Pe dealul de la Gura Văii tronează o vilă. A fost construită pentru Ceaușescu, cu vedere la Dunăre, de unde se putea observa întreaga investiție grandioasă și oferă o priveliște deosebită asupra insulei folosită cândva pentru extracție de pietriș. Vila a fost construită ca loc de întâlnire cu liderul Iugoslav Tito, când acesta venea să încheie acordurile cu privire la șantierul hidrocentralei. După încheierea lucrărilor Ceaușescu nu a mai venit niciodată aici. Atenția a fost distribuită în alte direcții. Cum turcii de pe Ada Kaleh nu au primit curent gratis toată viața în urma promisiunii la relocare, tot așa, și din planul de înființare a stațiunii de pe insula Golu, nu s-a mai ales nimic. Până la mijlocul anilor 1990 a rămas o zona militară de graniță, un fel de pământul nimănui la hotarul dintre două țări. În general doar pescarii mai curajoși se mai aventurau, câțiva localnici își mai duceau porcii acolo, unde îi creșteau în semi sălbăticie, și toamna îi recuperau pentru tăiat. În urma cu 15-20 de ani era populată și de mulți iepuri, probabil iepuri de casă sălbăticiți. Pădurea recucerește încet încet insula goală.

La final recultivarea o face însăși natura.

Mulțumiri lui Attila Gyulai pentru ajutor și traducere!