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!

23 November 2021

Naked Island in the shadow of the Iron Gates


The construction of the Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station has transformed the landscape, not only upstream but also downstream. While the upstream Danube section is a much better-known topic, especially in relation to Ada Kaleh and Orsova, the downstream section has received much less attention. The best known of these is the story of Simian Island, where the monuments and inhabitants of Ada Kaleh were uprooted and attempted to be resettled. The failure of the operation was predictable, but so was the failure of another project, the recultivation of Golu Island, which was almost completely destroyed by the power plant's gravel demand. 

View from the cableway on Golu Island to the Romanian coast (Collection of Emil Gyulai)

Until Attila Gyulai sent me the recultivation plans of Golu Island, I had practically no knowledge of this island. I might have caught sight of it on one of the Lower Danube maps. Anyways, this section on the Danube is rarely mentioned on the blog, mainly because of distance and the language barrier of the literature. In this case, we had to start from scratch, which also refers back to the Turkish name of the island, Çıplak Ada meaning Empty or Bare Island. As more and more information about the island became available, it became clear that this name could only be related to the former vegetation cover.

This post focuses mainly on the 1982 plans, with some digression into the island's past. The history of the island deserves a separate entry, since there are traces of human settlement from the Mesolithic period, before the spread of agriculture, to the Middle Ages. 

First, we have to discuss the obscure etymology of the island. Three names have come up in connection with it; Golu Island, Banului Island, and the aforementioned Turkish name Çıplak Ada. The name Golu Island is given on the plan, but in the archaeological literature, the name Banului Island has been widely used. There is some uncertainty as to the name of the island since there were at least four islands in this section before the construction of Iron Gate I, of which only Golu Island remains. However, it should be added that Golu Island has been extensively damaged.

Golu Island in 2015 with the Serbian-Romanian border (source)

This group of small islands was once the southern neighbour of Ada Kaleh, beyond the Iron Gates gorge and the Prigrada rapids. At Gura Vaii, the velocity of the Danube slowed down and began to deposit its sediment. The formation of the islands was also aided by the abundant supply of alluvium; the streams running down from the nearby valleys all built up a substantial cone of alluvium as they entered the Danube, which also made navigation difficult. At Gura Vaii, the Jidoștița stream is one such alluvial cone, narrowing the Romanian branch of the Danube. 

Golu Island, the last Mohican in the archipelago, is currently less than 1600 meters from the dam. The only aerial photo I have managed to find of the group of islands is one that shows it before the dam was built. Unfortunately, the lower tip of Golu Island is missing from the 1944 British Royal Air Force photographs, but the three islands above it can be matched from the two images. In fact, their former size can be established. One of them was separated from Golu Island by a narrow branch, and next to it was a slightly wider island, estimated to be half a kilometer long, facing the Serbian coast. 

The Golu island on the right and the later excavated islands in 1944.
On the opposite side is the alluvial cone of the Jidoștița creek.

A slightly larger island is visible to the northwest of the two. It must have been about a kilometer long, which means the Iron Gate I. power station's dam was built practically at the top of this island. So it's no wonder it had to be excavated. Their names survive on a manuscript site plan of the Al-Duna, the upper island, and the one nearer the right bank is simply called 'Serbische Insel', while the island above Golu Island is simply called Gura Vaii, named after the nearest Romanian settlement on the left bank. On the same map, the later Iron Gate I power station at Sip is marked in pencil just at the top of the uppermost island at river kilometer 943.

The Iron Gate I dam was built at the tip of the island on the left.

Without going into the history of the island in detail, it is important to mention that on the upper tip of Golu Island there was a four-tower Roman fortress called Transdiana, which was probably used as a castle in the "Byzantine" period and also in the Middle Ages. Luigi Fernando Marsigli carried out detailed research in the area during the anti-Turkish wars, and it was he who connected the remains of the pillars in the riverbed with the bridge of Emperor Trajan. His section XIV. and a 1790 map of the Transdanubian Plain also show Transdiana, which means that it may have been a significant ruin at the time. The height of its ascending walls still reaches 1.5-2 meters. Its importance is due to the fact that it defended the strategic crossing point on the Danube from the north, where the bridge of Emperor Trajan stood in Roman times. 

Insula Banul and its surroundings on a very detailed map of Marsigli, circa 1700. (source).

The castle was surrounded to the southeast by a deep moat, in which the Danube water could be used for defense purposes. Today, the castle is recognizable by a large electric pole, and a huge concrete tower stands near the moat. The island was extensively researched for archaeological purposes before the power station was built. It is very likely that this is why the fortress was saved from the fate of the other three islands. The archaeologists have excavated Mesolithic (~9500 years old), Neolithic and Early Iron Age settlements on the island, which may also indicate the periods when the Danube water level was sufficient to allow for permanent settlement. The importance of the Iron Age settlement is underlined by the fact that one of the settlements of the Early Iron Age Hallstatt culture was named after the island, the Insula Banului group.

Gravel transporting track between Golu Island (left) and the Gura Vaii concrete factory.
(Collection of Attila Gyulai) 
After the archaeologists had left, construction workers soon arrived on the island. Their task was to build a sluice track above the Danube to the concrete factory on the Romanian side, which would allow the material from the islands to be easily transported to the processing site. By dredging the three upper islands, they killed two birds with one stone, clearing the construction site of unwanted obstacles in the riverbed and securing the gravel supply for the construction site. Despite their archaeological importance, the sand and gravel layers of Golu Island have been affected by the excavation. In total, three mining pits were created. One in the interior of the island, next to the Roman fortress, beyond the moat. Two in the center of the island, which was later flooded by the Danube. The excess soil from the area was piled up on the lower tip of the island, burying the archaeological layers. At this time, around 1968-1972, the island could indeed claim the label 'bare', because of the barren, quarried landscape.

Plan of Golu Island in 1982 (Collection of Attila Gyulai)

About 10 years after the power plant was built, a site plan of the island's reclamation plans was completed. The plans called for an art center, an open-air museum, and a beach on the island, but the drawing has two interesting features. Firstly, the drawing shows contour lines, including in places where mining should have created negative shapes, i.e. underwater pits. Also interesting is the location of the beach pool. It is effectively a mine pit filled with water from the Danube, but it is drawn in a place where there are no mine pits nowadays. Neither the lake at the base of the fort nor the two pits dug in the middle of the island are depicted. Given these two factors, it is not unreasonable to assume that, despite the 1982 date, this drawing was made before the power station was built.

The upper tip of the Golu Island with the Roman fort. (collection of Attila Gyulai) 

If this plan had been realized, a small holiday island could have been created at the foot of the dam. At its center would have been a beach with adult and children's pools, shower cabins, changing rooms, open to the Romanian river bank. A clubhouse, accommodation, a restaurant, and a beach equipment rental would have been provided for the comfort of holidaymakers. An orchard would have been planted on the south-eastern, lower tip of the island, while the opposite tip would have been used as an open-air museum and art center around the fortress. The plan does not include a boat harbor or any other form of access. Due to the huge maintenance costs of the cableway, it is unlikely that the gravel transporting system would have been converted into passenger service. It was dismantled before 1978. 

From mine pit to beach. (Collection of Attila Gyulai)

A villa stands on the hillside above Gura Vaii. Once built for the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, its windows overlooking the Danube offered a view of the grandiose project and a magnificent view of the Danube islands used as a gravel pit. The villa was built to give the Yugoslav leader, Tito, a place to negotiate the construction of the power plant. After Iron Gate I was built, Ceaușescu never visited this villa again. Attention was diverted elsewhere. Just as the displaced Turks of Ada Kaleh were denied electricity for the rest of their lives, for the sake of which they wiped their homes off the face of the earth, so too was the use of Golu Island as a resort. Until the mid-1990s it was a no man's land, a military zone on the border between the two countries. Only the braver fishermen landed there, or the locals moved their pigs there, where they lived semi-wild and were slaughtered after they had gained weight. There were also many rabbits on the island 15-20 years ago, perhaps descendants of feral domestic rabbits. The floodplain forest is slowly reclaiming the bare island.

The reclamation was therefore finally carried out by nature itself. 

Thanks to Attila Gyulai and Alexandra Ion for the idea and help in writing this article!

13 October 2021

Danubian Island of the year 2021

This is the ninth time the Donauinseln blog announces the traditional poll for the Danubian Island of the year. 

You can vote for the three nominated islands between 13th October and 31st December 2021.

The aim of this contest is to focus attention on the often unknown islands of the Danube. Most of you probably visited the Seychelle Islands before any Danubian Island. This is the ninth poll, and we are happy we have started a tradition and more and more people will learn about these islands across the World.

The winners so far (you might noticed this is a Hungary-based blog):

2013. Kompkötő Island, Vác
2014. Helemba Island, Esztergom
2015. Kismarosi Island, Kismaros
2016. Szalki Island, Dunaújváros
2017. Csallóköz/Žitný ostrov, Slovakia
2018. Molnár Island, Soroksár, Budapest
2019. The Great Island of Rácalmás
2020. Kerekzátony Island, Ráckeve

Idén ismét két szigetet választottak ki a blog olvasói a kilenc szigetet felvonultató selejtező során; meggyőző fölénnyel a ráckevei Angyali-szigetet és második helyen befutóként az esztergomi Csitri-szigetet. A Dunai-szigetek blog idén a Türr István által megrajzolt, 90%-ban Magyarországon található Mohácsi-szigetet jelöli. Azaz a két egészen magyarországi sziget mellett egy szerb vagy horvát felségterületre átlógó sziget is indul a szavazáson.

ABC sorrendben mutatjuk be a jelölteket, amely egyben folyásirány szerinti sorrend is:

Angyali Island, Ráckeve

According to urban legend, the island was named after I. Matthias, king of Hungary, who called the landscape an angelic place when he sailed past it. The Angyali Island is a real island in the Soroksári-Danube with its stretched waters. This water stabilization has allowed the island to be populated since the construction of the lock at Tass. From the 1960s onwards, the island was gradually built up and a populous weekend community emerged, with more and more permanent settlers, who put their favorite island into the final round of voting by a clear majority. To the north is the Vesszőzátony Island. It is worth a visit, accessible by small boat from the Ráckeve side. 

Csitri Island, Esztergom

The smallest island of Esztergom is the Csitri (=small girl in Hungarian), if you don't count the disappeared Turán Island next to it. It is interesting that it is bordered on both sides by a tributary of the Danube, as it is surrounded by the Körtvélyes and Nyáros islands in the archipelago of Tát. Its fish shape and interesting name can be found on old maps, but later its tributaries have been considerably narrowed by river regulation. 

Mohácsi Island
Hungary's second-largest island is somewhat similar to the third largest island. The eastern branch of Mohácsi Island, the Baracskai-Duna, is channelized in the same way as the Soroksári-Duna at the Csepel Island. Until the 1870s it was a wilderness of floodplain forests alternating with marshy areas, although in the Middle Ages there were ten inhabited settlements. Its repopulation could only begin after the flood safety constructions. The agricultural landscape hides interesting landforms, such as a former bend on the "Riha" oxbow, a Roman fortress, and even a quarried limestone outcropping at Vári-puszta. It can be reached by ferry from the west and by several bridges from the east. The southern part is part of Serbia as far as Bezdán. 

The poll will be closed at noon 31st December 2021. The results will be available in the first post of the year 2022!

survey software

11 October 2021

Definitive goodbye - Fifty pictures from the sunken Ada Kaleh island


Waiting for the end. This could be the title of Ergün Koco's photo series on the island of Ada Kaleh, which was forced to submerge in relation to the construction of the Iron Gates I. dam. Ergün was a local Turk who used his camera to take one last photo of his homeland before the expulsion and perhaps collecting old family photos. Most of his pictures show a bygone idyll with storm clouds gathering behind. The island seems to be going about its daily routine, but on the other side of the Danube, infrastructure is being cut into the hillside to adapt to the new water level. Busy hands hammer away brick-by-brick the caissons of the island's eponymous fortress, while the wind chases the clouds across the sky. The waves of the Danube are still coming ashore, but the time is not far off when these waves will begin to lap higher and higher ground. They reach the coastal herbage, hug the stumps of felled trees, cautiously enter the thresholds of abandoned, demolished houses, and then take possession of the corridors of the fortress with ever-quickening steps, creeping up the walls like enemies. This process did not take place day by day; the vast reservoir was only gradually filled by the swollen river around 1969-1971. That is why it is impossible to give a precise date for the flooding of Ada Kaleh, since years may have passed between the last inhabitant taking to the water and the highest point of the island disappearing into the swollen river. Ergün Koco's pictures must therefore have been taken sometime in the late 1960s.

The author photographed all the buildings that were familiar and dear to him, even going up to the minaret and the neighboring hills, taking pictures of his family, relatives living and dead, the interior of their old house, familiar corners, and paths. He has nearly two hundred pictures, all of them imbued with a sense of definitive goodbye. By then, everyone knew that there was no longer any place for them on the island. 

Finally, all was lost

















































More stories on the sunken island, Ada Keleh: