24 October 2013

Almost everything about the Danube

"From the Black Forest to the Black Sea" and second part "Between Flood and Frost" represents almost everything the Donauinseln blog is about. Sediment crisis due to hydroelectric power plants, life on the floodplains, the Delta, the Iron Gates, fish, game, birds, urban landscape, river history, geology, the debate on the source of the Danube, the Rhine-Danube war over the catchment area, mayflower swarming, the Wachau, etc. I must admit that not every post had been translated yet from the Hungarian Dunaiszigetek blog, but until I am finished with the remaining 200 posts please enjoy this two nature films, the essence of my two blogs.


20 October 2013

The ten largest Hungarian island on the Danube in 1878

I happened to came across the catholic priest and Hungarian Academy member Tivadar Ortvay's (Theodor Orthmayer) decription on the islands of the Danube. This article was published in the 15 th volume of the "Mathematikai és Természettudományi Közlemények" (Bulletin for Mathematics and Natural Sciences) in 1878. The relation of the shape, direction, area and the height of the banks of the Hungarian Danubian islands was written in the style of the mid 19th century geographical view, with a lot of  statistic descriptions. This article became obsolete almost in the moment it was published! It had been written before the large regulation works started on the Danube naming almost all (!) of the Danubian islands. This time islands still moved, changed their shape, direction, area and the height of their banks. Despite all, this work gives us a priceless snapshot on the state of the Danubian islands in 1878.

In this post we only discuss the most interesting part: the aspects of the islands area.

11 October 2013

Between the woods and the water - The cauldrons of Kazan

Patrick Leigh Fermor started his journey in the summer of 1934, from the Netherlands to Constantinople on foot. He was only 19 years old then. The young englishman arrived to Hungary at Easter, 1935 when crossing the bridge near Esztergom over the Danube. Thanks to the sympathy of the pro-British Hungarian aristocracy he had spent the time of his life. He was wandering through Hungary and Transylvania from castles to mansions. He was warmly welcomed everywhere, and he was really surprised that he could have spoken to everyone in his own mother tounge.  He wrote his journals during this trip in which he mentioned the life in the Buda castle as well as sleeping with nomad gypsies. He visited the cemetery of Segesvár (Sighișoara, Schäßburg) and watched the eagles soar above the Carpathian mountains. He did not know, but he described a condemned society which had less then ten more years before it completely disappeared. With all the rural beetle collecting aristocracy, just like in Agatha Christie's novels.  Mr. Fermor tells also a tale of a long lost view of the Lower-Danube, which we present you on the Donauinseln blog.

08 October 2013

Between the woods and the water - Rose-petal jam of Ada Kaleh

One of the most important parts of the journals of Patrick Leigh Fermor is describing Ada Kaleh between the two world war. This little island, drowned in the name of 'progress' comes alive once more. Turkish language fills the summer air with smell of coffee, they linger together on the narrows streets, we can hear the hodja's voice from the minaret stuck in the ground like a sprear, while the old river - the Danube gently embraces the fortress island. This ethereal view can only be observed through Fermor's lines.

After the bridge at Turnu Severin, the doctor travelled on to Craiova and I caught a bus back to Orsova, picked up my stuff, bought a ticket for the next day's boat, then walked a couple of miles downstream again and found a fisherman to scull me out to the little wooded island I had my eye on ever since rejoining the Danube.
I had heard much talk of Ada Kaleh in recent weeks, and read all I could find. The name means 'island fortress' in Turkish. It was about a mile long, shaped like a shuttle, bending slightly with the curve of the current and lying a little closer to the Carpathian than the Balkan shore. It has been called Erythia, Rushafa and then Continusa, and, according to Apollonius Rhodius, the Argonauts dropped anchor here on their way back from Colchis. How did Jason steer the Argo through the Iron Gates? And the the Kazan? Medea probably lifted the vessel clear of the spikes of magic. Some say Argo reached the Adriatic by overland portage, others that she crossed it and continued up to the Po, mysteriously ending in North Africa. Writers have tentatively suggested that the first wild olive to be planted in Attica might have come from here. But it was later history that had invested the little island with fame.

03 October 2013

Between the woods and the water - Ada Kaleh, the drowned island

It has been 40 years ago the Romanian authorities flooded dozen Danubian villages upstream the Iron Gate gorge in the name of „progress”. Patrick Leigh Fermor returned here once more, and devoted the epilogue of his book ’Between the woods and the water’ to this appalling devastation. Ada Kaleh, this little island with the Turkish inhabitants were forced to move to Simian Island downstream the hydroelectric station. Thier mosque has also been moved with the old fortress, but just like the old trees, their community did not survive. They disappeared in every corner of the world. Everything has fled.

Thoughts at a Café Table Between the Kazan and the Iron Gates

Progress has now placed the whole of this landscape underwater. A traveller sitting at my old table on the quay at Orsova would have to peer at the scenery through a thick brass-hinged disc of glass; this would frame a prospect of murk and slime, for he would be shod in lead and peering out of a diver’s helmet linked by a hundred feet of breathing-tube to a boat stationed eighteen fathoms above his head. Moving a couple of miles downstream, he would fumble his way on to the waterlogged island and among the drowned Turkish houses; or, upstream, flounder among the weeds and rubble choking Count Széchenyi’s road and peer across the dark gulf at the vestiges of Trajan on the other side; and all round him, above and below, th dark abyss would yawn and the narrows where currents once rushed and cataracts shuddered from bank to bank and echoes zigzagged along the vertiginous clefts would be sunk in diluvian silence. Then perhaps, a faltering sunbeam might show the foundered wreck of a village; then another, and yet another, all swallowed in mud.

He could toil many days up these cheerless soundings, for Rumania and Yugoslavia have built one of the world’s biggest ferro-concrete dams and hydro-electric power plants across the Iron Gates. This has turned a hundred and thirty miles of the Danube into a vast pond which has swollen and blurred the course of the river beyond recognition. It has abolished canyons, turned beetling crags into mild hills and ascended the beautiful Cerna valley almost to the Baths of Hercules. many thousands of the inhabitants of Orsova and the riparian hamlets had to be uprooted and transplanted elsewhere. The islanders of Ada Kaleh have been moved to another islet downstream and their old home has vanished under the still surface as though it had never been. let us hope that the power generated by the dam has spread well-being on either bank and lit up Rumanian and Yugoslav towns brighter than ever because, in everything but economics, the damage is irreparable. Perhaps, with time and fading memories, people will forget the extent of their loss.

Simian, the "new Ada Kaleh" island