The ancient Dobrogea
In Ancient Times, the first to colonise
were the Greeks. Next came the Romans, who conquered and annexed
it to the Empire by the name of Scitia Minor. After the Roman
Legions left Dacia, the province remained a northern outpost
of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and fell into
decay. Eleventh-century documents speak of it as Paristrion.
Between 1186 and the 14th century it was part of the Bulgarian
Empire. In the 14th century, the Empire crumbled and this Principality,
led by Dobrotich (from whom its name is derived), was temporarily
annexed by the Romanian Principality of Walachia. For five
centuries Dobrogea stood under the Ottoman Turks who changed
the old place names eg. Callatis became Mangalia and Tomis,
Kiustenge etc. On October 8/20, 1878 the province of Dobrogea
was reunited with Romania.
Although proofs of ancient and continous inhabitation from
the Paleolithic (at Adam and La Izvor), the Neolithic (at Hamangia
and Gumelnita) and the Bronze Age (Tracian population) do exist,
the population began growing and increasing its pressure on
the environment only in the Antiquity, after Milesian and Dorian
Greeks settled at Tomis and Callatis, after the Romans conquered
Dobrogea turning it into a Roman province (46BC) and especially
after the Byzantine occupation that lasted up to the 10th century.
The present geographical space between the Danube and the Black
Sea is known as the Dobrogea Plateau, a name circulated in
the 20th century due mainly to Bratescu's work, Die Dobrudgea
Studying Dobrogea’s history we are thinking about the
equlibrium between heritage and testimony, about the interactions
between local history and European history in different fields,
superposition in time and space of events.
Situated in an important commercial point, Dobrogea gathered
the two main directions of trade during history:
- The first, connecting the sea (cross sailed by the ships
of all nations - from the Greeks of Herodotus to the Austro-
Hungarians and to the sailors of Pie Monte) to the interior
of a continent that produces and sales row materials (corn,
- The second, connecting the bottom of the far European continent
(Flanders, Bohemia, Silesia) to Byzantine provinces and Arian
territories (India, Syria).
The proofs of the history
In the heart of Dobrogea, at Baia
(Hamangia), diggings brought forth an exceptional archeological
inventory, the base of the
Hamangia Neolithic Material Culture (4th-2nd millennia BC),
with evidences all over the region (Gura Dobrogei, Cernavoda,
Agigea etc.); in the northern part of the zone, at Tulcea,
there was a Halstatt settlement where iron working was known
(11th-7th centuries BC); on the bank of the ancient gulf Babadag,
at Enisala, there lived the Thraco-Getae in the 9th-7th centuries
BC; from the princely tumulus at Agighiol, excavators dug out
objects of gilded silver (5th century BC); the fortifications
of Aegyssus (Tulcea), Troesmis (Turcoaia), Argamum (Jurilovca),
Axiopolis (Cernavoda), Histria - the oldest town in the country's
territory; museum - Tomis (Constanta), Callatis (Mangalia)
are only a few of the foundations by the Greek colonists come
from Milet (7th-6th centuries BC), intent to keep relations
with the local Thraco-Getae. The Romans, who pushed them aside
(1st century BC - 4th century AD), trying to protect their
empire at the northern frontier, created there one of the most
grandiose constructions of the ancient world – Limes
Scythicus, a chain of fortresses on the Danube banks, often
on the sites of earlier structures, a genuine "Chinese
Wall" of the Balkans, that stood until around the year
600. Since the 2nd-3rd centuries, were added the fortifications
of Altina (Oltina), Sacidava (Dunareni), Capidava, Carsium
(Harsova), Civs (Garliciu), Beroe (Piatra-Frecatei), Arubium
(Macin), Dinogetia (Garvan), Noviodunum (Isaccea). we should
also record here, as singular in the epoch the settlement of
Adamclisi, which was equally a Roman stronghold, part of the
Limes (2nd century AD), and the site where Trophaeum Traiani
(106 AD) was built, the most impressive triumphal memorial
built in Roman provinces (40 meters high, 54 metopae; museum).
Followed the years when Dobrogea embraced the Christian faith
promoted by Saint Andrew; and the first victims too, were recorded
(at Niculitel, the Martyricon of of the 4th century was restored).
Upon Roman domination, at Dinogetia (Garvan) appeared after
the year 968 the elements "...for the oldest medieval
town archeologically documented in Romania’s territory",
whereas at Basarabi, still insufficiently identified local
people were carving in chalk a compound singular in the country:
churches, living rooms, funerary chambers, corridors, galleries
with drawings and inscriptions. In the 10th-13th centuries,
Genoese sailors used the ports of Dobrogea, they were building
fortifications (Enisala), while autochthonous political-administrative
formations were run by Balica, by Dobrotici (hence, probably
also the name of Dobrogea), and after 1390 by Mircea the Old,
Prince of Wallachia "...and master of either parts all
over the Danube and down to the big Sea and the city of Darstor".
A quite particular presence is the fortification at Pacuiul
lui Soare, on a Danube isle: a naval base after 970, overlapped
by settlements of the 9th-14-th centuries. Selgiucide Turks,
then Ottomans appeared in Dobrogea around 1260 and continued
to coexist with the Romanians as well as with the Tartars and
Lipovans colonized in the Dobrogean space along the years.
The museum in the town of Babadag is the repository of numerous
evidences of the medieval oriental culture.
The Pale-Christian monument in Niculitel is placed in the north-eastern
part of the locality, at the foot of the hill Piatra Rosie,
which borders the village at the eastern side. Within this
area vestiges of villae rusticae were discovered and a tomb
of incineration of Roman epoch of 2nd century AD was investigated
The monument was discovered due to torrential rains during
the spring of 1971 which brought about the partial unveiling
of the crypt vault. placed in a slanting area, in a dwelt and
cross-roads zone, the monument needed a thorough research which
developed in successive phases (1971, 1975, 1985, 1994).
We are faced at Niculitel with an architectonic ensemble built
within an older dwelling area. It consists of a Pale-Christian
basilica placed above some martyr tombs.
The basilica belongs to a types of monuments found in the Balkan-Danubian
region during the 4th-5th centuries AD. It was built at the
end of the 4th century during the rules of the emperors Valens-Valentinian
the 2nd, according to a Christian Roman layout, with a protruding
semicircular apses, wide in comparison with its side, with
rectangular nave divided in three by independent pillars which
supported within the vertical space of the building a wooden
two-sided roof, covered with burnt-earthen shingle. The building
had no narthex, but it had pilasters at the southern edges
of the side naves which supported transversal archways and
divided the interior space of these naves, at both sides of
the entrance of the central nave. This entrance was wide placed
on the axis of the apses.
At the beginning of the 5th century, during the rule of the
emperor Theodosius the 2nd. the basilica is strongly modified,
both in its horizontal layout and the vertical one. In the
zone of the apses an open narthex was endorsed. Probably there
also was a strium (a small interior courtyard from where one
could pass through the narthex to the interior of the basilica).
It is divided by continuous stylobates (basements which could
support high columns). The presbyterium (sanctuary which hid
the martyr remains and the same time the place where the mass
was officiated) was surrounded by a transversal wall. As for
the vertical plan, there was the central nave with a two sided
roof. Above the side naves there was a "cathedral" roof.
In the central zone of the apses, under the pavement of the
altar, there was an entirely buried monumental martyr crypt.
The tiered structure of the crypt allowed to have here two
groups of martyrs. A first group of four martyrs was placed
at the upper part of the martyricon. Other two were found at
the lower part. The four martyrs were put in a collective coffin
and in anatomical connection, emphasizing a primary burial.
Their quality of Christian martyrs and their names (Zoticos,
Attalos, Camasis and Philippos) are written on the wet plaster
of the crypt walls. They are known in the Martyr's Chronicles
as being martyred at Noviodunum (Isaccea). The martyrdom was
during the second half of the 4th century AD. The osteological
remains discovered in the "basement" of the martyricon
proceed from an older martyr tomb, dismantled when the monumental
crypt was built. Its rests (that is the floor made of bricks)
are found near the crypt. Its orientation, as well as the basilica's
one, was along the axis of the first martyr's tomb. The size
of the sanctuary depended of the fact that it had to include
the two martyr tombs under its basement. The name and the age
of the two martyrs still are obscure. The only mention is found
on the inscription which blocked the access to the basement: "Here
and there (is) the blood of the martyrs.
The Niculitel Martyricon is a unique monument in Europe. The
whole building is designed according to the principle of the
intersection of two semi cylinders (vooute d'arete), having
as result a hemispherical vault with interior pendants which
bound walls with rounded archways. The Niculitel Martyrion
having a cube shape, with acrotermius and hemispherical vault,
represents the first transposition of the architectural principles
which made up the background of the Greek-Roman mausoleums
into the Pale-Christian architecture. The elements revealed
by the planimetry of the basilica space certify that the crypt
and the basilica were built according to the Byzantine foot
The ensemble of Niculitel is included in a protecting building
having a planimetry which harmonizes with the shape of the
paleo-Christian tomb. Its elegance and the uncrowned interior
space create a pleasant atmosphere. The side gallery designed
for the visitors ensures a permanent visual contact with the
monument. The permanent exhibition of paleo-Christian objects,
color photos and slides completes the visit of the whole paleo-Christian
Trophaeum Traiani Adamclisi
The monument is the proof of one of the most interesting chapters
of the Romanian history. It has been ordered by Emperor Traian
and raised between 106-109 A.D., to celebrate the victory of
the Romans against the Dacians, further to a frightful battle.
Restored in the70-ies, the monument is very similar to Traian
Column in Rome, the historians presume they both were built
by the same architect – Apolodor from Damascus.
The monument consists in a 30 m high cylindrical nine-staired
pedestal, revealing aspects from Roman-Dacian battlefield ,as
well as the Roman military life. The pedestal sustains a double
ranged hexagonal base, with two components : the sculpture
adorned trunk and the statue presenting a Roman soldier's suit,
with armour, coat of mail and helmet. At the base of the pedestal,
three Dacian prisoners are compelled to look at the trophy,
pointing out, once again, the Romans' victory, always thirsty
for power, led by the god of war, Mars “the Avenger”,
the monument' s addressee ..
Considered as “the stone chronic” of the Romanian
people 's identity, the Adamclisi monument stands as one of
the most important proof of romanian history, long-lasting
across the centuries. The words in the funerary altar are self-evident
: “In the memory of the brave men who have struggled
for their country, in the war agains the Dacians, and passed
Adamclisi village houses the Museum of the Monument, where
a visitor can admire a lot of archeological objects discovered
in time. In this area , the visitor can admire the ruins of
Tropaeum Traiani Fortress, too, built in the same period as
the monument. The newly born “municipium”, knew
a huge development until 170 A.D. , when, was destroyed further
to the repeated attacks of the migratory peoples During Constantin
The Great' s reign , the town was rebuilt and became an important
religious center. ,The Christian churches discovered in the
area as standing as an obvious evidence. The Avars' attacks
from the 6th and 7th centuries have entirely destroyed the
The archeological works have lately reveled the fortress' s
inner wall, offering a complex image to the tourists found
The name of Histria derives from the ancient name of the Danube – Istros.
Discovered in 1914 by the historian Vasile Parvan, Histria
fortress was founded in the 8th century B.C. by the Greek colonists
from Millet. The dynamic commercial exchanges, the developed
agriculture, as well as the high political activity made of
Histria one of the most prosperous ancient towns at the time.
The fortress suffered a lot of changes , such as: the Roman
conquest , then the rule of the Dacian king, Burebista, and
again the Roman conquest, when the town enjoyed a quiet period.
The numerous barbarians' attacks, associated with the negative
effects of the gulf sending-up process, will finally lead to
the fortress's decay and its abandon in the 7th century A.D.
Having discovered the ruins in 1914, a lot of archeological
research campaigns revealed Histria' s vestiges, permitting
a large part of the fortress be cleared up and fit for visiting.
The large stone-stabled pavements of the fortress leads our
steps to Histria's former district ruins ; still visible nowadays
are parts of walls, columns, inscriptionated pedestals, traces
of the well – known mosaic paved thermae, the limestone
ruins of a temple dedicated to Zeus or Afrodite, all remembering
of the flourishing and prosperous ancient town.
Not far away from the fortress there is a museum, joining the
most important testimonies of the fortress history – Greek
amphoras, Latin inscriptions, jewelry, tools and guns since
Hellenistic period, then Roman and Roman- Byzantine Age.
The ruins cover a fairly small area, depiste the fact that
this was the most important of the ancient Greek settlements
along the coast until the seventh century, when the port was
smothered in silt and the town abandoned.
Histria is an excelent birdwatching place; 267 species have
been recorded of which 94 breed and 12 merely accidentals.
The area is a stretch of marshy land, reedbeds and pols between
the freshwater Lake Nuntasi and the brackish lagoon of Lake
Sinoe - the last one was open to the sea until 1960
Enisala is a village situated 5 miles east of Babadag, and about 1
km from the ruined Heracleea Citadel, which overlooks
lake Razim. Along its history, it was a Getic-Thracian settlement,
later on the greatest Dacian necropolis in Dobrudja, and further
on a Roman military camp. What can be seen today are the ruins
of the Byzantine fortress of Heracleea (645-650 A.D.) rebuilt
by the Genoese in the 13th century to secure trade at the mouths
of the Danube. At some point, it was a Turkish fortification,
and in the 14th century it was ruled by Mircea the Old, Prince
of Wallachia. It is an important station for the artificial
breeding of fish.
Dolosman cape, situated on the ruins of an
ancient Greek city, probably Argammum, this is the oldest antic
the Romanian territory, mentioned for the first time by Hecateus
de Milet (6-5 century BC.) Placed on the westic shore of Razim
Lake, this location is popular also for birdwatching, especially
in the winter time, when thousands of Red-Breasted Geese arrive
from the Arctic region for wintering.
Babadag town (a name of
an oriental origin, meaning "Father
of the Mountains").
A Turkish minority are still part of the town's population
amounting to 9,000. Art lovers may like to visit the town's
art museum, a museum house of oriental character, a mosque
dating from the 16th century, which is actually the oldest
monument of Moslem architecture in Romania, with a spire of
23 m in height, as well as the Kalaigi drinking fountain (19th
century). For those interested in history, there are to be
found ruins of a settlement dating back to the Iron Age over
which traces of life in La Tene (4th century b.C.) and subsequently
of the Roman-Byzantine epoch (6th century A.D.) were superimposed.
Denistepe – The Great Hill – lies north to Babadag
(876 feet in elevation), and its name is of oriental origin,
i.e. "the hillock of the seas". A legend has it that
the Argonauts who had set out in search of the Golden Fleece
from Colchis moored their ship here by tying it to the iron
ring fixed at the top of nearby rocks. Scientists from Rusia
investigated the tale of the Golden Fleece and discovered the
method used by the ancient inhabitants of Colchis in order
to get gold from the rivers of the Caucasus by means of a ram's
hide tanned in a special manner.
The Monasteries from N Dobrogea
Orthodoxy piety home, Celic Dere Monastery is the heir and
the perseverant of Dobrogeans monastic traditions. Their
beginning is set in the 4-th up to 7-th centuries chronology,
that are certified not only by the renowned Tomis Bishopric,
but by the Danubes ones from Axiopolis (Cernavoda), Troesmis
(Turcoaia), Noviodunum (Isaccea) and Halmyris (Murighiol).
The archeological findings from Niculitel brought to surface
our saints relics, mentioned by the hieronymian martyrs scientist:
Zoticos, Attalos, Kamasis and Filippos, being martyred at Noviodunum
(Isaccea). Those from Halmyris from May 2001 confirm the information
written in Acta sanctorum Julii on the oldest martyrs in Dobrogea:
Epictet and Astion, martyred during Diocletian ruling (290)
and whose bones are preserved today in Celic Dere Monastery's
Church. To the same Roman-Byzantine period (4-th-7-th century)
belongs the finding in "Slava Rusa" settlement of
what it seems to be the oldest monastic settlement ever known.
Christianity development in dark ages Dobruja is documented
by the Celtinia and mainly by the Vicinia Metropolitan Churches
In 1359 the Metropolitan Bishop Iachint was fetched by the
Romanian Country ruler Nicolae Alexandru in this last center
of Byzantine Orthodoxy with the purpose of establishing the
Metropolitan Church of Hungaro-Vlachia.
In the same period is established the clubs-molded church from
Niculitel (11-th century), surrounded by fortifications (earth
waves) and which is considered by some researchers a monastery
settlement. More than that, Niculitel settlement was recorded,
not much time ago, under the name of "Niculitel Monastery",
and St. Atanasie Church, placed in the center of this settlement
has its origins in the 13-th century. Tichilesti and Taita
Monasteries, now being no more, pass in the area of spiritual
values that compose the document of the monastic life and Romanian
Orthodox Christian continuity, even under Ottoman domination.
Against the ups and downs of those gloomy ages with wars, destroying,
difficulties from 18-th and 19-th centuries, life continued
in the forests' shelter or in the reed thickets immensity.
In this legendary atmosphere, related to ancient times, to
faith and hope in the future, the information that we have
tell us that at the end of the 18-th century, some monks from
Ardeal area, coming from the saint mountain Athos settled in
this glade nearby Telita village, not far from the Mocans villages
(shepherds transferred from Ardeal, settled in Dobrogea). Here,
they built an Hermitage and few cells. An unfortunate fire
destroyed the establishment. Soon after, between 1833-1840,
the abbots Dositei Crihau, Paisre and Atanasie Lisavenco, with
the blessing of Tulcea Greek Metropolitan Church and the approval
of the sultan Abdul Medgid, in 1840, succeed in the reconstruction
of the new monastic settlement Celic Dere, name given after
the place they have settled in. Dere valley, Celic comes from
the word cilec=wild strawberries, and have metamorphosed in "Celic" or "Cilic" in
the process of language use.
In 1846 they built the first church, under the saint protection
of "Holy Virgin fallen asleep" and a chapel of ease
under the protection of the Archangels Saints Mihail and Gavriil
- that also served as an eating room for the church inhabitants.
In that time they have decided that the monastery remain in
the custody of the nuns, the monks being transferred near the
Saon swamp, where they will establish a new monastic settlement
that will bear the name of the place.
Step by step, the diligence of these nuns will lead not only
to the economic growth of the monastery, but also at its spiritual
advancement. After Dobrogea's unification with the MotherLand,
Celic Dere nuns were supported by the Lower Danube Bishopric
bishops for the building of new constructions. The big church
is protected by "Holly Virgin fallen asleep" and
the semi-basement one by "Holly Virgin Spring".
In 1916 the church was built, but it will be finished not before
1932, when, on October 22-nd, they hallowed it.
The bishop Nifon could be considered the second monastery founder
because of the cultural and spiritual activity he carried out.
Inside the monastery was established a primary school for adults
under 40 years of age, at a workshop school of church painting.
They initiated the church choir and a carpet workshop, a national
fabrics with a section of artistic embroiders.
Historical monument and a very important monastic settlement
in Tomis Archbishopric area, Cocos Monastery is placed in Tulcea
County, at a 6 kilometers distance of Niculitel commune, isolated,
settled on an older hermitage. It is integrated in Dobrogea's
ancient mountains picturesque and wrapped in the fresh everyday
scent of the linden tree forests, thus you can almost feel
the Holy Trinity protection. In this permanent pilgrimage place,
favorable to spiritual meditation, a heaven's place situated
on Dobrogean land, under the so-called "Cocosului" (Cock's)
Hill -you can sometimes hear at night a wild cock crowing.
The monastery was named after this legendary cock.
Christianity grew inside the Romanian people in a spontaneous,
natural manner, parallel with establishing his Roman nature.
Dobrogea, land trod by the first God's apostle, St. Apostle
Andrew, becomes Christianity's Romanian gate. Cocos Monastery
inherits monastic customs from the first Christian ages, benefiting
from a Tomis Bishop participation in the first ecumenical Synod
In 1833, three Romanian Neamt Monastery monks named Visarion,
Gherontie and Isaia had visited the Athos mountain and now
wanted to establish a monastery on the Romanian land between
the Danube and the Black Sea, then under Ottoman domination.
They get to buy a piece of land near Cock's Hill from a Moslem
woman and start building a twigs and adobe praying settlement
Tulcea Archbishop, the Greek Bishop Panaret meets Visarion
and appoints him abbot. In 1841 this worship place enters Ottoman
Empire legal evidence and Visarion, Gherontie and Isaia are
acknowledged as the originators of the future Cock's Monastery,
Romanian Dobrogea's spiritual center.
In 1853 they establish a stone and brick church next to the
twigs one, both surviving until 1910, when they are demolished,
impossible to consolidate. On September 1-st, 1911, under the
guidance of Toma Dobrescu, architect, they begin the big church
construction and finish it in autumn 1913. The Italian painter
F. de Biasse will paint the new church in neo-Byzantine style.
Around 1870, they build a belfry of 30 meters height and the
western cells are built in Oriental style, having porches and
balconies and wrapped in tile. After this restoration they
are declared, in 1959, historical monuments.
Without getting too much into Cock's Monastery vast history,
we stop for a moment at the Romanian Christianity vault key.
With God's will, in 1971, the rain water streams uncovered
the stone and brick vault of a martyring tomb (of a martiryon)
from the Roman epoch on a street of Niculitel commune, which
is an ancient Roman settlement under the custody of Noviodunum
Citadel. The tomb they discovered was sheltering the relics
of 4 martyrs into Christ named Zotic, Attal, Kamasie and Phillip,
pertaining, probably, to the 303-304 A.D. period-the great
The relics were put away into an honorable place in Cock's
Monastery church, as a living proof of our forefathers' faith.
Today, for almost 2000 years, the Orthodox Christians come
to the Cock's Monastery and kowtow before and kiss the 4 saint
martyrs' chest, to find soul peace and tranquility.