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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Travel Writing- Constanta

Constanta lies around two hours east of Bucharest, on the Black Sea. With a foundation date of 800 B.C., it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania. Formerly one of the largest ports in Europe, the container traffic has reduced since its heyday in the 1990s but it remains the largest port on the Black Sea.

Conversations with locals have confirmed the suspicion that the population of the city varies greatly with the season. In the spring and summer the population of Constanta swells significantly, especially on the weekends, by people flocking to the beaches and boardwalks.

When I visited in March, the presence of tourists was not immediately obvious. The rail station lies about 2 km from the waterfront (about 7 lei by taxi) and has the feel of a building that has seen no changes at all for several years. This is a building which doesn’t feel neglected or unkempt in any way but one that’s static.

The largest building on the boardwalk of Constanta is the casino. The most noticeable thing about this building is not that it’s impressive size but how much more impressive it must have been when it was in its prime. Now, the building seems more like a ruin from ancient times than anything as modern as a casino.

The entire city seems to exist in a state of decay. Not ruins but the sense that the best days had gone and were never coming back. Almost as if the city had stopped caring enough to update itself after it realized things were no longer going well. I might be reading far too much into a quiet spring day in the city and it’s possible coming in summer would mean visiting a vibrant waterfront. But even if so, it just means the decay of the city is just stasis. That it only comes alive in summer.

At the end of the boardwalk are a multitude of restaurants built near the docks which specialize in fish and seafood dishes. These are one of the only places in Constanta that I’d found to be new and updated. With menus in English as well as Romanian, I imagine that they also cater to tourists. All the restaurants were housed in tiny shacks that reminded me of Scheveningen in The Hague.

One of the most noticeable buildings in Constanta is the Grand Mosque. With its tall minaret and distinct Byzantine architecture, it certainly seems like a relic from the past eras of Ottoman rule. Hence I was very surprised to learn that the mosque was only built in 1911.
Romania does not have a large proportion of Muslims. Despite more than 700 years of Ottoman rule in the region around Constanta, there are very few symbols of the Islamic influence.  The inscription on the plaque at the Grand Mosque state that the building was built as a gift for the Muslim workers in the region. However, there is also the Hunchiar mosque in the city, which is also regularly used by the Turkish minority there.

The communist era in Romania prioritized secularism and atheist beliefs, leading to decline in the religious heritage of Romania. Despite this, in Constanta as in Bucharest, several striking religious monuments remain. The St. Paul and Peter Orthodox Church stands near to the boardwalk and is distinctive with its pressed brick walls and metallic domes.

Ovid Square is the main square of Constanta and is flanked by the Archeology museum and several other impressive buildings. Matching its name, the archeology museum seems to be approaching a state of ruin with several signs around stating to beware of falling debris. Despite this neglect it remains an impressive sight.

Off of Ovid square are many smaller streets which are packed with bars and pubs which seem to cater more to tourists.Even the everpresent Irish pub can be found. 

Continuing in this direction brings one again to the Black Sea albeit on a sandier and wider expanse than on the side of the port. Also overlooking the black sea is a Greek church, which is worth viewing despite its small size. 

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