Black Sea’s Breath of Fresh Air
“Constanta is the lung of Romania.”
So pronounced the first Romanian king, Carol I. Well, graphic as that may be and worthy of further discussion, one might argue that Constanta today is more the pulse of Romania than the… ahem… lung. Why? Well, it’s here that vacationing Europeans flock to take the healing spa treatments, bask lazily in the predictable summer sun, dance away the endless nights, and picnic in the nearby forests responsible for the fresh air that so captivated our king.
Never mind. Just know you’ve traveled halfway ‘round the world to the Black Sea resort town of Constanta that’s been luring visitors here for some 2,500 years.
The City Proper
Seems everyone says you must begin your look-about Constanta (pronounced Kohn-stahn-tsah) in Ovid Square, Piata Ovidiu in the local language. Smack in the middle is a statue of Ovidius Puplius Nasos the famous Romanian poet, designed in 1887 by Ettore Ferrari (long before the fashionistas began wearing red hats sporting his last name). Exiled here by the Roman Emperor Augustus during the final dozen years of this life (43-17 B.C.), it was here Ovid penned his famous Methamorphosis, Tristia and Elegias poems.
Dawdle here and attempt a bit of poetry on your own or saunter over to the Archaeological Museum, rich with fine examples of finds from Dobrogea, this part of Romania. Important are the sculptures, Neolithic tools, weapons and objects from this ancient city then known as Tomis.
Nearby is a must-see, one of Europe’s largest mosaics, a floor from the Roman Period. Built in the early party of the 4th Century, it originally measured a whopping 20 by 100 yards!
There’s an interesting mosque close by, as well. Called the Great Mahmudiye Mosque, it was constructed by King Carol I (the lung guy) in 1910 and features one of the world’s largest carpets. In fact, it took a staggering 17 years for one master Turkish carpet-maker to weave this gift from Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1915. Note, this masterpiece weighs an incredible 1,080 pounds! Five times each day, the mosque’s muezzin climbs the 140 steps up the 164-foot-high minaret to call the faithful to prayer. For him, especially, it’s fantastic this region is blessed with clean air!
Two other places worth a mention are the Greco-Roman-style Orthodox Church of St. Paul and Peter, dating back to 1883, and the Folk Art Museum. Here you’ll find a collection of 16,000 exhibits including costumes, jewelry, and religious icons from the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Histria and the Hermitage
Thirty miles from Constanta stands the oldest and largest archeological site in Romania, Histria. Founded in 656 B.C., these are the ruins of the first Greek city settled on the Black Sea’s west coast. Baths, churches, basilicas and old ramparts are still visible.
St. Andrew’s Hermitage is a bit away from town, as well, but quite interesting for this is where the apostle lived. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Romania and is today the country’s patron saint.
Maritime buffs will want to see the Genoese Lighthouse, constructed in the 13th Century by navigators from Genoa. And a look at Tropaeum Traini is in order. It’s the monument built by Emperor Trajan in 109 A.D. to glorify Rome’s victory over Scythia Minor, today’s Dobrogea. Some 54 bas-reliefs highlight battle scenes from this period in history.
Unwind, Refresh, Recharge
Do as a legion of visitors before you have done… go to the beach for, as rumor has it, the sun shines here 300 days a year. This nation’s Black Sea coast is known as the littoral and enjoys the same temperate Mediterranean-type climate as the French Riviera. Plus, the nearby lakes are rich with precious minerals that locals claim contain curative properties. They’re convinced the breezes near Mamaia Beach, a 5-mile long stretch of sand, are laced with mineral salts that cause good health by merely breathing in. So, perhaps King Carol I was right after all.
Today, Mamaia is a developed resort area dating back one hundred years. There are other beaches as well, with enticing names like Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune. And, should the beach not be your cup of tea there’s the Casino, heralding back to 1909. Elegant in its art nouveau style, the building was designed by French architect Daniel Renard.
Should you wish to sample regional specialties, try ciorba (a Romanian soup), grilled nisetru (sturgeon), mititei (grilled sausages), or miel fiert in lapte (lamb stewed in milk) followed by a supersweet baklava. Some fine examples of regional red wines include Babadag, Ostrov, and Murfatlar the winner of 130 gold medals.
And, you mustn’t forget a souvenir or two. Embroidered garments and table linens, traditional ceramics, plus woven carpets depicting the “tree of life” are always popular.
At day’s end regale fellow travelers with tales of your explorations, the same tales you’ll tell friends back home when expounding on the virtues of this exotic destination, Constanta, Romania.