A Cold War Journey before the waters rose at the Iron Gate
Kaleh - the
In 1966 when I was there with John Marriner, Ada Kaleh was a Romanan island in
the Danube river close to Orsova. The other side of the river belonged to Yugoslavia
- now it is Serbian and the island has gone along with the original Orsova
name is Turkish and simply translated as ' island of the fortress '. It was a
place of dreams and a long history. In the early 1970's when the water rose behind
the Iron Gate l dam the island was totally submerged. Ada Kaleh has been described
poetically by travel writers, more seriously by historians and parts of the fortifications
were moved to another island before the inundation.
the fort was not crumbling and flooded as some said and the streets were not narrow
and winding.Ada Kaleh was a living town thriving on tourism and reputedly on smuggling.
In the 1920's steam paddle boats called frequently and even in 1966 Romanians
were there to relax and buy the local specialities of fruit in sugary syrup and
delicious Turkish Delight. These pictures tell the story.
Kaleh island was about 1700 m long and up to 500 m wide. It lay at a bend of the
river some 8 kms upstream from the dam with mountain foothills rising steeply
on each side. in 1966 Romania was on the left bank and Yugoslavia [now Serbia]
was on the right bank Historically the position was strategically important for
three armies - the the Romans, the Austrians who built the fort in 1739 and then
the Turks who developed the town and later added the tourist economy In 1966 the
population was varied but still largely Turkish
kaleh fort was built following the principles of the French miltary engineer Marquis
de Vauban and was set out in a star plan. Tunnels for gun emplacements, armouries
and as storehouses were constructed behind thick walls and a moat protecting the
approaches. Contemporary maps show the fort as the island's main construction.
The mosque and its minaret date from the early 20th century
occasioanal tourist ships from eastern European countries continued to stop at
Ada Kaleh in the 1960's the main traffic was from the ancient town of Orsova on
the Romanian bank, Open boats were rowed across the fast flowing river by oarsmen
who knew the back flowing eddies. A direct line across the river would take a
boat far off course but with the eddies in the current the swirls upriver were
as strong as the downstream flow
1966 I crossed the river once by row-boat to be met at the Ada Kaleh landing stage
by ' guides ' much as any tourist would expect anywhere in the world today. Fortunately
I was accompanied by Tutu the multi lingual CARPATI helper / interpreter assigned
to September Tide and very soon I was in the town drinking fine Turkish
coffee. Later I moved on to some of the local tuica a plum brandy.
main street was wide and clean. The few Romanian toursists who had crossed the
river with me were busy enjoying an extraordinary experience. We were cut-ff from
the world Ada kaleh was Romanian and part of the Eastern Bloc of Communist countries
yet here it was Turkish. Tutu said the people used an old Turkish language broken
with Romanian phrases. The street was lined with stalls and sellers
Delight or loukoum is a gelatinous sugary confecton with natural flavours
such as rose petal, often garnished with chopped nuts, was a 'best seller' on
Ada kaleh. I quickly found my way into the home of one of the artisans making
this traditional sweetmeat. There are are many well-known recipes and here the
lumps are being cut and kept apart with a very fine sugar dust before they are
packed in boxes. In the strret outside the product is sold as Locum Oriental..
Ada Kaleh mosque with its striking manaret was early 20th century - with a date
of 1903. When I was there in 1966 the great carpet covering the floor had been
taken to Constanta for 'repair' or more likely for afe keeping because the threat
from the dam being built was real. The end was in sight for Ada Kaleh. [and
when the end came the mosque and minaret were demolished]
on the grassy forecourt to the main gate of Ada kaleh Tutu is with a group of
school children and hearing some of the local folklore. The tomb was well known
as being from a wandering Dervish from Bukhara [now capital of Uzbekistan ]in
central Asia.and one of the world's oldest cities]. The dervish had been wandering
the world in search of the most beautiful place to die. ' somwhere sheltered from
harm and misfortune'.
elderly residents of Ada Kaleh were remarkably sanguine about their fate. We talked
in the shade of the massive gateway. Inside and fixed to one of the walls was
a bronze plaque with Arabic script - an epigraph to Mahmud ll, the 30th Sultan
of the Ottoman Empire
every corner of Ada Kaleh there was evidence of the Turkish, Islamic history.
Gravestones were capped with the fez[fes] the felt hat promoted by Mahmud ll and
some customs lived on. We were invited to join the celebration for the circumcision
of two boys. a centuries old tradition to welcome the children into manhood. The
house was decorated, an elaborate bed had been prepared and food was offered to
of the residents of Ada kaleh spoke an old form of Turkish mixed with Romanian.
We were helped with the language by Tutu but some of the guests spoke some English.
The prayers were in the local Turkish and were explained in English for one of
our recordings. An immense thank you to all who welomed us. Here the boys are
dressed in ceremonial clothes with finely decorated hats and a bed with fine coverings
was prepared for them. [September 11th 1966]
men of the family gathered separately . It was difficult to think that we were
on Ada Kaleh in the middle of the Danube. All the trappings of the Cold War were
forgotten - the military posts we were not allowed to photograph and the travel
regulations were put aside. Time was winding back to the Ada Kaleh of wonderful