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  • Ilinca Stroe

A Bit of Genoa in Romania: The Enisala Fortress

There are all sorts of lands in Romania. Vast alpine pastures high up where the contemporary mountaineer experiences the revelations of Nature’s pure force. Thick forests nestled between rugged mountains, where the furtive silhouette of the anti-communist Resistance fighter might retrospectively still swish among the trees. The never-ending sun-scorched fields of the south where the thousands ghosts of dreary armies of wounded soldiers marched back from lost bloody battles...

And the idyllic rolling hills of Dobrudja. As you drive along the E87 Tulcea-Babadag road, smooth, hilly, mellow green pastures and prim vineyards with their neat staircases of layers spoil you with the profoundly peaceful atmosphere they exude. This is a land of trade, not war. Ever since ancient times an extraordinary mix of ethnicities lived here together: Greeks and Romanians and Turks, Bulgarians, Lipovans, Tatars and Circassians. Peace, blessed peace, tranquillity and serenity is what their shared land gives off almost like a scent in the air.

The sea is close by. You can feel its balmy presence in the air, too. As a matter of fact, up until the Middle Ages the sea was here: what today is the Razim Lake used to be a golf of the Black Sea, until sandbars were formed that separated the two expanses of water. Back then, trade navigation in the Black Sea started in the Mediterranean and went all the way up to the mouth of the Dniestr River. The Genoese controlled it all: they had the monopoly on commerce in the Black Sea.

They had it and they had to hold it. So as you make the turn into the DJ 223A road, you will be headed (on, incidentally, smooth quality asphalt) towards a stronghold needed by the Genoese to supervise Black Sea trade and keep their monopoly. It was part of a chain of such strongholds, small Genoese colonies pinning the trade route (from Chilia and Likostomion in the Danube Delta to Cetatea Albă/Akkerman and Kaffa in Crimea). It was compared to an eagle’s nest. It was erected on the site of a Greek ancient settlement. And it is called Enisala.

Perched on a limestone hill into the fanciful small ridges of which it seems to coalesce, it rises with elegance above an exhilaratingly beautiful landscape where the canals connecting the Razim and Babadag lakes make up such a picturesque background. Shaped as a trapezium, featuring polygonal towers and five-to-ten-metre-high defensive walls, Enisala was built during the age of the Byzantine Empire, most probably in the 13th century. The Genoese abandoned it after the sandbar blocked direct access to the Black Sea, but it continued to be part of the defence system of Wallachia until Dobrudja was conquered by the Ottomans in the 15thcentury. The latter stationed a military garrison here up until the 16thcentury, when the place was abandoned.

The enchanting ruins of today are steeped in (pre)history. The multilayered site was home to a Neolithic village of the 5th millennium B.C., an Iron Age settlement (with dwellings, storage pits and waste dumps), a 4th-century BC Dacian burial site, and the Greek settlement of Herakleia, destroyed by the Avars and Slavs in the 6th century AD. You can learn all about that background by attending the 5-minute highly efficient and professional orientation talk delivered at the Enisala Information Centre by an extremely competent teenage guide.

Visits to this romance-inducing Genoese fortress are possible Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Regular tickets cost 3 RON. Just 40 kilometres and no longer than an hour away from Tulcea, the place is unanimously lauded by visitors: if there’s somewhere perfectly suited for elating day-dreaming, this is it!

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