The river system of Roumania—The 'beautiful blue Danube'—Appearance of the Lower Danube comparable to the Humber or Mississippi—Floating mills—The Danube in the Kazan Pass—Grand scenery—The 'Iron Gates,' misconceptions concerning them—Their true character—Archæological remains—Trajan's road—His tablet—His bridge at Turnu-Severin—Its construction and history—The tributaries of the Danube and towns upon them—The fishes of the Roumanian rivers—Lakes—Mineral waters of Balta Alba—Roman roads—Bridge of Constantine—Roman streets, houses, temples—Statue of Commodus—Gothic and prehistoric remains—Climate—Great extremes of heat and cold—Beautiful autumn—Rainfall-Comparison with other countries—Russian winds—Sudden daily alternations—Comparison of the country generally with other European states—Résumé of its productions, resources, and attractions for visitors.


The river system of Roumania constitutes one of the most remarkable features in its geography, has played an important part in its past history, and promises to exercise a powerful influence on its industrial and political future. This system comprises the great main artery, the Danube, with numerous confluents which take their rise in the Carpathians, and, rushing at first in torrents, then How as sluggish, often as half-dry streams, across the country before they empty themselves into the parent river.

The 'beautiful blue Danube' has been so bepraised that to a traveller who visits it for its scenic attractions it is likely to prove a bitter disappointment. It is not blue, although during certain seasons it is said to have a blue tinge, but a great part of the way from Vienna to the defile of Kazan, and the whole distance from Orsova to the Black Sea, it resembles in colour and appearance our river Humber, and we have heard American travellers compare it to the Mississippi. For hours and hours at a time it flows between perfectly flat banks, on which nothing is visible but reeds and willow bushes. The surface of the river is enlivened by innumerable floating water-mills, which lie at anchor either in midstream or close to the banks, and obtain their motive power from the rapidly flowing current. These are used for grinding the maize and other cereals of the country. Here and there a small town or fortification presents itself on either bank. On the Bulgarian side are the towns of Vidin, Nicopolis, Sistova, and Rustchuk, with their domes and minarets, and idle laughing crowds of gazers, either men picturesquely clad, or women sitting perched, on the rocks, and looking like so many sacks of floor all in a row. These certainly break the monotony of the great stream, but the general appearance of the river from Verciorova, where it begins to bathe the Roumanian shore, to its mouth at Sulina is one long flat reach, higher, as we have already said, on the Bulgarian than on the Roumanian side.

But although that is the stretch of the river which comes strictly within the scope of our survey, there is another portion, lying immediately above it, that well merits a passing notice, more especially as we know that it played an important part in the Roman conquest and the subsequent colonisation of ancient Roumania. There is perhaps no river scenery in Europe to equal, and certainly none which excels, that part of the Danube stretching for about seventy-five miles from Bazias—the terminus of a branch of the railway from Vienna to Verciorova—to the so-called 'Iron Gates.' It is here that the river cuts its way through the Carpathians, and whilst along its general course it varies in width from half a mile to three miles or more, in the Kazan Pass, a defile having on either side perpendicular rocks of 1,000 to 2,000 feet in height, it narrows in some parts to about 116 yards, and possesses a depth of thirty fathoms. The banks closely resemble those of a fine Norwegian fiord, rising more or less precipitously, and being covered with pines and other alpine trees, and occasionally, as in Norway or even in Scotland, the steamer appears to be crossing a long mountain-locked lake. At the lower end of this reach of the Danube are what the metaphor-loving Ottomans first called the 'Iron Gates,' and they no doubt found them an insurmountable barrier to their western progress up the river. Considerable misapprehension, however—which is certainly not removed by the accounts of modern writers, who have apparently copied from one another without visiting them—exists concerning these same 'Iron Gates.' Some of the writers referred to speak of 'rocks which form cascades 140 mètres' (or about 460 feet) high, 'and which present serious obstacles to navigation.' Where these cascades are we were not able to discover. The fact is that the whole descent of the river throughout this portion does not exceed twenty feet, and where it issues from the outliers of the Carpathians the banks slope more gently than higher up, and the summits are simply high hills. The 'Iron Gates' themselves consist of innumerable rocks in the bed of the river. Here and there they appear above the surface, but generally they are a little below it, and they break up the whole surface for a considerable distance into waves and eddies, through which only narrow passages admit of navigation, insomuch that in certain states of the river the passengers and cargoes of the large steamers have to be transferred to smaller boats above, and retransferred to the larger class of steamers below, the 'Iron Gates.'


But by far the most distinctive, and for us the most interesting, features of the Danube about here, are its historical reminiscences. Almost the whole way from Golubatz (Rom. Cuppæ) to Orsova, there are traces on the right (southern) bank of the remarkable road constructed by Trajan (and probably his predecessors) for his expedition into Dacia, and at one place opposite to Gradina is a noted tablet inserted in the rock to commemorate the completion of the road. This tablet has been the subject of much controversy, and it bears the following inscription:—


The Servian peasants, however, have little respect for heroes—at least, for ancient ones—and the barbarians of seventeen or eighteen centuries appear to have lighted their fires and cooked their 'mamaliga' against the tablet until it presents the appearance of a blackened mass. Of the road itself we shall speak hereafter at some length in connection with Trajan's expedition, but a few words concerning his bridge at Turnu-Severin may still be added. All that remains visible to the traveller to-day are the two terminal piers, of which sketches are here given; but between those piers the bridge spanned the river, and a very low state of the water discloses the tops of several other piers still standing. In speaking of one bridge we have taken rather a liberty with the facts, for it is now pretty generally admitted that there were really two structures. Further down the river is a small island which, in former times, is said to have extended to where the remains of the bridge are found, and upon this tongue of land the ends of the sections starting from either shore rested. The land is supposed either to have sunk or to have been washed away by the current. The bridge, to which further reference will be made in our historical sketch, was built after the plans of Apollodorus, the architect of Trajan's Column at Rome. It was commenced about 103 A.D., and probably consisted of twenty piers, each 150 Roman feet high and 60 feet broad, and the distance between the two terminal piers on the banks is about 3,900 English feet. The piers were of stone, but the upper part of the bridge was wood. In the northern pier the stone consists of rubble, or artificial conglomerate composed of small roundish stones and cement, and this was probably cast into blocks, but the one on the right (southern) bank is of hewn stone. On the northern side there is an old wall running up from the pier to the ruins of a tower which was evidently connected with the bridge.

But it would be better that we should reserve any further remarks concerning the archæological relics of Roumania, and also some observations of immediate interest in connection with the Danube, until we have completed a brief account of the water system of the country.

Between the 'Iron Gates' and its three embouchures, namely, the Khilia, Sulina, and St. George's mouths, of which only the second is navigable by large vessels, the Danube stretches fora distance of about 650 miles,[23] and receives in its course numerous tributaries, whereof the following are the principal on the Roumanian side. The Pruth is the most important. It forms the boundary between Roumania and Bessarabia (Russia), and is navigable by small grain-carrying vessels. Next in importance historically is the Sereth, which divided Moldavia from Wallachia, and the remaining rivers of any moment are the Oltu, on which are situated the towns of Rimnic and Slatina; the Jalomitza, watering Tirgovistea, one of the ancient capitals, and receiving as an affluent the Prahova, which takes its rise near Sinaïa. The last-named is a very interesting river, for in the vicinity of either bank are to be found the petroleum wells or salt mines. Then there is the Ardges, which flows past the little city of the same name and the town of Pitesti, and receives the Dambovitza, on which the capital, Bucarest, is situated. In these rivers are to be found in their due seasons many species of fish, and as fishing is but little preserved they furnish good sport. The most important kinds used for the table in Roumania are two or three varieties of sturgeon, trout (small but sweet), herrings, salmon, shad, pike, and carp, also perch, roach, barbel, tench, &c. Roumania is not a lake country, and the largest lakes, called Baltas, are found in the plains near the Danube, whilst amongst the inland lakes, which are few in number and importance, that of Balta Alba, in the district of Romnicu Sarat, possesses strong mineral properties, in which chloride of sodium and carbonate and sulphate of soda preponderate. Its waters are used for baths, and are said to cure certain forms of scrofula, rheumatism, neuralgia, and other germane maladies. Besides Balta Alba, Roumania possesses several other sources of mineral waters.


Returning now to the 'Iron Gates' of the Danube, the portal, as it were, by which we enter the country, we find in connection with the great bridge, and also starting from other parts of the Danube, remains of Roman roads, to one or two of which reference has already been made; and in the neighbourhood of these, again, evidences of permanent Roman occupation. One road, west of the Iron Gates, has been named in connection with Trajan's route. It commenced at Uj Palanka, and ran in a north-easterly direction to Temeswar (Rom. Tibiscum), and thence to the ancient capital of Dacia, Sarmizegethusa (modern Varhely), whence it is believed to have been continued to the Transylvanian slopes of the Carpathians bordering on Moldavia. This road, which, along with all the other remains here referred to, will be found in our historical map, was not situated in what is now Roumania. It was joined by another starting from Orsova, which followed the valley of the Czerna, passed the modern baths of Mehadia (Rom. Ad Mediam), and joined the first road at Temeswar. A third, still more to the eastward, commenced at the Bridge of Trajan at Turnu-Severin, and traces have been found which lead to the belief that it must have crossed Wallachia in more than one direction and have passed through the 'Rothenthurm' pass in the Carpathians, whilst a fourth road, with which it was probably connected, started from the vicinity of the bridge of Constantine, near Turnu-Magurele, and is traceable in a north-westerly direction towards the Carpathians. Other roads have been distinctly made out in these mountains connecting Hermannstadt, Karlsburg, Schässburg, &c. The road on the southern bank of the lower Danube ran along the whole course of the river, and has been followed to the neighbourhood of Galatz; whilst in the Dobrudscha there are still the remains of two Roman walls, one on either side of the line of railway from Cernavoda on the Danube to Constanta (formerly Kustendjie) on the Black Sea. As to the other archæological remains, they are even more numerous and better defined than the roads. At Turnu-Magurele, close by, there are traces of a second bridge across the Danube, known as that of Constantine, and believed to have been constructed by that emperor. In the same neighbourhood, at Celeiu, there have been found several interesting Roman remains, ruins of buildings in which the colouring is still visible on the walls, and a statue of Commodus with an inscription. At Recika, near the modern town of Caracal, close to the river Oltu in the district of Romanati, there are also remains of streets and houses with inscriptions; and at Slaveni, close by, are the remains of a temple of Mithras. Again, at Ciglena or Tiglina, near Galatz, there is an old Roman encampment; at Vodastra, not far from Celeiu (already referred to), still older prehistoric remains have been found, whilst at Petrosa and Buzeu, on the line of railway between Bucarest and Galatz, Gothic and other antiquities have been discovered. Interesting but more recent relics are to be seen at Campu-Lung, the first capital of Wallachia. At Curtea d'Ardges, the second (that is subsequent) capital, is a beautiful cathedral, which will be more fully described hereafter; and Tirgovistea, the third capital, from which the seat of government was removed to Bucarest, also presents some interesting historical remains.


Before proceeding to deal with a subject in connection with the geographical position of Roumania, which has special interest for Englishmen, a few words may be found interesting in regard to its exceptional and variable climate.

Both the winters and summers are very trying and severe; spring is so short as to be almost non-existent, but this is compensated for by the long autumn, a genial season which often lasts from the middle of September to the end of November. In summer the thermometer often reaches 90° to 95° Fahrenheit in the shade, whilst in winter it frequently falls to zero, but the annual average is about 57° Fahrenheit. Bain is not nearly so frequent as with us, and it seldom lasts long. Comparisons have been made between Roumania and other countries which show that whilst in England we have on the average 172 rainy days in the year, there are in Western France 152, in Germany 141, and in Roumania only 74. Snowstorms are not frequent, there being on the average only twelve days of snow in the year. The most trying characteristic of the climate, however, is the cold cutting easterly wind which sweeps over the steppes of Asiatic Russia, and often causes life to be almost intolerable in the Roumanian plains; and another unpleasant feature is the sudden change from heat to cold between noon and evening during the later months of the year.

Looking generally at the physiography of Roumania, however, it will be seen that whilst it covers an extent of country considerably in excess of some of the small but prosperous independent States of Europe, it has great advantages which they do not possess. Less rugged and mountainous than Switzerland, and not so uniformly flat as Holland, its scenery partakes of the character of both these countries. Guarded on the north and west by the Carpathian range, and commanding the whole length of the Danube in the south, its political position (to which further reference will be made presently) renders it safer than Belgium, or perhaps even than Denmark. Its soil is capable of producing, either spontaneously or with a slight expenditure of labour, every requirement of the human race, whether of necessity or of luxury. The grape, the peach, the tobacco plant thrive in the open air. Its extensive forests contain most descriptions of timber, whilst very fine salt and petroleum amongst its mineral treasures are already worked, and there is little doubt from the researches of chemists and metallurgists that coal, iron, sulphur, copper, and even the precious metals are safely stored beneath the surface. All these valuable natural productions may be readily conveyed down the slopes of its mountains or across the plains, by short and easy routes by land and water, to the larger watercourse which places it in communication with the outer world; and as to the obstacles offered by the 'Iron Gates' to the navigation of the upper Danube, these are soon likely to disappear in an age when dynamite effects such vast revolutions in the industrial history of nations. Add to these facts that Roumania offers a rich field for the fisherman, that its alpine districts are beautiful and easy of access, and that its antiquities cannot fail to attract the attention of archæologists; and we see already from this brief and very superficial geographical survey that it encloses within its boundaries the promise of a brilliant future. And now let us turn from the natural capacities of the country to the works and ways of man.