Ever peered at Trajan’s Column in Rome, desperately trying to identify through binoculars the details of each elevated panel?
Ever believed the Roman propaganda about the Dacians being simply a loose hegemony of uncultured barbarians? Think again! As the only enemy to extract tribute from the Romans and one of the few with the ability to dismantle a Legion in open battle, they certainly appealed to my inner Celt.
Spend four days in Romania at relatively little cost (see below) and you’ll benefit from a Trajan surfeit!
Day One. Fly into the Capital Bucharest and transfer to Constanta (Ancient Tomis). Situated on the Black Sea, Constanta, as named by Emperor Constantine, boasts a rather good pedigree. Founded by Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae after her victory over Cyrus the Great, Tomis was also the legendary landing place of Jason en route home with the Golden Fleece, Medea having dismembered her brother Absytrus on approach. The C6th BC Miletan cleruchy was annexed by Rome in 29BC and became Ovid’s place of exile.
Day Two. Morning visit to Constanta Archaeology Museum fronted by a suitably miserable statue of a brooding Ovid to immerse oneself in a vast array of Palaeolithic, Greek, Roman and Dacian artefacts; sculpture, ceramics, glass, metalwork and nautical relics. Particularly impressive are the Glykon (Fantastic Snake) and gold and silver Dacian jewellery.
The Roman Mosaic Museum leads down a series of terracing to the port – 850 square metres of polychromatic tesserae with remains of shops, warehouses and thermae. Remains of C4th walls, houses and columns litter the separate archaeology park.
Afternoon visit to Greco Roman Histria, set within a wildfowl park on Lake Sinoe in the Danube Delta. Founded 670BC by Miletos, and the largest Greek port on the Euxine, it issued the first 8g silver drachmae c.480BC. The Site boasts impressive defensive walls, street paving and remains of housing, stoas, thermae and temples to Aphrodite and Zeus. The Museum’s collection consists of the usual suspects from Greek to Byzantine, including stele, epigraphy and of course, coinage. When exploring the large site, beware low flying herons…………
Spend the evening in Constanta exploring the cultural old town centre with cobbled streets, open air restaurants, Genoese and Art Deco architecture, Mosques, Synagogue and Orthodox churches.
Day Three. Morning visit to Civitas Tropaensium (Adamclisi); Site, Museum and Tropaeum Traiani Victory Monument dedicated to Mars Ultor built c.107AD by Apollodor of Damascus, in celebration of Trajan’s subjugation of Moesia Inferior in 101/2AD.
The extant site dates C4-6thAD consists of irregular circuit walls, defensive towers and gates, porticos, well paved streets, drains and subterranean aqueduct. The stunning (renovated) 40m high Victory Trophe dominates the surrounding countryside. Built of polished, gleaming, white stone on a hexagonal base, 54 metopes illustrate (highly biased!) episodes of Dacian defeat and Romanisation, 26 relief crenellations of prisoners chained to tree trunks, the whole surmounted by a monumental panoply.
Nearby are the remains of an altar originally inscribed with the names of 3,000 Roman militia who died ‘fighting for the Republic’.
To study the monument in depth, simply move to the nearby museum where the frieze and 48 of the original 54 metopes are preserved at eye level, together with pilasters, panoply, freestanding sculptures and inscriptions.
Evening Bucharest. Walking tour of Ceaușescu ‘flash points’, ‘Little Paris’ and atmospheric old town. Should you have the energy, visit Caru’ cu Bere for your evening meal. An 1870 German Gothic extravaganza, complete with traditional dancers and acrobats, the food is not only wholesome, but by our standards, incredibly cheap! (Ham hock, feeds four – £8.00!)
Day Four. Visit the Archaeological Museum to learn everything there is to know about Trajan’s Column. Greeted on the museum’s steps by a modern bronze of Trajan holding a composite Roman Lupa cum Dacian Drago, one passes through a large display of artefacts tracing Romanian development from Palaeolithic to the Roman era.
In the basement (far more accessible than at the V&A) are displayed the cast panels of Trajan’s Column, all of them, at eye level with English translation. The National Geographic Film on construction runs on constant loop, the column base is reconstructed to scale and explanatory information display boards on construction are also in English. Do not miss the Roman epigraphic stele exhibition.
The Treasury Room contains hundreds of utterly amazing examples of Dacian gold and silver; crowns, jewellery, greaves, helmets. The Dacians were not savages – but Trajan had to make a point, especially after the humiliations inflicted by the ‘Client King’ Decebalus.
Free afternoon to explore the old town; Athanaeum, Churches, Court of Vlad Tepes, old merchant houses. Perhaps have lunch in Hanul lui Manuc one of Europe’s last remaining caravanserai. Three course lunch, minus drinks c.£5.00! Transfer to Airport for late afternoon flight.
30 twin rooms + 3 free in single rooms = from £415.00ppp.
H/B, all transfers, taxes, entrance fees and Guide
Whetted your appetite?
Constanta is the perfect place from which to explore the Dobrogea region. Described by Ovid as “a town located in a war-stricken cultural wasteland on the remotest margins of the empire” (Trans. P.Hardie), it is now the largest port on the Black Sea, an established holiday resort with vast sandy beaches and a Naval Museum which traces the region’s vast maritime history.
To the north west lies the Roman Castrum of Capidava, built atop the Geto Dacian stronghold of Dapyx, subdued by Crassus in 29BC. Partially excavated, but in a stunningly commanding position with massive surveillance on a bend of the River Danube, the fortification walls, gateway and horseshoe towers are particularly impressive. Within lie porticoed buildings, pathways, sewage system and early earthworks, sadly much overgrown.
Nearby, once hugely important Carsium (judging by its numerous repairs between the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Diocletian!) now consists of one tower and mere vestiges of the defensive walls towers and great Roman Road, the remainder having been cannibalised into building materials of the nearby village. Beware speeding horses and carts!
To the south lies the seaside town of Mangalia (C6thBC Megarian Callatis via Herakleia Pontica, Bithynia!) which was minting coinage from 350 BC until the reign of Caracalla. Overlooked by a C6th BC Doric Citadel and Roman Nekropolis, the Archaeological Museum boasts the ‘Tomb of the Papyrus’ containing C4th Greek Papyrii. Architectural fragments, ceramics, jewellery and domestic items are also on display. Most unusually, in the basement of the President Hotel are preserved a paved street, houses, pithos and horreum!
Transylvania and the Southern Carpathian Mountains offer plentiful archaeology and superb museums, a huge variety of beautiful architecture, idyllic pastoral scenes and wildlife, good to stunning hotels, high quality but inexpensive organic food, splendid castles and unparalleled hospitality; more of which next time………………..
Huge thanks to Madalina Badea of ‘Visit Romania’ – always at the end of the ‘phone!