Once upon a time… there was an island.

An oriental oasis anchored at the foot of the Iron Gates, a vast mountain defile plunging into the waters of the Danube on Romania’s western border. An island in the shape of an elongated oval, like an open eye in the heart of the green waters of the great river. Vines and olives have been grown here since ancient times.

Attached to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, the island took the name of Ada Kaleh, or “fortified island” in Turkish. With a population of several hundred, Ada Kaleh has all the trappings of a small oriental town: narrow cobbled streets link the bazaar to the caf├ęs, the mosque to the school. In the 20th century, a cinema, a soccer field, a textile factory and a radio station were built here.

A small paradise prized by tourists for its old-fashioned exoticism, oriental specialties and Mediterranean climate, the island became the property of the Romanian state under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. In the early 1960s, a major hydroelectric dam project doomed the island to be submerged by the waters of the Danube. Blasted and crushed by armored vehicles, the island’s buildings were reduced to rubble.

In 1970, the Iron Gates dam was completed and the rising waters submerged the ruins of Ada Kaleh. The island and its age-old ghosts now lay 30 metres underwater.

Eden becomes Atlantis, and the myth of Ada Kaleh has only just begun…

Duna, Vaskapu-szoros. Fortepan 76676


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