Trekking through history – discover Histria, the first settlement in Romania

By Oana Pascu

The first month of summer is already almost over and that means that most likely many of those who live in the capital have already had at least one weekend getaway at the Romanian seaside. If you are already planning one (or your next one), consider sparing a couple of hours to visit the oldest settlement in Romania by taking a short detour on the way to the seaside or back.

The ruins of ancient Histria today lie stranded in the desolate inland shore of a vast lagoon barely 50 km north of Constanța. Once an important coastal port, Histria was the first Greek settlement of the western shore of the Black Sea and the earliest documented city in Romania. It enjoyed 1,300 years of growth and prosperity before being abandoned in the 7th century AD. Of particular interest to the visitor are the remains of the ancient fort. Some 70 km southwest of Constanța amidst beautifully terraced hills lies Adamclisi, home to the Tropaeum Traiani , a victory monument built in 109 AD to commemorate the Roman emperor Trajan’s victory over the Dacians.

Histria was a Greek colony near the mouths of the Danube (known as Ister in Ancient Greek), on the western coast of the Black Sea. Established by Milesian settlers in order to facilitate trade with the native Getae, it is considered the oldest urban settlement on Romanian territory. Scymnus of Chios (ca 110 BC) dated its founding to 630 BC, while Eusebius of Caesarea set it during the time of the 33rd Olympic Games (657 – 656 BC). The earliest documented currency on Romanian territory was an 8-gram silver drachma, issued by the city around 480 BC.

The ruins of the citadel, which are located on the shore of the Sinoe lake, can be visited nowadays. At the time when the city was constructed, the current Sinoe lake was a gulf open to the sea. At the moment, you can visit the defense wall, with towers and bastions, which used to close the citadel from the west towards the Sinoe lake. You can also see the preserved ruins of the Greek temples from the sacred area, paved streets and residential districts, workshops, especially Roman, thermal baths, civil basilicas and in the center of the city you will find one of the largest Christian basilicas in the region, from the 6th century AD.

The Episcopal Basilica from Histria, an edifice which is 60 meters long and 30 meters wide, that used to cover around 2% of the late citadel, has been brought to light in 1969 by the archaeologist Alexandru Suceveanu. It was built in the center of the old city and it is the most important discovery at Histria, as it proves that in the centuries 5-6 AD Histria has been declared episcopacy. On the 13th of February 2007, the Histria Citadel has been included in the list of the European Patrimony.

In the early 20s the first archeological museum has been built on site, but only 3 years later the building collapsed. The current museum has been built in 1982 and it hosts pieces of Greek, Roman and Byzantine archeology that have been discovered on the Histria site and around: amphorae, inscriptions, ceramics, glass, earthen lamps, finery and epigraphic documents.

Convinced? Then this is how you get there: from Bucharest, follow the A2 highway to Ovidiu, Constanta. Then follow DN22/E87 to DJ226A and 8 km later you will reach Histria.