Saturday, 19 February 2011

Edmund Spencer, “Travels in European Turkey, in 1850″

Edmund Spencer, “Travels in European Turkey, in 1850: through Bosnia, Servia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thrace, Albania, and Epirus, with a visit to Greece and the Ionian Isles, and a homeward tour through Hungary and the Slavonian provinces of Austria on the Lower Danube”, London, Colburn and Co., 1851, vol. 2, p. 404

We would recommend the traveller, who may be desirous to make the tour of the Danube from Constantinople, to land at the little port of Kostendshe, on the Black Sea, by which he will escape a long and disagreeable voyage round by Soulina, the only navigable channel of all the outlets of the Danube. At Kostendshe he will find an agent of the Austrian Navigation Company, whose duty is to aid the traveller and attend to his wants. There are vehicles always in readiness to convey him to Tchernawoda, on the Danube, where he can amuse himself by visiting the villages of the Bulgarians in the neighbourhood till the arrival of the steam-boat.

In the time of the Romans, the Emperor Trajan entertained the idea of making a canal from this place to the Euxine, which, if completed, would shorten the distance from about three hundred miles to thirty, an enterprise that might be carried into effect at a very trifling expense, when we consider that the ground is quite level, with the Karasou lake in the centre of sufficient depth to assist the undertaking.

The late Sultan Mahmoud, who was really a man of energy, caused the ground to be measured and marked [p. 405] out, and would have carried the work into execution, had he not been prevented by the Cabinet of St. Petersburg. We presume, because it was contrary to the treaties of the navigation of the Danube, which secured to Russia the only practicable route to the Black Sea — that by Soulina; but as this treaty has expired or was said to expire in 1850, leaving the navigation of the Danube open to every nation, this much-desired work ought to be carried into execution, which would not only pay the contractors an immense profit, but considerably benefit the commerce of the Lower Danube. We fear, however, that the weak sovereigns of Austria and Turkey dread the displeasure of the Autocrat too much to carry the design of the vigorous Roman into execution.

In the mean time the poor mariner is obliged to adopt the long and tortuous route, the Soulina channel, which, owning to the accumulation of sand at the bar, can only receive vessels of a hundred and fifty tons burden; and we have still greater cause to regret, the non-completion of this work, when we remember the number of lives that are lost every year by malaria and fever during this voyage, rendered so long and tiresome, by endeavouring to avoid the sand-banks, as the mariner is almost certain to carry home with him the seeds of a disease, which it is said never leaves him.

Such a canal as we have alluded to, if constructed of sufficient depth for large merchant vessels, would materially facilitate navigation; for after passing the Delta of the Danube, the river deepens considerably till we arrive at Kladesitza, in Servia; here the navigation [p. 406] of the Danube is again interrupted by a ridge of rocks running across the river, called the Demirkapa (iron gate), and notwithstanding all Count Sz’echenyi, that excellent Hungarian, had done to deepen the bed of the river, the passage is still dangerous. This was proved a few years since by the loss of a vessel, its crew and passengers. The boat, on arriving in the midst of the rapids struck against a rock, became unmanageable and turning round with the most frightful rapidity, was instantly submerged in a whirlpool sufficient to engulf a man-of-war. The only panssenger that escaped was na Osmanli, who, being doubtful fo the ability of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Danube to ensure the safety of the vessel, landed with the intention of pursuing his journey on the banks of hte river till the danger was past. But the laughter and ridicule of his fellow passengers induced him ot alter his determination, and as he was in the act of stepping on board, a ring containing an amulet slipped from his finger, this was decisive — he would not tempt Kismet, and thus to the loss of a ring he owed his life.

Like that between Kostendshe and Tchernawoda, this break in the navigation of the Danube might easily be avoided by cutting a canal on the Servian side of the river at Kladesitza, which would then open an uninterrupted communication from the Black Sea into the heart of Germany, and shorten the route between Constantinople and Vienna, to a five days’ voyage at the utmost. It would appear, from the appearance of the marsh, that a canal had actually existed here, at some time or other, perhaps the work of the Romans, [p. 407] and which on their expulsion from the country, and the barbarism that followed, fell into disuse, and in process of time became filled up.

Can anything afford a more decisive proof than this, of the want of energy and enterprize in the inhabitants of these provinces; and of the indolent supineness of their rulers. We may ridicule the apathy and inertness of the Turks, yet here we see the noblest river in Europe running a course of eighteen hundred miles from its source to the Black Sea, traversing a succession of the most fertile countries, and uniting by the most natural, direct, and least expensive route the commerce of Central Europe with the vast countries of the East, still remaining in a state of nature. Every successive flood carries away with it the soil, and not unfrequently even the villages on its banks, and form accumulations, which impede navigation, together with vast marshes and stagnant lakes, from which arise exhalations, the most prejudicial to the health of man.

A few hundred thousand Anglo-Saxon colonists, if they found these countries a desert, would have done more in fifty years for the navigation of this noble river, and the salubrity of its banks, than all its Czars, Kaisers and Padishahs, Krals and Ko:nigs, Herzogs, Hospodars, Beys, and noble Princes, have effected in centuries. It is true they perfectly understand the parade, the marching, drilling and stuffing of soldiers (we do not mean internally), the ‘eclat and magnificence of courtly etiquette, the maintenance of an army of spies and court favourites, nor are any more sensitive [p. 408] to an invasion of their own royal will, or more prompt in cutting the throats of their own subjects, and those of their neighbours, about some crochet of precedency, or an acre of disputed territory. To support htese undertakings money is ever forthcomming; but for the execution of any great work of public utility, the advancement of industry and commerce, there is not a farthing to be found in the exchequer. Can we then wonder at the discontent of a people, ground down by taxation to support all this theatrical display, and finery of the State; or at Socialism, Republicanism, Deutsch-catholicism, Panslavism, Panteutonism, and all the other isms, which have already shaken Europe to its centre ?

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