A while ago, a friend visiting from abroad asked me if there are any Roman ruins in Bucharest. I sadly had to tell him no, and that most traces of history from Roman times are actually found in the Dobrogea area, close to the Danube Delta and the Romanian seaside.
One of the best known seaside towns in Romania, Constanța, is better known as a destination for summer vacations than a place for history enthusiasts. However, there’s more to Constanța than just fun in the sun, crowded beaches and night clubs.
How to get there
Bucharest is only 2:30h away by train, and there are several daily trains from Bucuresti Nord station. Access the CFR website to search for trains and purchase your tickets online, or directly at the train station. Minibuses are also available, but take a longer time and are generally not worth it.
Historically known as Tomis, Constanța is one of the oldest towns in Romania, first mentioned in the year 657 B.C. as a Greek colony formed in the area near the Casino. It was conquered by the Romans in 71 B.C. and renamed Constantiana after Constantine the Great.
The town started to develop in the Middle Ages, with help from Italian merchants from Genoa. The Genoese lighthouse built by the Danubius and Black Sea Company in 1860, on an actual Genoese base from 1300, as a tribute to these flourishing commercial relations.
Later on in the 15th century, under Ottoman rule, Constanța suffered a decline, becoming a simple village inhabited mostly by Greek fishermen and Tatar horse and sheep herders and only regained its status of main port after the War of Independence. Today, it is the 4th largest port in Europe.
Constanța is relatively large, although the old town only comprises a few streets with older buildings, and the quay starting right before the Casino building. Mamaia, Romania’s most famous seaside resort, is in the Northern part of Constanța. The rest of the town is mainly residential streets of apartment buildings or houses, with green spaces every now and then. I would advise you to book accommodation as close to the old center as possible, to avoid walking around shadier streets at night.
Old city. The oldest buildings in the old center date from the 19th century or the beginning of 20th century, although ancient artifacts might pop out here and there. Enjoy the streets lined with pubs and terraces and end your stroll on the quay or in the many restaurants down in the Tomis Port.
Archaeology Park. Parcul Arheologic Constanța is where you will find an array of columns and fragments of 3rd and 4th century buildings, as well as a 6th century tower. It is located near the Town Hall, right before the old center.
A symbol of beginnings. You will find the Capitoline Wolf all through Romania (e.g. in Bucharest or Sighișoara), standing as a symbol of the Latin origin of its inhabitants. So it’s no surprise that Constanța has one right in the old center. And sometimes, you might even meet the live version of Lupa Capitolina (don’t worry, she was friendly).
Most iconic square. Piața Ovidiu is Constanța’s best known square and meeting place. In its midst stands a statue of Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso), the first major Roman poet, exiled by Emperor Augustus to Tomis in the year 8 AD, where he lived till the end of his life. The bronze stature designed by Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari in 1887 has an exact replica in the town of Sulmona (Italy), the birth pace of the poet.
National History & Archaeology Museum. Muzeul de Istorie Naţională şi Arheologie in Piața Ovidiu holds an impressive collection of Greek, Roman, and Dacian artifacts, illustrating the history of Dobrogea from the Stone Age to modern days.
On the main floor you can find several valuable Greek and Roman sculptures, such as the famous Glykon – The Fantastic Snake (3rd century BC), or Goddess Fortuna and Pontos (protectors of the city).
The section dedicated to communism on the last floor is filled with nostalgia and sad memories of the times that, unfortunately, shaped our personalities in a bad way, and still seem to haunt us.
A Roman mosaic building. Edificiul Roman cu Mozaic next to the National History & Archaeology Museum is a large three-levels complex that once linked the upper town to the harbor. Today, only about a third of the original edifice remains, including more than 9,150 sq ft of mosaics.
The Great Mahmudiye Mosque/Carol I Mosque. Moscheea Mare close to Ovid Square was built in 1910 by King Carol I, and is the seat of the Mufti, the spiritual leader of the 55,000 Muslims of Turkish and Tatar origin living along the coast in the Dobrogea region. Combining Byzantine and Romanian architectural elements, the Mosque is a visible landmark in the old center. Visitors especially enjoy to climb the 140 steps of the 164-ft minaret (tower), for beautiful views of the old center.
Several points of interest are visible from above, such as the house „with Lions” (Casa cu Lei), former residence of the Masonic Lodge in Constanța, the Archaeology Museum, the Tomis Port, the Tomis Archiepiscopate building, and the towers of St. Peter & Paul Orthodox Cathedral and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.
St. Peter & Paul Orthodox Cathedral. Catedrala Sf. Apostol Petru si Pavel was built between 1883 and 1885 in Greco-Roman style, and was restored in 1951, following heavy bombing during WWII. Inner murals feature a combination of neo-Byzantine and Romanian elements (e.g. the iconostasis, pews, chandeliers and candlesticks), all designed by famous Romanian architect Ion Mincu. Near the cathedral, you will notice an archaeological park. This is actually an old Roman neighborhood with well-kept fragments of streets, pavements, sewage systems and dwellings dating from the 4th century BC – 5th century AD.
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Biserica Romano Catolică Sfântul Anton de Padova was built between 1935 and 1937, in the shape of Northern Italy churches, employing the Romanesque style. Both the interior and the exterior are made of apparent brick.
An abandoned casino. Cazinoul din Constanța first opened in 1910, built following the plans of architects, Daniel Renard and Petre Antonescu, in Art Nouveau style with Art-Deco accents. In 1914, it hosted a royal gala on the visit of the Russian Imperial Family to Romania, which was meant to provide an occasion to arrange the marriage of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of the Romanov family and Prince Carol II of Romania. However, the Duchess refused this marriage.
The casino has been closed since 1990 and became heavily deteriorated. Currently, it awaits major restoration works.
The pedestrian area around the Casino building is the city’s most popular promenade, with lovely views over the sea, and a nicely arranged green space on the other side of the promenade.
The town Aquarium is located right across the street from the Casino. It’s a relatively small aquarium, but worth a visit.
The Dolphinarium. Delfinariul din Constanța is located at no. 255 Blvd. Mamaia 255, in the Mamaia resort. Here, you can enjoy daily 30-minute shows, offered at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. It may not seem like something exciting, but the dolphins are actually quite amazing and the experience is great.
The ticket for the Dolphinarium includes the entrance to the Natural Microreservation, which is an amazing place to visit. It is located in a beautiful natural area, including a pond, several bird watching corners and lush vegetation, and allows you to explore a large variety of well-groomed animals, both endemic and exotic. Prepare to spend a couple of hours here, you will have a lot of fun.