Colour print, with short title to verso written in manuscript in Ottoman Turkish, in blue crayon (Very Good, overall clean and crisp, just some light even toning, old clean folds, old tack holes in upper and lower blank margins, old manuscript itinerary line in black ink) 88.5 x 76 cm (35 x 30 inches).
This seemingly unrecorded, large format, separately issued city plan showcases Constanța, then an ethnically diverse and fast-growing city that was Romania’s leading port, as well as one of Europe’s key oil/petroleum depots. The city is shown here in 1915, during the twilight of period of great prosperity, and just before it was captured by the Central Powers in the fall of 1916, during World War I. The map predicated upon the most recent official surveys conducted by Iaon Dobrescu, Constanța’s chief municipal engineer, depicts the city at the large scale of 1:5000.
Constanța, named in Medieval times for ‘Constantia’, the sister of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, was traditionally a small but strategically important harbour and military garrison in the Dobruja region, along the western littoral of the Black Sea. From 1419 it was part of the Ottoman Empire and was home to a diverse population of ethnic Romanians, Bulgarians, Russians, Armenians, Jews and Turkish Muslims, who lived together in relative harmony.
In 1860, Constanța was connected to Cernavodă, on the Danube, by a railway, triggering a great boom in economic growth and infrastructure development. In 1878, Constanța and the surrounding Northern Dobruja region became part of an independent Romania, upon which the city became the country’s leading port and trading nexus. Notably, Romania was on its way to becoming one of Europe’s leading oil producers (petroleum was discovered there in 1857), and Constanța emerged as one of continent’s great oil depots. The port was extensively redeveloped by 1900, while the railway system was radically upgraded by 1909. In 1915, the city had a population exceeding 35,000.
The present map captures Constanța is amazing detail, labelling every street and outlining and naming all major buildings, while the ‘Legenda’, in the lower left corner, explains the colour coding to designate land use. The old town, perched upon a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by bluffs, features grand public edifices; the Cathedral; the great mosque; the Armenian Church; numerous named hotels and the splendid Art Nouveau casino (completed in 1910). To the left, on reclaimed land is the burgeoning port, with its grand quays, rail termini, warehouses and extensive petroleum facilities. To the north are the rapidly expanding suburbs, with include numerous army barracks (indicative of Constanța’s key military role), as well as the cemeteries of various faiths, including the Christian grounds (with areas for different sects), as well as the Jewish and Muslim grounds.
Sadly, Constanța’s heydays were by this time numbered. Romania entered World War I on the Entente side on August 27, 1916, with its main ally in the region being Russia. Romania was opposed by the combined forces of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Germany. In the fall of 1916, the Russian-Romanian lines along the Dobruja Front collapsed and the Central Powers surged northward, taking Constanța on October 22, 1916. While the city was spared from major damage, the occupation devastated both the local and general Romanian economies. Romania recovered Constanța towards the end of the war in the fall 1918, and during the 1920s the city once again enjoyed a period of prosperity, as over half of the country’s trade flowed through its port.
Interestingly, the present example of the map features the short title written in Ottoman Turkish in blue crayon to the verso, suggesting that it may have been used by Ottoman forces during the Central Powers’ occupation of the city from 1916 to 1918.
The present map is exceedingly rare; indeed, we have not been able to trace even a reference to the map, let alone the location of another example. While the map does not feature an imprint, its style and high production quality suggests that it was likely issued in Bucharest. Of relevance we are aware of another large format plan of the city by Ioan Dobrescu, Plan General al Orașului Constanța, which is noted as being of the ‘Second Edition’, printed in 1921, although its style suggests that is was issued by a different publisher than the present work.
References: N / A – Seemingly Unrecorded. Cf. [re: 1921 Dobrescu plan:] Library of Congress: G6884.C65 1921 .D6 / OCLC: 5448628.