When in Romania’s largest port city on the Black Sea, it doesn’t take long to realize Constanţa is all about its Roman past and its current architecture. Founded as Tomis by ancient Greeks in the 6th century B.C., it was conquered by the Romans about 20 B.C. and named by Emperor Constantine the Great after his sister.
Today, the city’s Roman era comes alive with the Roman Mosaic, an elaborately patterned mosaic floor dating back to the 4th century A.D. “They found it by mistake,” says Diana Slav, a tour guide with Constanta Free Tours. “That’s how they discovered the rest of the stones nearby that were part of thermal baths. They’re trying to restore that area to be another archeological park.”
And just a stone’s throw across Ovid Square named after the Latin poet, in early 20th century neo-Romanian style architecture, are many artifacts dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times in the Museum of National History and Archeology. They include centuries-old, well preserved sculpted marble pieces of Roman gods, while broken marble columns, giant urns and vases, elaborately carved sarcophagi and other pieces are in small protected courtyard area. Similar pieces sit toward the city center in the city’s Archeological Park.
Other highlights include the Grand Mosque of Constanta or Great Mosque Carol, named after Romanian King Carol who built the mosque out of respect for the city’s Muslim community. Climbing 140 steps up a spiral stairwell to the top of the minaret leads to widespread views of Old Town to the Black Sea. The neo-byzantine style Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Cathedral has an array of painted icons within its nave. Along the esplanade on the shores of the Black Sea sits one of the city’s landmarks, the iconic Art Nouveau Casino, now abandoned but under consideration for restoration, and shaded gazebos and lookouts to gaze upon the port and scenic vistas.
Once a bank, restaurant and even a cabaret, the Genovese architectural style House with Lions is very impressive, getting its name from the four lion statues atop its front columns. “The lions symbolize power,” explains Slav. “This was a rendezvous place, and in the evening in order not to be seen by the wives, they used to take the ladies from the cabaret through the entrance on the other side.”
Constanţa is just a 10-15 minute drive or taxi ride from Mamaia, Romania’s most popular resort town along the Black Sea. Situated on a thin sliver of land five miles long, its many beachfront hotels and resorts fill up during the warm summer months.
Constanţa Free Tour
I recommend signing up for this free tour. Diana Slav is an excellent, energetic and knowledgeable tour guide who led our group on a two-hour tour of the city, sharing tales from ancient Roman history to present day ghost stories.