Danube-Black Sea Canal

Danube-Black Sea Canal

Geobox River
name = Danube-Black Sea Canal
native_name =
other_name = (Carasu River)
other_name1 =

image_size =
image_caption =
country_type = Countries
state_type =
region_type =
district_type = Counties
city_type = Villages
country = Romania
country1 =
state =
state1 =
region =
region1 =
district = Constanţa County
district1 =
city = Cernavoda,
Ştefan cel Mare,
Mircea Vodă,
Poarta Albă,
North Branch (Carasu Canal)
South Branch (Agigea Canal)
city1 =
length = 67
watershed = 1031
discharge_location =
discharge =
discharge_max =
discharge_min =
discharge1_location =
discharge1 =
source_name =
source_location =
source_district =
source_region =
source_state =
source_country =
source_lat_d =
source_lat_m =
source_lat_s =
source_lat_NS =
source_long_d =
source_long_m =
source_long_s =
source_long_EW =
source_elevation =
source_length =
mouth_name =Black Sea
mouth_location =Lake Siutghiol and Lake Agigea
mouth_district =
mouth_region =
mouth_state =
mouth_country =
mouth_lat_d =
mouth_lat_m =
mouth_lat_s =
mouth_lat_NS =
mouth_long_d =
mouth_long_m =
mouth_long_s =
mouth_long_EW =
mouth_elevation =
tributary_left = Main Branch
Valea Plantaţiei,
Valea Cişmelei,
Agi Cabul,
Carasu Canal
Valea Adâncă
Agigea Canal
Valea Seacă,
tributary_left1 =
tributary_right = Main Branch
Popa Nica,
Agigea Canal
tributary_right1 =
free = XV.1.10b
free_type = Official River Code

map_size = 250
map_caption =Danube (in blue) and the Canal (in red)

The Danube-Black Sea Canal ( _ro. Canalul Dunăre-Marea Neagră) is a canal in Romania which runs from Cernavodă on the Danube to Agigea (southern arm) and Năvodari (northern arm) on the Black Sea. Administrated from Agigea, it is an important part of the European canal system that links the North Sea to the Black Sea.

The Canal was notorious as the site of labor camps in 1950s Communist Romania, when, at any given time, several tens of thousands political prisoners worked on its excavation. The total number of people used as a workforce for the entire period is unknown, as is the number of people who died in the construction. Work was completed in 1984-1987, more than three decades after camps were disestablished.


The course of the canal follows the course of the former Carasu River. Therefore, hydrographically also has the function of conveying the runoff from a 1031 sq. km. drainage basin to the Black Sea.

The main branch extends from Cernavodă on the Danube to Poarta Albă. On this reach it crosses the localities of Cernavoda, Ştefan cel Mare, Saligny, Mircea Vodă, Medgidia, Castelu, Poarta Albă, Constanţa, On this reach the canal is joined on the left bank by tributaries: Valea Plantaţiei, Valea Cişmelei, Agi Cabul, Castelu and Nisipari. On the left side it is joined by tributaries: Popa Nica, Medgidia, Siminoc and Şerplea

At Poarta Albă the canal bifurcates into two branches.

* The Northern Branch, also called Carasu Branch goes to Lake Siutghiol. It crosses the localities of . On its reach it is joined by tributaries Nazarcea and Valea Adâncă, both from the left bank.

* The Southern Branch, also called Agigea Branch goes to Lake Agigea. It crosses the localities of . On its reach it is joined on the left bank by tributaries Cocoş, Valea Seacă, Potârnichea, Lazu and on the right bank by the Agigea


The main reasons for the building of the canal were to circumvent the Danube Delta, which is difficult to navigate, to shorten the distance to the Black Sea, and several issues related to the loading and unloading of ships.Nicolas Spulber, "The Danube-Black Sea Canal and the Russian Control over the Danube", in "Economic Geography", vol. 30, no.3 (July 1954), pp. 236-245]

In its delta, the Danube is divided into three main branches, none of which is suited to optimal navigation: Chilia branch is the deepest, but its mouths were not stable, which made navigation dangerous; Sulina branch is not deep enough for maritime ships to navigate on it and it also used to be isolated from the railroad system; Sfântul Gheorghe branch is shallow and sinuous.

At the time when decision to build the canal was taken, it was officially announced that works would also serve a secondary purpose, that of land reclamation — with the drainage of marshes in the area. Also during the period, the Danube-Black Sea Canal was advertised as a fast and direct connection between the Soviet Volga-Don Canal and Central Europe.


The 64 km canal reduces the distance by boat from Constanţa to Cernavodă by ca. 400 km.Tibor Iván Berend, "An Economic History of Twentieth-Century Europe", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, pp.155-156] Adrian Cioroianu, "Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc" ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005, Chapter 9.4, pp.300-307] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, [http://www.unece.org/trans/doc/2003/sc3/TRANS-SC3-2003-3E.pdf Inland Transport Committee TRANS/SC.3/2003/3] ] It has a width of 70-90 meters and a depth of 7 metres; the northern arm has a length of 26.6 km, width of 50 m and a depth of 5.5 metres. The radius of its sharpest bends is 3 km.The waterway passes through the towns of Medgidia and Murfatlar, both of which have been turned into inland ports. It was designed to facilitate the transit of convoys comprising as much as six towed barges (ships of up to 5,000 in tonnage, as long as 138 meters and with as much as 16.8 meters in beam and 5.5 meters in draft can also pass through the canal). The structure is bound by locks (in Cernavodă and Agigea respectively).

In its final phase, the canal took over nine years to construct; 300 million m³ of soil were excavated (greater than the amount involved in building the Panama and Suez canals),David Turnock, "The Danube-Black Sea Canal and its impact on Southern Romania", in "Geo Journal" 12:1 (1986), pp.65–79] and 3.6 million m³ of concrete were used for the locks and support walls.



The earliest plans for building this canal were created ca. 1840-1845 (when the vision of Scottish diplomat David Urquhart possibly inspired the Moldavian scholar Ion Ionescu de la Brad). [http://www.ziua.net/display.php?id=195457&data=2006-03-11 Valentin Hossu-Longin, "Procesul Canalului Morţii" ("The Trial of the Death Canal")] , in "Ziua", March 11, 2006] Following the building of a railway connection in 1860, goods were easily and inexpensively transported from Constanţa by railroad, so plans for a canal were abandoned. Another project was consequently rejected by King Carol I after consultations with Grigore Antipa. During World War I, Austro-Hungarian authorities taking part in the occupation of southern Romania proposed a canal from Cernavodă to Constanţa, passing through Murfatlar, of which 10 miles would be in a tunnel (Cernavodă-Murfatlar) and the rest of 27 miles would be in the open.

In 1927, the Romanian engineer Jean Stoenescu-Dunăre drafted a new set of plans; because of the Great Depression, World War II, and political turmoil in Romania ("see Romania during World War II"), construction did not begin until 1949, after the establishment of a Romanian Communist regime.

Creation of the camps

The decision to build the Danube-Black Sea Canal was taken on May 25, 1949 by the Politburo of the Romanian Workers' Party and the Petru Groza executive.Vladimir Socor, [http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/53-6-1.shtml "The Danube-Black Sea Canal: A Graveyard Revisited"] , on Radio Free Europe, August 31, 1984] The document specified:

"in accordance with art [icle] 72 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Romania, the Council of Ministers decides: art [icle] 1 — preparatory work on the Danube-Black Sea Canal to begin."

A version of events, supported on one occasion by the Romanian leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and made popular through the literary works of Marin Preda, credited Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin with the idea for the Canal — a project which was supposedly based on the Gulag [Tismăneanu, p.139] (Communist leader Ana Pauker, who, like her collaborator Vasile Luca, opposed the project, told her family that Stalin personally "proposed" the Canal in late 1948).Robert Levy, "Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist", University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001, pp.88-89 ISBN 0-520-23747-1] The legal framework for unfree labor was set up in 1950, when a decree passed by the Great National Assembly introduced it as a measure for the "reeducation of hostile elements", and when the new Labor Code allowed the executive to requisition workforce for various political purposes. In its original form, the project was meant to result in the third-largest canal ever built (after the Panama and the Suez Canals). [http://www.jurnalul.ro/articol_37190/basmele_canalului.html Cristina Arvatu, Ilarion Ţiu, "Basmele Canalului" ("Fairy Tales of the Canal")] , in "Jurnalul Naţional", September 26, 2006]

In October 1949, the authorities established a General Directorate to oversee both the works and the penal facilities, answering directly to the national leadership. Its first head was the engineer Gheorghe Hossu, replaced in 1951 by Meyer Grünberg, in turn replaced by Vasile Posteucă (who held the position in 1952-1953). According to historian Adrian Cioroianu, all three were insufficiently trained for the task they were required to accomplish. By 1952, the Directorate came under the direct supervision of the Internal Affairs Ministry, and the Securitate was allowed direct intervention on the construction site.

Forced labor and repression

Prison camps sprang up all along the projected canal route in the summer of 1949 and were quickly filled with political prisoners brought from jails from throughout the country. These first arrivals were soon joined by newly arrested people who were sent to the canal in ever increasing numbers. By 1950 the forced labor camps set up along the length of the planned canal were filled to capacity; that year alone, 40,000 prisoners were held in those camps. [http://www.memorialsighet.ro/en/sala.asp?id=8 "The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance"] , page for Room 17, Forced Labor] By 1953, the number of prisoners had swelled to 60,000 [http://jcgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,818727,00.html "Unfinished Canal"] , in "Time", August 24, 1953] (other sources indicate 100,000 or 40,000 for the entire period). British historian and New York University professor Tony Judt claims in his book, "", as recorded in a 2005 review:

"At the time, an estimated 1 million Romanians were imprisoned in dire conditions or engaged in often deadly slave labor, digging out the Danube-Black Sea Canal." [http://www.time.com/time/europe/magazine/article/0,13005,901051212-1137619,00.html James Graff, "Continental Shifts"] , in "Time", December 4, 2005]

The construction effort surpassed the resources available to the Romanian economy in the 1950s. The canal was assigned inferior machinery, part of which had already been used on the Soviet Volga-Don Canal, and building had to rely on primitive techniques (most work appears to have been carried out using shovels and pickaxes, which was especially hard in the rocky terrain of Northern Dobruja). Detainees were allocated to brigades, usually run by common criminals — encouraged to use violence against their subordinates. In parallel, the region's industrialization, destined to assist in the building effort, was never accomplished.

Sums allocated for prisoner health, hygiene and nutrition declined dramatically over the years. Food rations were kept to a minimum, and prisoners would often resort to hunting mice and other small animals, or even consuming grass in an attempt to supplement their diet.

The prisoners comprised dispossessed farmers who had attempted to resist collectivization, former activists of the National Peasants' Party, the National Liberal Party, the Romanian Social Democratic Party, and the fascist Iron Guard, Zionist Jews, as well as Orthodox and Catholic priests. [http://ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1954_10_EastEurope.pdf Joseph Gordon, "Eastern Europe: Romania (1954)", p.299-301] , at the American Jewish Committee] The canal was referred to as the "graveyard of the Romanian bourgeoisie" by the Communist authorities, and the physical elimination of undesirable social classes was one of its most significant goals. [Tismăneanu, p.36]

One estimate places at over 200,000 the number of people who died as a result of exposure, unsafe equipment, malnutrition, accidents, tuberculosis and other diseases, over-work, etc., of those working on the project between 1949 to 1953.Anne Applebaum, [http://forejustice.org/wc/gulag_applebaum.html "Gulag: A History"] , Doubleday, 2003, review by Hans Sherrer for "Justice:Denied" (March 20, 2005)] More conservative estimates place the number at "considerably in excess of 10,000". As such, the project became known as the "Death Canal" ("Canalul Morţii"). It has also been called "a cloaca of immense human suffering and mortality". [http://digital.library.upenn.edu/ebooks-public/pdfs/0195119924.pdf Joseph Rothschild, Nancy Meriwether Wingfield, "Return to diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II"] , Oxford University Press, New York, 1999, p.161 ISBN 0-19-511993-2]

In parallel, authorities left aside sectors of employment for skilled workers — kept in strict isolation from all others, they were attracted to the site with exceptional salaries (over 5,000 lei per month), as well as for young people drafted in the Romanian Army and whose files indicated "unhealthy origins" (a middle-class family background). Their numbers fluctuated greatly (regular employees went from 13,200 in 1950 to 15,000 in 1951, to as little as 7,000 in early 1952, and again to 12,500 later in that year). At the same time, facilities meant to accommodate the projected influx of labor (including homes available on credit) were never actually completed. This was overlooked by the propaganda machine, which instead furnished Stakhanovite stories, according to which work quotas were surpassed by as much as 170%. Authorities also made the claim that the construction site was offering training to previously unskilled workers (as many as 10,000 in one official communiqué).


Blame for the debilitating and unsuccessful works was eventually placed on a group of alleged conspirators, who were indicted in a show trial (late 1952) — they faced various trumped-up charges (espionage, fraud, sabotage, and the political crime of Zionism), in connection with a review of policies following Gheorghiu-Dej's maneuver against Ana Pauker. The inquiry was orchestrated by Iosif Chişinevschi.

Three people were executed (the engine driver Nichita Dumitrescu, and the engineers Aurel Rozei-Rozenberg and Nicolae Vasilescu-Colorado); others were imprisoned for various terms. Defendants in a second group, around the engineer Gheorghe Crăciun, were sentenced to various harsh penalties (including three life imprisonments). Torture was applied by a Securitate squad led by Alexandru Nicolschi, as a means to obtain forced confessions.


On July 18, 1953, the project came to a discreet halt, all work being suspended for another 23 years [Tismăneanu, p.139, 300] (according to some sources, the closure had been ordered by Stalin himself, as early as 1952). The canal camps remained in existence for another year, and their prisoners progressively relocated, to similar conditions at other work sites in Northern Dobruja. Penal facilities on the canal site were shut down in mid-1954.

In 1976, the project was restarted by Nicolae Ceauşescu, who had previously ordered the rehabilitation of people sentenced in the 1952 trial, and who aimed to withdraw the Lower Danube from Soviet control (which had been consecrated by the 1948 Danube Conference). In official propaganda, where the 1950s precedent was no longer mentioned, the canal was referred to as the "Blue Highway" ("Magistrala Albastră"). New and large machinery, produced inside Romania, was introduced to the site. The southern arm was completed in 1984 (delayed by poor quality in construction), with the northern arm being inaugurated in 1987.

The cost of building the canal is estimated to be around 2 billion United States dollars, and was supposed to be recovered in 50 years. However, as of 2005, it has a yearly profit of only a little over 3 million euros. [ [http://www.hotnews.ro/articol_23177-Canalul-Dunare-Marea-Neagra-isi-va-scoate-banii-in-633-de-ani.htm Marian Cosor, "Canalul Dunăre-Marea Neagră îşi va scoate banii în 633 de ani" ("The Danube-Black Sea Canal Will Absorb Its Construction Cost in 633 Years")] , on Radio Constanţa, May 26, 2005]

In art

For much of the 1950s, the Danube-Black Sea Canal was celebrated in agitprop literature (notably, in Geo Bogza's 1950 reportage "Începutul epopeii", "The Beginning of the Epic", and in Petru Dumitriu's "Drum fără pulbere", "Dustless Road"), music (Leon Klepper's symphonic poem "Dunărea se varsă în mare", "The Danube Flows to the Sea"), and film (Ion Bostan's 1951 "Canalul Dunăre-Marea Neagră, o construcţie a păcii" - "The Danube-Black Sea Canal, a Construction of Peace"). During the 1980s, the song "Magistrala Albastră", performed by Dan Spătaru and Mirabela Dauer and using the Canal as its setting, was frequently broadcast in official and semi-official contexts.

During the period of liberalization preceding the "July Theses", literature was allowed to make several references to the Canal's penitentiary history. Examples include Marin Preda's "Cel mai iubit dintre pământeni" and, most likely, Eugen Barbu's "Principele" (by means of an allegory, set during the 18th century Phanariote rules).Dennis Deletant, "Ceauşescu and the Securitate: Coercion and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1989", M.E. Sharpe, London, 1995, p.182 ISBN 1563246333] In 1973-1974, Ion Cârja, a former prisoner, wrote a book titled "Canalul morţii", detailing his sufferings during incarceration; it was first published in Romania in 1993, after the Revolution of 1989.

Inmates of the labor camps

*Arsenie Boca
*Matei Boilă
*Barbu Brezianu
*George Matei Cantacuzino
*Ion Caraion
*Ion Cârja
*Andrei Ciurunga
*Corneliu Coposu
*Gheorghe Cristescu
*Constantin Galeriu
*Şerban Ghica
*Pyotr Leshchenko
*Ovidiu Papadima
*Aurel Popa
*Ştefan Radof
*Toma Spătaru
*Richard Wurmbrand
*Sabina Wurmbrand


* Administraţia Naţională Apelor Române - Cadastrul Apelor - Bucureşti
* Institutul de Meteorologie şi Hidrologie - Rîurile României - Bucureşti 1972
* Cursuri de apă din judeţul Constanţa înscrise în Cadastrul Apelor din România [http://www.prefectura-ct.ro/downloads/cursuri_ape.doc]
*Vladimir Tismăneanu, "Stalinism for All Seasons: A Political History of Romanian Communism", University of California Press, Berkeley, 2003, ISBN 0-52-023747-1
* Trasee turistice - judeţul Constanţa [http://www.e-calauza.ro/index.php?afiseaza=trasee-turistice-constanta]


* Harta Judeţului Constanţa [http://www.harta-turistica.ro/map.php?ID=31]

External links

* [http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&t=k&om=1&ll=44.197959,28.398285&spn=0.431238,0.925598 The canal on Google maps]
* [http://www.memoria.ro/?location=view_article&id=1495 Aurel Popa, "Sub semnul gulagului" ("Under the sign of the Gulag"), memoirs, at "Memoria.ro"]

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