The Romanian Principalities found the path to modernization in the first half of the 19th century
Under Ottoman influence for several centuries, the Romanian Principalities had been looking for and eventually found a new path in the first half of the 19th century. It was the path to modernization and Europeanization. Europe’s geopolitical history of the first half of the 19th century created the context for the Western ideas and the determination of elites to lead to the emergence of the Romanian state. Two of the powerful ideas of the time were: to put the Danube River at the center of the European community and to expand the West towards the East. People travelled by ship on the Danube between Vienna and Constantinople and that widened their horizon, realizing that commercial transport on the big river was profitable.
The historian Constantin Ardeleanu is the author of the book “A cruise from Vienna to Constantinople. Travelers, spaces, images, 1830-1860”. It is a book of history viewed through the eyes of those who traveled on the route between the two great empires, the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires.
How did the Romanian society receive the changes from the West, the technological innovations, is the first question to which historian Constantin Ardeleanu answered: “I would say that the Romanian society received those changes with openness. And with fear, initially, but also with a good understanding of the usefulness of those modern technologies. The Romanian space got connected to travel routes in Europe after the introduction of steam navigation on the river. This happened as of the 1830s and the symbolic moment was April 1834, when the first steamer, belonging to the first Austrian steam navigation company, arrived in a Romanian port. A reception ceremony was held, the Romanian elites quickly embraced the innovation, which they knew of from their travels abroad, and made full use of it equally to the West, to Vienna, and from there to the rest of Western Europe, through Constantinople, to the east and to the Holy Land, to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. However, for the ordinary people, that terrible invention was hard to understand, but they were aware of it. And this was because the ship and its modern technology had a specific form of territoriality.”
The Danube was, undoubtedly, the axis of modernization for Romanians. This is how it was seen at the time, and although almost two centuries have passed since then, its current importance has remained intact. Here is historian Constantin Ardeleanu with more details: “This relationship with the Danube is very important, it was the first natural highway that connected us to the world. Undoubtedly, it needed some changes that were made both in the Iron Gates area and the Danube Delta area, in order to ensure the function of pan-European waterway. It was the Austrian company DDSG (Donau-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft) that came to introduce these lines between Vienna and Constantinople as part of an investment meant to connect the south-east of Europe. I was saying that the Danube was the main waterway that connected the Romanians to the world, hence the name ‘the Danube Principalities’ given to the Romanian Principalities. When this term was concocted, Serbia was also included in the Danube Principalities, but later, during the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the name ‘the Danube Principalities’ was used almost exclusively for Muntenia – Wallachia and Moldavia."
1830-1860 is the period chosen by Constantin Ardeleanu to imagine a journey on the Danube from Vienna to Constantinople. We asked him why he chose this period: “This period represents the start and the apogee of this Danube route between Vienna and Constantinople. 1830 is the year when the Austrian company, in British partnership, introduced a line on the Danube between Vienna and Budapest. This is how the connection of the Habsburg space through the Danube waterway started. Then steam navigation on the Danube was introduced, which reached the Romanian space in 1834, as I already said. 1860 was a year in which railway competition became increasingly important. The waterway went into decline with the introduction of the railways into the Habsburg space first. Starting with this decade of the 1860s, the same happened in the Romanian space. In 1860, the first railway in the Romanian space was built in the Danube Delta area, namely the railway from Cernavoda to Constanța, which in a way short-circuited the Danube route. Travelers no longer needed to make a detour through Brăila and Galați, thus saving a few days. A new rush to speed up the process began, after reducing the travel time between Vienna and Constantinople and other destinations."
You may wonder who was traveling on the Danube? There were several types of travelers. First, there were the merchants and the military, the oldest travelers, the most adventurous spirits ever. Then there were the spiritual pilgrims to Mount Athos and to the holy lands of Jerusalem and Palestine. But there also emerged a new category, the tourists. The rich people wanted to discover the world and thus boarded on ships that took them across the Danube to the wide world. A cruise on the Danube from Vienna to Constantinople in the 19th century also brought them to Romania, which immediately adopted the models of the time. (LS)