Two landmarks of Giurgiu City lie in the central area of the city: the stately Clock Tower, formerly used as a fire lookout tower and now hosting exhibitions, and, close to it, the traces of Mircea the Old’s Fortress, a testimony to the past.
Photo credit: (c) Camelia BIGAN / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
‘The Clock Tower in the Union Square of Giurgiu City dates back to the late 18th century, the time of the Ottoman conquest. At the time, the Ottomans built a fire lookout tower of stone, 22 m high, to look out over the environs. Very few people know that from its basement, a network of tunnels and arcades emerges that lead to various parts of the city, particularly the banks of the river Danube, for easy to understand reasons. Some of the tunnels have survived,’ former head of the Giurgiu County Museum Petre Mimis tells AGERPRES.
The tower was used as an observatory, a guarding point and a fire lookout tower and only after the Ottomans were chased away the structure underwent modifications and a clock was added to it.
The uniqueness and charm of the place around the Clock Tower in the past was given by the fact that the entire street network of the city was starting from here radially. The monument was right in the centre of the city, surrounded by a big park shaped like a dish made up of linden trees exclusively. The park, which has partially survived, was known as the ‘dish with linden trees,’ and because of this architectural uniqueness, the city of Giurgiu was nicknamed ‘the Sun city.’ Tracing the radial network of streets was the work of architect Moritz von Otto in 1831. After the design of the network of streets, the Trinity Church and some wonderful houses were added. Because construction materials were hard to find in this lowland area, the streets of the city were paved using stone from the walls of Mircea the Old’s Fortress and from the Danube.
In late 20th century, the Clock Tower started to lean in, much as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Because after two hundred years of history it was in danger of collapsing, historians and city leaders decided to re-consolidate it, which happened in 2005-2007.
Because the Clock Tower is a historical monument of national and universal value, it has been featured on the Giurgiu County’s coat of arms.
Just hundreds of metres away form the Clock Tower, toward the banks of the Danube, in an area prone to frequent flooding, near the St. George Canal, there is another historical venue of the city where visible are traces of Mircea the Old’s Fortress.
‘According to legends, the name of the city of Giurgiu would be related to the name of a Transylvanian shepherd, who, coming to the Danube meadows for pasturing, would have freed from the hands of Ottoman soldiers several groups of prisoners who were about to be moved to the Ottoman Empire to be sold as slaves or servants. The freed people set camp in the Danube meadow, establishing a burg that was named after their saviour, San Giorgio. Another legend has it that the name of the city comes from the St. George Island, where Genoese traders allegedly stopped to build a small trade vanguard, a fortress on the island. The Genoese apparently built a bank first and a marketplace for silk and velvet. The settlement was called San Giorgio (St. George) after the name of the Genoese saint patron, which today is also the saint patron of Giurgiu City,’ Mimis explains.
More recently, traces of a human settlement dating back to the Mesolithic (10-7 millenia BC) have been unearthed.
Historians say that the first written record of the city was an indirect mention of it in the 1349 Codex Latinus Parisinus, under the rule of Mircea the Old as Zorio.
The first sure written record of the city of Giurgiu was made on September 23, 1403, in an official document: a treaty issued by the Chancellery of Wallachia, concluded between ruler Mircea the Old and Poland’s King Wladyslaw Jagiello. Conquered by the Ottomans in 1420 to control Danube traffic, Giurgiu was turned into an Ottoman settlement for 400 years known as ‘Yergoiu.’ A walled fortress, Giurgiu played an important part in the wars between Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire for control over the Danube under the rule of Michael the Brave, but also during the Russo-Turkish wars. In 1659, Giurgiu was burned to the ground for the first time, and in 1829 the walls and fortifications greatly damaged by bombings were completely destroyed by the Russian armies.
Left standing today of Mircea the Old’s Fortress are the traces of the walls, but the place has been protected and set apart by a protection wall. The city is considering a European project to capitalise on the fortress. For the people of Giurgiu and visitors, there is another project being designed, a park with a lake for leisure activities.
‘The city is considering a European project to rehabilitate Mircea the Old’s Fortress under which the fortress will not necessarily be rebuilt, but it will be showcased by building a floodlit gangway where tourists accompanied by guides will learn about the history of the place, while archaeologists may continue their research at the base of the walls, undisturbedly,’ Giurgiu City Mayor Nicolae Barbu says.AGERPRES