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Constanta, July 25 / Agerpres / - 'No matter what country I might have reached, no matter what life forms would have surrounded me, my mind, and then my entire being , would return time and again to Dobrogea, to her dust and thorns, to her steppe wind, her telluric and generous face. Wherever I might have found myself, my longing for her would catch up with me in the end. (...) Dobrogea! Dobrogea! This weird girl, the daughter of a Getic king and a Tartar female dancer, I had loved since the time she walked barefoot on soil.' (Geo Bogza. 'Views and feelings')
Dobrogea, the realm between the Danube and the Black Sea, is so full of contrasts; equally harsh and dry, fecund and fertile, desert-like, deltaic and rocky, aquatic and terrestrial, all that paradoxically imbues Plato's allegory of the cave with the valences of a temporary synergy that marriages past, present and future, for what other significance can the ancient legend of the Ciris Cave have?
The past is recorded in the annals. Dio Cassius, in his 'Roman History' mentions the people of an entire fortress that allegedly sought salvation from Romans by losing their traces in a mythical cave called Ciris, somewhere in Schithya Minor.
In 29-28 BC, Roman proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus started an expedition as head of an army to Moesia Inferior to punish and conquer the Dacians led by Dapyx, a brave king and the successor of Burebista. The claim was that a local tribal chieftain named Roles, subjected to Rome but in conflict with Dapyx had to be helped. In fact, Marcus Licinius wanted to recover the lost battle flags of Caius Antonius in the battle of the Genucla Fortress, near Histria, and thus to wash away some older shame, because Zyraxes, the military leader who defeated the Romans at Genucla, was an ally of King Dapyx. In fact, the Roman Empire was trying to win full control over the Dacians south of the Danube, their riches, gold, cattle, grain and slaves. Dio Cassius says clearly that Licinius spared no one, irrespective of personal attitudes towards the empire. There was no forgiveness or leniency, and 'the barbarians,' as Dacians were labelled, had to be killed and burned down. Dapyx died a hero battling against the 'civilising' Romans, and the city of Zyraxes was itself conquered after a betrayal. Scared of the wrath that came upon them, the Dacians, the Roman historian says, gathered what they could and fled underground, along with women, children and their elders through the mouth of a cave also designed as a place of worship complete with totems at the entrance. They took the grain away with them into the depths of the cave, according to historian Dio Cassius, along with sheep, goats, cows, gold and jewels, as they made the dark galleries of the Ciris Cave their home. Crassus is said to have sought out all the entrances to the cave, which were tortuous and difficult to discover and walled them up, thus turning the saving haven into a huge tomb for the people who sought their salvation underground. Historians also mention that in order to recover the riches the Dacians had hidden in the cave and to catch as many slaves as possible the Romans would have opened the cave to smoke out the survivors. None of the refugees would be found . So, the legend of the mythical Ciris Cave has survived in today's Dobrogea telling of how the oppressed found salvation, walking all the way to another realm, like through a two-way passageway. Some claim the Ciris Cave had secret exits to today's Bulgaria, others claim the cave had galleries extending all the way to Byzantium. Paradoxically or not, the same story is found in Bulgaria as well, in settlements at the border between Romania and Bulgaria, where treasure hunters, archaeologists, tourists and adventure enthusiasts are seen intermingling. Local legends have it that the cave is a gateway to the world beyond death.
Archaeologist Vasile Boroneant, one of the historians fascinated by this mystery, has located the Ciris Cave at Limanu, which labyrinthine cave was aptly called 'at the icons,' after the discovery there of incisions, charcoal drawings and carved idols as well as traces of life forms dating back to the Neolithic and some possibly to the times of the Dacians. The Limanu Cave is an underground labyrinth, whose exact length is not known yet, as only 3.2 km of its galleries and corridors have been mapped. Traces of human living, carved walls and ceilings, furnished rooms, alcoves for rush lights have been discovered here, and there is evidence of the early inhabitants of the cave having used a marking system to avoid getting lost. Drawings and inscriptions in Roman and Cyrillic alphabets on the walls prove the cave was inhabited between 1st century BC and 10th century AD. Of special interest are the drawings of horse riders; horses seen from one side are drawn galloping, and the faces of the riders are seen from the front. Their silhouette and presentation strikingly resemble those of Dacian riders depicted on pottery discovered in many settlements in the area inhabited by Thraco-Dacians. The earliest drawings are very likely from the apex of the Geto-Dacian culture, the time when archaeologists also say the cave was furnished as well. Other drawings - Christian religious symbols, letters or words in the Cyrillic alphabet - belong to the Roman-Byzantine period and the subsequent times, and they are evidence that the Limanu Cave was a shelter for the local population until later, 10th-11th centuries AD - as Ph.D. Boroneant mentions in his works.
'Of all the caves of Dobrogea, the Limanu is the only one that comes closest to Dio Cassius' description of the legendary Ciris. It is the only one able to justify the deployment of a Roman army to besiege a place of refuge. Surveys have revealed archaeological material proving that the cave was inhabited by local Dacians even in that era. Existing evidence allows us to assume that the maze of Limanu was ordered by a local Geto-Dacian authority as a defence measure against the Roman danger. The account of Dio Cassius shows that the cave was a place of refuge, purposefully chosen and furbished, not some adventitious cavern,' Ph.D. Boroneant writes in his 'Labirintul subteran de la Limanu' (The Underground Labyrinth of Limanu).
Local stories mention strange and frightening wails coming from the depths of the earth, with those who hear them becoming mesmerised and starting looking for the voice. It is said that the voice would be the voice of the entrance guardian who wants to lure in the profane and make them blasphemously tread on the sacred earth of Zamolxis. Moreover, a mystery was woven concerning the interpretation of images displayed by fallen boulders at the entrance to the cave, which should be the faces carved in stone of Zamolxis, whose spirit guards the entrance to the sacred realm until the Dacian ancestors come back from the abyss.
A scientific explanation for these strange sounds provided by speleologists is that the eerie wails are produced by the wind that sweeps through many underground galleries at Limanu, a noise that apparently affects the human psyche.
From a geological point of view, the Limanu Cave, 4,000 metres long, is the longest cave in Dobrogea. It has a dizzying branching of galleries, like the street network of an unorganised ancient city chaotically developed. Hence the impression of an underground city. Some galleries that have a rectangular, very regular section, seem to have been carved by humans. Some sectors of the galleries were indeed carved by humans, as signs of chiselling are visible. In order to avoid the collapse of ceilings, supporting walls and pillars were built in limestone slabs. The cave's morphology is specific of caves with a horizontal stratification developed in Sarmatian limestone in the form of tabular structures. In an easily accessible area, Hellenistic pottery and rush lights were discovered, indicating that residents of Callatis nearly two millennia ago carved altars here, where they would come to worship god Mithras. It is clear however that with the spread of Christianity in the 10th century attempts were made for the conversion of the Limanu Cave into a Christian place of worship.
In his turn, historian Constantin Daicoviciu says the mythical Ciris Cave should be in the Dobrogea Mouth reserve, on the Casimcea Plateau, a hypothesis also shared by Vasile Parvan. There, in the Cave of Bats, also called the Mouth of Dobrogea, covering 5 hectares, an arrangement of several galleries with three access holes, various evidence of human presence has been certified including Paleolithic and Neolithic flint tools, Neolithic pottery shards, as well as more recent objects of metal belonging to the Iron Age. Most galleries and rooms of the cave are inhabited by colonies of bats roosting in summer and hibernating in winter that belong to the Mediterranean species Rhinolophus mehelyi and Myotis mistacinus. Also in the area are the caves At Adam's and St. Ioan Cassian.
Local legends have created a special aura for the cave Canaraua Fetei, the Girl's Canyon, bestowing on it all the attributes worthy of the Ciris Cave's fame as an underground realm for escaping to another world in time of tribulation. Considered by geologists as the quintessential Romanian canyon, with walls of limestone up to 40 meters tall, peppered with cracks, niches, grottoes and caves, the Girl's Canyon fauna and flora reserve covers 170 hectares at the south-western border of Constanta County.
At every step, tourists amazingly discover xerophilous oak forests, silver limes, mahaleb cherries, lilac bushes, dwarf Russian almond trees, yellow bedstraws, red and white-azure saffron, bluish irises, peonies and shrub broom. Keen eyes can easily distinguish on cliff tops white Egyptian vultures peacefully nesting there or sneaking up on foxes in the evening. In the coolness of the evening, in the quiet and generous valley of the canyon, fallow deer majestically appear moving at a cadence that can scare away even the horned viper. Elders from the neighbour villages of Dumbraveni and Olteni still mention stories from their parents, such as the one according to which an ancient branch of the Danube River would have crossed the area and the rushing water would have dug the local caves with many galleries and exits. Locals are said to have hidden their wives and virgin girls in the Girl's Canyon Cave when the Ottomans invaded the province.
The hiding place was allegedly discovered in the end, and in order to avoid being kidnapped several of the girls allegedly hurled themselves down from the rocks, thus paying with their lives their spotless honour.
Also at the Girl's Canyon, a paleo-Christian monastery was carved in the vertical chalky walls, of an unreal beauty, far from prying eyes. The monastic settlement in the cave was inhabited in two stages: a first stage in the 4th-7th centuries AD and the second stage in the early Middle Ages (the 9th-10th centuries), with the site very much resembling the monastic place of Basarabi. The relics of two unknown monks have been discovered here, along with three tombs long ago plundered.
Locals say that in the bleak past there used to be drawings and inscriptions in unknown languages (probably proto-Bulgarian runes) carved in the limestone walls of the two small churches inside the cave. Even coins from the times of Roman Emperor Constance (4th century AD), son of Constantine the Great, were discovered here.
The caves of Dumbraveni in the Girl's Canyon, near the plateau where the battle between Dacians and Romans was fought at Adamclisi used to be places of heathen worship long before the coming of the first Christian monks and the even housed an altar to god Zamolxis.
Another story about the monastic complex here talk about a long corridor, dug under the rocks all the way to the Fortress Tropaeum Traianifortress of Adamclisi, or that by night, the local monks of the Girl's Canyon would turn into outlaws pillaging the households of Turks and kidnapping their wives and daughters. AGERPRES
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