The Golden Horn

The Danube is the second-largest river in Europe and the only one flowing from West to East on the continent. Its final destination is the Black Sea, but at the point where it enters the sea, the river forms one of the most amazing places in Europe: The Danube Delta, which houses an endemic flora and fauna. The Danube enters Romania through Bazias and travels for 1075 km before flowing into the Black Sea. Somewhere along its course, between Salcia and Clafat, the river makes a big turn – a curve that the Ancients used to call “the golden horn” because crops would always grow here unlike anywhere else along this river’s path.

The Danube played an important role in the history of the Romanian nation, starting from the distant days of Roman conquest and even before that. Upon the currents of this river, these ancient lands received the influence of Greek culture (which the Romans couldn’t completely eliminate during their occupation). They also received Byzantine protection and Christianity, along with the Latin language that still offers Romanians their Latin-derived identity today. As witnesses to this history, there are remains of the Apollodor’s Bridge over the Danube, which aided the Romans in conquering Dacia. The Herculaneum Aqueduct is another example among many that can be found near this “golden horn” area, as the Ancients used to name it.

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Here is also the place where we can find Cetate village in the Dolj district. This village is no larger or more beautiful than others in the same district, but what makes it special is the figure of a man and the heritage he left in this place and in the consciousness of the villagers. This figure is Stefan Barbu Druga, born in 1880 into a wealthy family. His father started a cereal business that was doing so well that in 1874 he built an 800-square-meter barn to store the cereal production. So the Ancients might have spoken some truth in describing this place as golden, because the grains here were still prospering 2000 years later. But in the Druga family, it was Stefan Barbu who gave the cereal business a big boost, expanding the property, the buildings, the production – the whole family enterprise that quickly gave identity to this small village, Cetate.

He was a shrewd businessman who gained a lot of respect among people and made his way into high society, also becoming involved in the political life of the country. He built an economic empire through cereal exports on the Danube, and local legends say that he was so rich that when the Russian army came near the Romanian border during the Second World War, he could pay them just so they wouldn’t cross the borders. In Cetate, Druga built a property with generous outbuildings and a beautiful villa that exudes a Tuscan atmosphere, along with a stunning garden inspired by Italian Baroque gardens. Its ravishing beauty hasn’t faded, even if today the flora has grown wild.

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The cereal mill still stands today as an impressive building, and Druga devised a plan to facilitate cereal exports on the Danube by creating a water channel from the main river that would come close to the mill. This would allow boats to easily transport the grain loads directly from the mill. He also constructed Cetate Harbor, primarily for the same purpose. However, this prosperous family and its expansion plans were soon halted by the communist regime, which seized control of Druga’s business and properties.

Nourishing art

For almost 60 years, the Druga estate was taken from the family and gradually abandoned. In 2000, Druga’s heirs regained the property, and by 2008, the Joana Grevers Foundation, named after a niece of Barbu Druga, initiated a program aimed at revitalizing the Cetate area through art and culture.

Since 2008, every summer, in the vicinity of the Danube, a space of artistic convergence and creation comes to life. In Cetate, artists from different generations and various artistic fields gather to create freely, drawing inspiration from the magnetic beauty of this region, forming a growing art movement that spans painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, land art, and video art.

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The spirit of the workshops is rooted in free creation, a non-dogmatic and individualistic art movement that, in this area, adheres to no creation rules or schedule. Naturally, the themes always seem to be connected to the Druga estate venues and the Danubian landscapes. The old family premises are evolving into a site of discourse and debate, providing the framework to foster and showcase Romanian talents in fine arts.

The vision of the Joana Grevers Foundation for this expansive place encompasses a desire on multiple levels. It aims not only to professionally present Romanian contemporary art but also to create a conducive environment for art creation and promotion. This location is intended to be a part of Danubian tourism and to be marked on the map for travellers along the Danube, effectively transforming a former agricultural site into a hub of culture and a tourist attraction. The Druga estate is envisioned to operate based on these parameters. Each building on the property would have an artistic purpose. From the park that would house numerous sculptures to the grain storage that could easily accommodate a permanent collection of Romanian contemporary art, numerous artworks already exist there, and many more are yet to be created.
The buildings that once served as stables during Druga’s time will be transformed into art residence apartments and studios. The smith’s shop has already been converted into a beautiful white chapel, serving as a place for meditation, and the grand administrator’s house (which features a traditional southern architectural style) could function as a bookshop and a cafeteria. Not to mention, the elegant villa would remain the heart of the estate, serving as the base of operations for the Joana Grevers Foundation.

Thus, with the collaboration of numerous social and cultural entities, the Barbu Druga estate has the potential to evolve into a representative centre for Romanian contemporary arts and a significant tourist attraction for European travellers and beyond. It is conveniently accessible by both river and land routes.