The Carpathian Timber Trail that Built Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire

The images above show the river sector of the Carpathian Timber Trail from its origination in Piatra Neamt (1), following the Bistrita (2) and the Siret rivers to the Danube port of Galati (3). (Montage of four old poscards dating from 1890s - 1910s, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Carpathian mountains contained until the first part of the c20th some of the largest millennial forests left in Europe. As the region was part of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries, this resource was extensively used as building material for houses and palaces throughout the empire and also for building the sailing ships (ie the ship’s masts made from Carpathian pine were very much appreciated at that time) that kept the commerce going within that great polity that stretched from Budapest in Central Europe to the Mecca in the Middle East and to the Algiers in the North Africa. The exceedingly beautiful Istanbul timber mansions called yali that line up the Bosphorous and many of the timber sided houses of that great metropolis, the largest city of Europe then as now, are in ample part built from timber sourced in the Carpathians. The same can be said of houses in Thessalonic, Smyrna/ Izmir or many other Ottoman cities. I illustrated in the photomontage above, made from four old postcards from my collection, the river navigation sector of this long “timber trail” from the Carpathians to the Mediterranean (see the route marked on the map on the postcard above). This timber was mainly sourced in the Moldavian sector of these mountains, the Oriental Carpathians, and gathered in floating basins at navigable points on the local rivers, such as Piatra-Neamt, depicted in the sector “1” above, a main such location in northern Moldavia. From there the timber was assembled in bulky rafts, called pluta in Romanian, manned by plutasi, the local peasants that embraced the raffter profession, see the image sector “2” above, all the way down to the lower Danube ports, such as Galati in the sector “3” of the photomontage, where the timber was sorted and loaded on seagoing boats to the markets of Istanbul and other Ottoman port cities. This huge timber trade started in late c17th until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in early c20th. It continued to function serving the local needs in Romania until 1950s, when the river route and the profession of plutas were replaced by road and railway transport. In my opinion this Carpathian “timber trail” phenomenon is a very interesting chapter in the economic history of South East Europe and Eastern Mediterreanean, practically unknown even by the academic specialists,  which greatly contributed to the built heritage of the entire region.

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.