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The Enchanted Gardens of Ada Kaleh

The Enchanted Gardens of Ada Kaleh

Authors: Silvia Mihaela Diaconu

Tutor: Luis Callejas, Janike Kampevold Larsen, Tuva Maire Øvsthus

Authors’ Comment

How could narratives and artistic curation contribute to conveying the essence of cultures in peril?
Ada-Kaleh was an ancient island on the Danube, between Serbia and Romania, inhabited by a Turkish community descending from the old defenders of the Ottoman Empire. This landscape, described as a utopia with the qualities of an immense lush garden where people used to live in harmony, was destroyed and flooded by the Romanian communist government in 1970, leaving behind pieces of collective memory. The island-inspired stories, myths, and exaggerations. The only trace left of this entire cultural landscape is an impressive archive of documents, photographs, paintings, surveys, and writings.
Its destruction happened in a moment in history when technological development was more important than culture, so Ada Kaleh never had the chance to be evaluated and acknowledged as a cultural landscape.
The project advocates for its recognition as a cultural landscape, through a collection of representations, emerged from archival research, and a series of interventions strategically placed along the Danube, from Ada Kaleh to Constanta (600 km).
Since the destruction, the community has been displaced and its artifacts have been hosted in new locations. The project proposed punctual interventions, using transplant and interpretation as design methods. Knowledge gained from understanding the island is applied in these sites. They become test grounds for re-learning sustainable landscape principles of water management and efficient land exploitation that were extensively used by the community.
In Constanta, The Embroidered Garden of Delights is an enclosure protecting the carpet, that recreates the collective memory and atmosphere of the island through vegetation and offers the host city a new public garden.
On Simian Island, The Garden of Deceit is a light and scenographic landscape intervention on the fragment of the old fortress transplanted on Simian Island in 1968, made to frame the ruin as a transplanted ground, to establish a space for experimental agricultural techniques learned from the island, and to test the resilience of new plant species (referenced in myths and stories about Ada Kaleh) in the changing climate.
On the Romanian side of the Danube, where Ada Kaleh used to be, the Water Garden is a device for isolating the area of the river where the old wharf used to be. It exposes the water level variations and orients the viewer towards the emptiness that replaced the island.
On the Serbian shore, the Garden of the Giants is sited across from the Water Garden and consists of a large brutal hemisphere that isolates an iconic fragment of the island defined in the memories of the locals by three cypress trees.
The name of the project references Ferdinand Bac’s “Jardins Enchantés” - a book about an imaginary journey through 36 gardens from his own designs. This was the departure point of the project, as it illustrates a highly unexplored connection between physical and imaginary space, that have the potential to enhance and expand each other.
The work, as a whole, is a celebration and a multilayered unfolding of the archive, aiming to augment the spatial imaginary of Ada Kaleh. It proposes an experimental recovery of the flooded island using investigation, curatorial work, graphic reconstruction, and fragmentary architectural interventions. These methodologies respond to the identity of the site and its remembrance, creating an alter-ego of Ada Kaleh.

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