The last territorial increase of historical Hungary took place on May 13, 1913: at that time it was annexed by the Kingdom of Hungary (as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) Ada Kaleh (the Turkish word means “fortress island”), which spread over less than 1 km² on the Danube near the Vaskapu. The island lay on the Hungarian-Romanian-Serbian triple border, but officially belonged to Turkey: it was the last remaining piece of land in the region of the Ottoman Empire, which once ruled almost the entire Balkans and a significant part of Hungary. (It should be noted that in the separate peace concluded between the Monarchy and the Kingdom of Romania on May 7, 1918, a border strip was annexed to the Monarchy, and within it to Hungary, but the actual transfer did not take place.)
Quite for the island and its few hundred inhabitants a twisted fate became part of the class: it changed owners countless times, and many times it was not even clear who really was Ada Kaleh’s master. The first fortification of the island is yet to be completed János Hunyadi can be associated with his name in 1444, but the Turks arrived a few decades after the Turkish invasion and took possession of the area. When most of the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary came under Habsburg rule in the Peace of Karlóc in 1699, Ada Kaleh, together with Bánát, remained in Turkish hands.
The imperial troops then occupied the island in 1717 and made serious fortifications on it, but in 1739 it fell into Turkish hands again. At that time, Muslim Turkish residents settled on Ada Kaleh, who lived there until the sinking of the island in 1972. From 1739, apart from a shorter episode, it was under Turkish rule. It played an important role in the 1848-49 War of Independence, as part of the Hungarian National Guard, as well as Bertalan Szemere prime minister and Kázmér Batthyány Minister of Foreign Affairs, they crossed the Hungarian border here and left for Turkey. The island on Hungarian maps New Orsova appeared under the name; Ó-Orsova, that is, the town of Orsova, was located not far from the island, on the left (north) bank of the Danube.
The Russo-Turkish war between 1877 and 1878 brought about a change.
The Austro-Hungarian leadership was afraid that the Romanians or the Serbs might acquire the island, so they convinced the losing Turks to evacuate the island and hand it over to the troops of the Monarchy.
According to the agreement, the occupation will only be temporary, the Turkish Porta can reclaim the territory at the appropriate time. Franz Joseph the emperor-king ordered the occupation of Ada Kaleh on May 21, 1878, which was carried out by the joint Austro-Hungarian army on May 25. However, the temporary solution became permanent, especially since the Great Powers did not deal with the issue of the island’s status in the Berlin Peace Treaty that settled the Russo-Turkish War.
Ada Kaleh under Austro-Hungarian rule and the fate of the island
The occupying forces garrison were created, the number of which, however, was constantly reduced, as the geostrategic importance of the island became less and less. In 1912, in addition to 550 inhabitants, one officer and 45 foot soldiers lived in Ada Kaleh.
On the island mostly Turks lived there, but there were also German, Hungarian and Serbian residents. The islanders they were exempted from military service, did not have to pay taxes or import duties. Ada Kaleh de facto its leader was an officer (chief lieutenant) of the military garrison, however, the Turkish Porte could appoint a civil leader, the mudírt, who was a subordinate of the Turkish embassy in Vienna. He and his assistants received their salaries from Istanbul, just as the Turkish mosque and school were financed by Turkey. The mosque, rebuilt from the Franciscan monastery in 1739, next to which a minaret was erected in 1902, was the main attraction of the island.
The news of the special Turkish exclave spread and became more and more popular among tourists visiting Al-Danube. The 1,750-meter-long, 400-500-meter-wide island could be walked around in about an hour. The mostly Turkish inhabitants of the area have preserved their religion, customs, language and cuisine, so Ada Kaleh also figuratively it was a Muslim island in a Christian sea, and attracted many people who were interested in Eastern culture. The inhabitants of the island made a living from farming, fruit and rose cultivation, wine production, fishing, tourism, boating between Orsova and the island, and illegal smuggling.
As early as 1878, Hungary proposed that the island be officially annexed to the country: Kálmán Tisza the Prime Minister urged in a letter at the end of the year Gyula Andrássy joint foreign minister to settle the legal status of Ada Kaleh. Although the topic came up again and again, the annexation did not take place for decades, a status quo because it was beneficial for everyone.
The revolution that lasted from 1912 to 1913 First Balkan War during which Turkey lost most of its European territories.
The Hungarian leadership wanted to prevent Ada Kaleh from being transferred to another country during a peace treaty with the Turks, so Budapest decided it was time to finally settle the island’s legal situation and annex it to Hungary.
They wanted to carry out the annexation in complete secrecy, they even wanted to exclude the press – of course, news of what happened quickly spread. Dr. Zoltán Medvereported on May 13, 1913 by the head master of the Krassó–Szörény county László Lukács to the Prime Minister that the island of Ada Kaleh was included in the Hungarian administration. From now on, the affairs of the island were managed by the Chief Servant of Orsova.
The capture of the island was completely bloodless, and even the mudír was able to keep his office; true, it became a formal position. The head master also recommended the Mudír, who showed himself to be a collaborator, to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Ferenc József. The Turkish superior then traveled to Vienna so that the Imperial-Royal Court could also take a position on the matter. According to the official answer, undoubtedly annexation has taken place, but the fact of annexation will not be announced.
This put the island in a strange transitional situation: although Hungarian administration and an Austro-Hungarian garrison operated on it, the Turkish authorities considered Ada Kaleh as belonging to the vilayet of Constantinople,
moreover, the inhabitants of the island voted in the Turkish elections of 1914 and 1917. Since Turkey was an ally of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in World War I, Vienna and Budapest were very careful that the island’s situation did not create tension between the two great powers.
In 1914, at the beginning of World War II, the island was first shelled by the Serbs, and then occupied by Romanian troops for two months in 1916. In 1918, the central powers lost the war, and since international law recognized Ada Kaleh as part of Turkey,
it was not the Trianon Peace Treaty, but the Sèvres Peace in 1920 and Lausanne in 1923 between Turkey and the Entente Powers that settled its fate, and it came to the Kingdom of Romania.
Both would be part of today’s Romania, if the already communist Romanian and Yugoslav leadership had not decided to build the Vaskapu hydropower plantseed. The works began in 1964, and since the dam system raised the water of the Danube by more than 30 meters, the fate of Ada Kaleh was sealed. Some of the buildings and the cemetery were moved to the nearby Simian Island, but the residents did not go there: some of them went to Dobrudja in Romania, inhabited by the Turkish minority, and some went to Turkey. In 1972, together with the old Orsova and several other settlements Ada Kaleh also fell into a wave graveand to this day sleeps its eternal sleep tens of meters deep below the Danube.
“No Man’s Island”
Not only Hungarian history, but also Hungarian literary history preserves the name of Ada Kaleh, at least according to many Mór Jókai the part taking place at the Iron Gate The golden man when he wrote his novel, he modeled the no-man’s island on this island, where Mihály Timár hides from the world and where he meets his lover, Noémi.
That Ada Kaleh could have been Jókai’s model for his “island of no man” is also confirmed by the author’s “afterwords” written for the novel.
I was informed about the existence of the “No Man’s Island” by our famous naturalist Imre Frivaldszky, and it was still in its exceptional condition in the sixties, as a newly created area that did not belong to Hungary or Turkey.
This description doesn’t fit much other than the island of Ada Kaleh. Which is now truly a no man’s island.
Tibor Balla: Ada-Kaleh island under Austro-Hungarian rule 1878-1918. Military History Notices No. 1 of 1999
Balázs Szálinger: Al-Danube dream. Seeder, 2020
Cover photo: Color shot of the island of Ada Kaleh at the turn of the last century. Source: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons