Maps of Nature – Exhibition at National Museum of Natural History Grigore Antipa

The exhibition showcases stages of the Danube Delta’s cartographic history and the transformation of this natural environment as a result of human intervention during the 19th and 20th centuries. The tension between the natural and the artificial, characteristic for the evolution of the Delta during this period, is highlighted through maps, atlases, documents, lithographs and photographs belonging to the two museums, as well as to the Library of the Romanian Academy and to the Regional Service of the National Archives of Galați. The exhibition includes photographs of the Danube Delta’s awe-inspiring wilderness.

For centuries, inland navigation has been one of the most widespread solutions for commercial transportation. The length of the Danube and its cross-border dimension gave a European scope to this thoroughfare. Because of their opening to the Black Sea, the Mouths of the Danube represented both a strategic and an economic advantage, thus piquing the interest of the great empires for their control. Thus, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Danube Delta underwent the most extensive anthropic intervention in its history: numerous industrial works for the improvement of its waterways , especially on the Sulina Channel. The project began in 1856 with the establishment of the European Commission of the Danube (ECD) – an international organization which had the role of ensuring optimal navigation at the mouths of the Danube River. The technical works, such as dredging and dyking, were based above all on the mapping of the territory. The need to become familiar with the terrain and to draw up precise maps of the area of ​​interest predated any design or progress of a work.

The involvement of the great naturalist Grigore Antipa in the ECD Council as an expert in hydrobiology led to the adoption of a double perspective on the Delta, which was henceforth perceived not only as a commercial resource, but also as an ecosystem that should be protected from irrational and abusive exploitation. In fact, the original concept of Bio-economy, introduced by Antipa in the second half of the 20th century, established the principles on which the present day’s Circular Economy (an economy that respects natural cycles) is built.

Today, the Danube Delta remains a treasure trove of natural diversity and a region steeped in history that maps, both old and new, can help us to understand and rediscover.

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