The Tunnel

“Saligny’s Tunnel” that’s how it’s known by some of Constanta’s inhabitants. Not so many unfortunately, especially the youngsters have no idea of the existence of the tunnel that lays below their flats quarter. The tunnel is positioned under May 1st Avenue and Mangaliei Avenue, and we have to note that on the reconfiguration of the area, the massive flats quarters that were build in the early ’80s, the architects took into account the existence of the tunnel ( imagination that today…) and thus, the area above the tunnel is vacant lot. Just one old house is built above the tunnel.

The tunnel was designed by Angel Saligny, whose name is related to a number of monumental buildings, the modern harbor of Constanta and the Cernavoda Bridge are the most famous. As an quote, Constanta harbor silos are assigned to Saligny too in the public conscience, but, although he has the highest merit in building these large silos, Saligny was an engineer, not an architect. The one who “designed” the buildings was architect Petre Antonescu, an important figure of the Romanian architecture school on the beginning of XXth century. Saligny handled the resistance calculations and supervised the construction of silos group. And he did it just great.

Returning to our tunnel, it was built between 1896-1900, so immediately after the opening of the Cernavoda Bridge. Saligny was at the apex of his creative force. The construction was a major engineering challenge and consisted of digging a double railway tunnel by using the of Roman arch technique – a solution that proved great durability over thousand of years all around Europe. The tunnel has a length of 490 m, width of 8.36 m and a maximum height (at the keystone) of 6.15 m; it’s build of a lining of bricks, mortar and a reinforced concrete slab, placed on a bed of stones. The tunnel features some niches on every 20 meters, those were intended  as “hidings” for railway workers who were working inside, while the train traveled through the tunnel. There are many stories about those niches, as having connections with secret tunnels, Nazi munitions warehouses, terrorists nests and so on. There is absoluteli no proof in respect, at least at present.

Initailly named “Carol I Tunnel”, then known as Palas – Port C-ta passage, the railway tunnel functioned as an freight trains access  to Constanta harbor for almost a century . The wall’s bricks were impregnated by steam and coal smoke of locomotives beginning of the century, for then to “smell” the Diesel locomotives exhaust. It was last time renovated in 1965, the tunnel proved to be extremely useful all along the years. And it still can be useful if there would have been some interest in regard.

After the 1970s, when the new railway route for the freight trains was launched, Saligny’s Tunnel continued to be a viable alternative, still making traffic on the old route. All until 1992, when, after some heavy rains, the embankment was swept by the waters and the tunnel was flooded. As it was happening in Romania, it remained flooded.

For 15 years no one (including the owner – CFR) did not even move a finger to see what is the tunnel state, and inside it has developed a real swamp ecosystem. The tunnel began to degrade and had massive infiltration of water. The walls began to “sprang” streams of water with a smell of sewage and oil, which also started to affect the structural strength. Questions and fears began to emerge from the residents of flats around, such as the tunnel is in danger of collapse and it would take the whole area with him. A nonsense, but all the panic had a positive effect – it has created pressure on the CFR administrators, and in 2011 it was decided to renovate of the tunnel.

It was thought that the tunnel will be rehabilitated and freight train traffic will be restored, many of us already imagined the trains coming out the tunnel , but the project proved to  be aiming only on draining, removing of mud and debris and the construction of a new drainage channel. The work was carried out during summer 2012 and is now completed. The tunnel was drained, a new drainage channel was build on the center of the tunnel, and resins were injected in some areas to stop water infiltration – a solution on doubtful efficacyas long as a “stream” of water constantly flows through the new drainage channel.

In conclusion, the tunnel no longer “collapse”, but is also unusable. The rails were removed and the access was blocked. It’s on “preservation”. In its own “juice”.

As I’ve said at the beginning of this article, only a few Constanta inhabitants know the story of this tunnel. Even fewer have any idea of the current state of the interior of the tunnel, so I invite you to a visit inside the “Saligny’s Tunnel” as it looks today, on 2012. All aboard!

Note that the tunnel was drained and the mud removed, the railroad tracks were removed. Given that the tunnel had become a swamp with reeds, frogs and tons of mud, the bulldozers intervention required. The two original channels of the tunnel, located near the walls were cleaned and on the central axle of tunnel a new drain channel was build.

The lining of the bricks on the walls is amazing. Each brick blends in perfectly with the next one, things remarkable if we consider that we’re talking about a building build over 100 years ago, during which time it was not protected and received the vibrations caused by thousands trains. The tunnel got a bluish-black color due to smoke emitted from chimneys of some many locomotives. The last two decades also added mold and dampness on the walls.

The first signs of structure weakness, fortunately the technique expertise revealed that overall structural strength is not affected.

Here is the famous niches, a place for horror tales with Turkish and Nazi characters and, of course secret tunnels. Notice the presence of a tiny decorative ceramic plates waist.

As we move into the depths of the tunnel, the landscape becomes dire. On the walls it hangs stalactites from cement mixed with ground clay and mold flowers.

The impressive bricks lining is present here too, but the greater distance from the access holes made the air to absorb moisture, that affected the walls on a greater degree. A fully renovation job would have had a lot of work to insulate the walls.

Niches are present every 20 meters, but it lacks of decorative waist of the niches of tunnels entrance. However, none of niches examined had any kind of  connection to other rooms or mysterious tunnels. There are some old guys who say the secret passages existed, but were subsequently sealed.
Going further, the mud layer increases, and as I’m not properly equipped, I decided to leave the tunnel. Back on the tracks guys… oh, no tracks anymore.

Anyway, we saw the the things we came for. The tunnel is impressive not only by size or by the aspect of its black walls, but especially because of feeling “stuck in time”. You expect that out of nowhere, a ghostly train appear – and you have to hide in the niches in the walls. And it almost makes  you also to want that really happen…

Although the presentation table shows November 2013 as the date of completion of the project, currently works at the Saligny’s Tunnel stopped and entrances were blocked. The company in charge said the work is completed.
Only the water infiltrated through the walls continues to flow through the new drainage channel …

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