SILISTRIA (Bulgarian Silistra), the chief town of a department in Bulgaria and the see of an archbishop, situated on a low-lying peninsula projecting into the Danube, 81 m. below Rustchuk and close to the frontier of the Rumanian Dobrudja. Pop. (1892) 11,718; (1900) 12,133; (1908) 12,055, of whom 6142 were Bulgarians and 4126 Turks. The town was formerly a fortress of great strength, occupying the N.E. corner of the famous quadrilateral (Rustchuk, Silistra, Shumla, Varna), but its fortifications were demolished in accordance with the Berlin Treaty (1877). In the town is a large subterranean cavern, the Houmbata, which served as a refuge for its inhabitants during frequent bombardments. The principal trade is in cereals; wine and wood are also exported. The town is surrounded by fine vineyards, some 30 kinds of grapes being cultivated, and tobacco is grown. Sericulture, formerly a flourishing industry, has declined owing to a disease of the silk-worms, but efforts have been made to revive it. Apiculture is extensively practised and there are large market-gardens in the neighbourhood. The soil of the department is fertile, but lacking in water; the inhabitants have excavated large receptacles in which rain-water is stored. A considerable area is still covered with forest, to which the region owes its name of Deli Orman (" the wild wood") ; there are extensive tracts of pasturage, but cattle-rearing declined in 1880-1910. A large cattle-fair, lasting three days, is held in May. The town possessed in 1910 one steam flour-mill and some cloth factories and tanneries.
Silistria was the Durostorum of the Romans (Bulgarian Drstr) ; the ancient name remains in the title of the archbishop, who is styled metropolitan of Dorostol, and whose diocese is now united with that of Tcherven (Rustchuk). It was one of the most important towns of Moesia Inferior and was successively the headquarters of the legio I. (Italica) and the legio XI. (Claudia). It was defended by the Bulgarian tsar Simeon against the Magyars and Greeks in 893. In 967 it was captured by the Russian prince Sviatoslav, whom the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus Phocas had summoned to his assistance. In 971 Sviatoslav, after a three months' heroic defence, surrendered the town to the Byzantines, who had meanwhile become his enemies. In 1388 it was captured by the Turks under Ali Pasha, the grand vizier of the sultan Murad. A few years later it seems to have been in the possession of the Walachian prince Mircea, but after his defeat by Mahommed I. in 1416 it passed finally into the hands of the Turks. Silistria flourished under Ottoman rule; Hajji Khalifa describes it as the most important of all the Danubian towns; a Greek metropolitan was installed here with five bishops under his control and a settlement of Ragusan merchants kept alive its commercial interests. In 1810 the town was surrendered to the Russians under Kamenskiy, who destroyed its fortifications before they withdrew, but they were rebuilt by foreign engineers, and in 1828-1829 were strong enough to offer a serious resistance to the Russians under Diebich, who captured the town with the loss of 3000 men. At that date the population including the garrison was 24,000, but in 1837 it was only about 4000. The town was held in pledge by the Russians for the payment of a war indemnity (1829-1836). During the campaign of 1854 it was successfully defended by General Krach against the Russians under Paskievich; the circuit of its defences had been strengthened before this time by the outlying fortresses Medjid-tabia (built by English engineers) and Arab-tabia. It was again invested by the Russians in 1877, and on the conclusion of peace was evacuated by the Turks. (J. D. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)