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DACIAN FORTRESSES IN THE ORASTIE MOUNTAINS

In the Orastiei Mountains, spreading over an amazing surface of 500 square kilometers there lies the capital of the Dacian kingdom. Dacian vestiges can be found at the foot of the stately peaks, in clearings well camouflaged by trees, in a land full of historical testimonies. The road to the fortresses can be difficult at times, but it crosses forests echoing the humming of the bees and the chirping of the birds. Among the ruins and beyond them you can only see mountains, trees and little streams taking you back in time and instilling a sensation of peace.  The fresh air and the clear spring water introduce you into to the surrounding history.

Orastiei Mountains

Being a Part of History on the Costesti Plateau

The six strongholds on the Costesti Plateau represent the vestiges of a fascinating civilization, impressing with their varied shapes and monumentality.  Limestone and andesite were brought from tens of kilometers away in order to erect the strongholds. Raised in the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., they formed the defensive system of the Dacian capital. The conquering of Sarmisegetuza Regia took place at the end of two bloody wars started by the mighty Roman Empire in order to ensure a strong defensive line at the shores of the Danube. Thus, the Dacian land was to become the Empire’s defense buffer zone from the barbarian world, but also a territory where the population would embrace the civilization brought in by the Roman troops.  During the second Dacian-Roman war (105-106), all the strongholds were burnt down and destroyed, with the exception of Sarmisegetuza.  Here, a Roman garrison repaired the walls of the stronghold and extended the fortress to its current dimensions.

Between Burebista and Decebal’s reigns, the Dacians built a unique defensive system in the Orastiei Mountains. The fortresses were both a dwelling place and a defensive unit for the capital, being surrounded by sanctuaries, the expression of a well rooted religion. The archeological research in the area have revealed civilian dwelling places, workshops, sewage systems, sacred spaces – all evidences of a superior civilization compared to those of other European peoples.

All the stones in the Orastiei Mountains are filled with history. Witnesses of the birth of the Romanian people, they now quietly await tourists to discover their stories. We recommend you do a little research before visiting them, as you won’t find any stands with maps and leaflets. You might also consider visiting the area by SUV, as the forest road can be difficult at times.

Orastiei Mountains

 

Sarmizegetusa

 

Yogini

Sarmisegetuza Regia, Capital of the Free Dacians

The road to the citadel of the Dacians starts from Orastie and goes through Costesti, underneath a big wooden gate. Beyond it, the roads leading to the six fortifications start. On the left, on an accessible earthed road of an amazing rustic beauty you get to Sarmisegetuza. You will be accompanied by a river precipitously twisting and turning up to the fortress, among rocks and tree trunks. Finally, the forest opens into a fairytale-like clearing near Sarmisegetuza Regia.

The capital of the Dacian state, raised in the 1st century B.C., represented the center of the kingdom in the north of the Danube, a place where the Dacians used to mobilize against the eternal enemy, the Roman Empire. Situated on the highest point on the Gradistei Hill, the precinct had a defensive role and hosted three areas in its perimeter: the fortress, the sacred area and the civilian neighborhoods. Approximately 100 meters from the fortress, at the end of a road paved with limestone, you will find the sacred area, set up on two terraces and dedicated to the Dacian deities. It consists of limestone and andesite sanctuaries, the most important of them being The Great Sanctuary, with a structure similar to the one at Stonehenge. It had both a ritual performing function and an astronomical one, to measure time with the Circular Calendar, one of the most exact calendars in the ancient era. With it, the Dacians established the days of the week, the years and some astronomical events, like the solstices and the equinoxes. It is said that the Calendar generated certain energies and that is why the yogis presently come here to meditate. The eastern and the western neighborhoods represented the civilian area, the most ample Dacian living complex, made of manufacturing workshops, living spaces, installations for capturing and distributing potable water. In one of the dwelling places, a ceramic vase was found, with the inscription 'Decebalus per Scorillo', with an aura of mystery still hovering over it.

Sarmizegetusa

 

Sarmizegetusa

 

Sarmizegetusa 3D reconstruction

Costesti – Cetatuie

From Costesti, on the right side, the road on the shore takes you to the old Dacian capital, the Costesti Fortress. Costesti Hill represents a special panoramic viewpoint, opening over the surroundings. The oldest fortress in the Orastiei Mountains was built in the 1st century B.C., being the capital of the territories run by the famous king Burebista. Its stones still speak of the Roman catapults launched in its gates two centuries later, during the two wars fought by king Decebal against the Romans.

Raised on terraces set up on the mountain, it had a palisade defense system, with an exterior wall built of thick wooden pillars and an interior one, made of rammed earth. After a first confrontation with the war machines, part of the walls was rebuilt in stone. On the plateau there were many tower-houses, and in one of the towers one could climb a monumental staircase of profiled stone. Dacian kings climbed these stairs more than two millenniums ago. We can presently see the foundations of a few temples were the Dacian priests asked for divine help. The commotion of the population animated the surroundings of the fortress’ walls, near the wooden houses, now depicted by the talented archeologists in pictures. After being destroyed by the Romans, the ruins of the fortress served as a stone quarry for building the nearby castrum.

Costesti

 

Dacian Fortresses Festival

Costesti – Blidaru

It is believed that at Blidaru, the treasure of the Dacian kings was kept and later hidden from the Roman soldiers. The fortress is sober and dominates the surroundings and the forest underneath, full of stately trees with winding branches and hollows. Although bizarre, the trees are friendly and they incite your imagination as you try to find resemblances with the real world. The trail going to the fortress winds around the ruins of several defense towers and clearings full of raspberries and mushrooms. The fortification consists of two precincts surrounded by wooden walls, with observation towers at the corners.  The older side of the fortress had a house tower in the interior yard, where the inhabitants of the citadel used to keep their provisions during times of war. The second precinct, probably built between the two Dacian-Roman wars had battle platforms, with bunkers on the western and northern flanks.  Nearby, in the spot called 'Pietroasa lui Solomon' a quadrangular sanctuary used by the Dacians for rituals.

Blidaru is the only fortress that wasn’t conquered by the Romans. The warriors abandoned the fortification only when they run out of water and food resources. From the walls of the fortress you can see the mountain chine covered by forests and meadows with golden hay stacks on top of them. Roes and deer come to graze here, on the former Dacians' sanctuaries.

Costesti

 

Blidaru 3D reconstruction

 

Dacian Fortresses Festival

Decebal’s Treasure

One of the fascinating enigmas of the Romanian history is the existence of king Decebal’s treasure. It is said that the Dacian kings had gathered impressive fortunes along the centuries and that, before his death, Decebal had hidden the treasures of the state in a place known by him only. The legend says that the king deviated the Sargetia River from its course and dug a hole where he placed many golden and silver objects; then he brought the riverbed to its initial course. To keep the hiding place secret, the king decided to kill the subjects who had executed his order. However, Bicilis, one of Decebal’s comrades, revealed the secret when he was taken hostage by the Romans. Should this be true or not?

The elders also speak of 'the serpent’s curse': it is said that Decebal cursed his fellow men to be punished by Zamolxis, the supreme god of the Dacians, if they were to reveal the location of the gold fortune to strangers. Thus, fortune seekers would die bitten by a serpent. The curse doesn’t seem to scare those who range the fortresses with shovels and metal detectors looking for the treasures. Two hundred years ago, a couple of children grazing their sheep near Sarmisegetuza found 400 gold coins.

Dacian Treasure

 

Dacian Treasure

Luncani – Piatra Rosie

In 1982, a lucky old man discovered a sack full of 277 precious coins in his yard. Nowadays, the house near Piatra Rosie Fortress stands deserted, with its walls keeping the story of the treasure alive.

Although small in size, the fortress at Piatra Rosie is impressive due to its location. It is built on an immense stone surrounded by thick vegetation and its siege would have led to several losses of human lives. The fortress had a double fortification: the first terrace defended by a wooden palisade with a paved road along which inhabitants roamed about day by day and the second fortified area, with towers and stone walls. Through the thick grass sprinkled with mountain flowers, you can still see the stone cylinders of a sanctuary where the priests of the time used to read the future in stars.

In the eastern area of the fortress one can enjoy a unique panoramic view: from a high rock spot you can see the Retezat Mountains and the Ursici Plateau up to Streiului Valley.

Orastiei Mountains

 

Dacian Fortresses Festival

Banita

In order to defend the southern road to Sarmisegetuza, through the Jiu Defile, the Dacian kings raised the Banita Fortress, along the course of the river by the same name. Situated at the heart of the mountains, the fortress quietly awaits the passing of the millennia. Banita was the last fortress attacked by the Romans before they made way towards Sarmisegetuza.

Built with a defensive purpose, it was situated on an isolated rock with abrupt slopes, on a number of terraces flanked by walls and observation towers. The access is hindered by the abrupt ascent and by the zigzag road taking you to the fortress on the footsteps of fearless warriors’ two millenniums ago. The stone walls defend the fortress only on one side, the other three sides consisting of vertical stone walls conquered only by experimented climbers.  Inside the fortress you can see the monumental steps, the andesite gate, the stone pedestal of some buildings and a wooden watchtower, used to observe the surroundings. Archeologists have found ceramics and clay patterns here, iron tools, arrow heads, stone grinders, and loom weights.

Dacian Fortresses Orastie

 

Dacian Symbol Monument

 

Dacian Symbol Monument

The destiny of the Romanian people was written in the Orastiei Mountains. The walls of the ancient fortresses speak of unknown legends, fragments of the history of our people. A part of them are unveiled at the beginning of autumn, during the DacFest festival at Costesti, when parades of ancient military costumes take place, as well as gladiator fights accompanied by the serving of traditional dishes. Although quiet, the Costesti Plateau hums with stories waiting to be discovered.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]