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Nowhere else is the Danube more whirling and more impressive than it is at the Gorges. Here is the place where the river struggles itself, attacking the mountain stormily and making its way into the stones. The mysterious Danube seems to be boiling in this part; very strong currents in the depths give the impression of hot-boiling water.

The Danube Gorges represent the most picturesque part of the Danube’s Canyon at its passing through the Carpathians. On a nine kilometers line length, the river has dug its way into the rocks, being at the same time the border between Romania and Serbia. There are parts where the Danube narrows its path up to 230 meters and areas where the water has a speed of 5 m/sec, which made and makes navigation difficult. The Danube Gorges are a component of the „Iron Gates I” Natural Park, unfolding along the biggest and oldest canyon a river has made in Europe.

Danube Gorges


Danube Gorges

Invincible Dacians near the Danube

One of the most beautiful legends known in this place tells stories about the dacians. The story goes they would drink water from the Istros, as the Danube was called those days, before every important battle. They were convinced that a river that could break through the mountains could as well make them invincible, even immortal maybe. In the story kept by the local people, the dacians were carried away by a drunkenness-like excitement, that gave them strength and power. The blood throbbed and boiled into their veins, as the Danube’s waters were doing in the Cauldrons.

At the Gorge, the mountain and the water harmonized perfectly; the wilderness and the human reunited into a single place of a special and impressive beauty. The sights are breathtaking and allure you to relax and contemplate. Only the engine boats break the complete silence, taking the tourists along the proud and towering stone walls, along a giant dacian stone carved face and along a monastery which seems to be hanging on a narrow strip of land.

Monastery made into a former pub

Starting from Orsova, near the place called Eselnita, the Small Gorge begins. If you are not in a hurry, it would be a pity to miss a special place in the most beautiful area of the river – Monastery Saint Ann on the Old Man’s Hill. Founded by a newspaper man during the two World Wars and raised as a token for the fond memory of the heroes fallen in battle, the monastery became during the communist times a sanatorium for the consumptives, then a pub. In 1990, the place was given back to the initial use, in the neighborhood activating as well the Memorial Museum „Pamfil Seicaru”. The surroundings of the monastery are rich in vegetation, flowers, fig trees and cactuses, offering a perfect sight for relaxation and calm.

Starting from Eselnita, a famous fishermen village where you can buy and eat fresh fish, the road into the canyon can be crossed both on water and on dry land. The highway, dug in rock on many sectors, winds on the Danube’s bank; in order to take advantage of the imposing sights, I strongly recommend you to hire an engine boat and take a ’row’ through the anaphors of the Small Gorge, between the small river basin of Dubovei and Ogradena.

Monastery Saint Ann


Danube Gorges

Decebal at the Romanian, Traian at the Serbians

In the Small Gorge, close to Mraconia bay, on the rocky coast of the Danube, there is the proud and towering face of Decebalus. You can reach it only if you visit the area by boat. The statue of the Dacian king is the tallest sculpture in stone in Europe (55 meters high), measuring only 6 meters less than the Statue of Liberty. In order to carve it, they used over a ton of dynamite, all the tools being transported by boat and then carried on the backs of the climbers-sculptors. Under The head of Decebalus there is an inscription in Latin, carved in stone: “DECEBAL REX - DRAGAN FECIT” (“King Decebal - made by Dragan”). We speak of Iosif Constantin Dragan, the Romanian business man who had the idea of this sculpture being made.

In front of Decebalus face, but on the Serbian bank, there is a memorial antique inscription, a monument raised by Emperor Traianus.  “Tabula Traiana”, almost 2000 years old, marked the Roman imperial troops march towards Dacia, commemorating the victories of the Roman Empire over the Dacian Kingdom in year 105.

Along the Ogradena bay, you can swim safely, as there is no danger of drowning; the water is shallow and not deep. The entire area seems to be an open pool where agreement boats, engine boats or simply rowing boats leave for „water strolls”, full of tourists. You can even try water-skiing or „banana” drives.

“The monastery under waters”

In the west of Orsova, in the village Dubova, on a strip of land, close to the water, stands the monastery Mraconia. Documentary certified in the 15th century, the cult place was built where an observation and guidance point for the boats on the Danube, used to be – „In the Balloon”. Along time, the monastery knew many of the history troubles and distress, being torn down many times and swallowed and flooded by the waters. After the hydroelectric station „Iron Gates I” was built, it was decided that the monastery were not to be rebuilt in another place, reason for which it is known as the „monastery under waters”. The present-day building houses communities of monks and, from the initial place, the imperial gates are still kept together with an icon lamp; they can be seen at the Parochial Museum from Eselnita.

Statue of Decebal


Statue of Decebal

Cool Caves in the Big Cauldrons

Between the Dubova and Plavisevita river basins, unfolds the area known as the Big Gorges. Here the Danube is really spectacular; it is said that at the entrance from the upstream into the Big Gorge, the sailors would stop and pray to protect them from the fury of the waters.

The Veterans’ Cave, situated in the depth of the Gorge, can be reached climbing the mountain side on an abrupt and narrow path, 50 meters long. The Dacians considered it the sanctuary of Zamolxys, their God; until was build the „ Iron Gates” dam, it served as a shelter for the wild beasts. During Maria Theresa’s reign, the soldiers used to fire canons balls into the Turkish ships that were crossing the Danube without paying the customs fare. The thirty soldiers who were in the cave in 1891 wrote their names on the walls with carbon black. Nowadays, the walls are decorated with small stalagmites. The cave is lit by a natural window in the rock and is populated by bats and butterflies.

The most famous cave in the region is Ponicova, dug by the Danube in the wall of Ciucarul Mare. It is also known as Bats’ Cave, and it was used as a hiding place for those who wanted to flee to Serbia swimming across the Danube, during the communist regime. The galleries of the cave are situated on two floors and communicate among them. You will notice domes and columns carved by water, stalactites and stalagmites, cavern pearls, images fit for a crystal palace.

Ruins of Trikule Fortress

After you enjoyed the coolness in the caves, you can make a final stop close to the Serbian bank of the Danube, where there are the ruins of Trikule fortress (the three towers). Built in the 15th century in order to stop the ottoman expansion to the west, the fortress had three towers positioned in the shape of a triangle, with one of the points oriented to the Danube. For landscaping the storage lake The Iron Gates I the Trikule fortress needed to be flooded, today only two towers can be seen at the surface of the water; if you visit the region when the level of the Danube is very low, you can see the third tower.

Danube Gorges

Explore the Danube Gorge

The flora of the Danube Gorge has submediterranean characteristics; at the base there are regions of shrubs – carpinis, the Gorge’s mazer tree, Turkish hazelnut tree. In the sunny area the wild lilac grows, and in the shadows, at very low altitudes, the yew. Within the natural reservation there are the tulip and the gorge’s bells, the rock iris and feather grass. In the Danube’s Gorge, spring months have a specific perfume: in April, the clay tulip blooms, in May everywhere you scent the fragrance of lilac, the acacia and the linden tree perfume. When summer begins, there is a smell of fish and water ready to plunge into.

The region is favorable for those who enjoy water and water cruises. You can hire hydro bikes or take a cruise by the little ship at very low prices. At the same time, those who practice canoe can adventure on the Danube. If you are more adventurous and prefer the exhilarating activities, you have the chance to cover the mountain hiking itineraries in the Massif Ciucarul Mic and Ciucarul Mare. The altitude is not impressive, not very high, measuring only 318 meters, but the vertical walls and the Danube running at the feet of the rock, offer a spectacular sight over the Big River and the Big Gorge. Yet, you must be very careful and attentive, as vipers live in the caves and in the mountain sides.

Convince yourselves that in this region, the Danube gathered all its strength in order to create the most impressive sights. Relax yourselves admiring the masterpieces created by the bustling river’s waters which has calmed down a little when reaching the feet of the massive stone walls.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]