THE CERNA VALLEY
The fame of the Herculane Baths resort has travelled beyond the border both due to the therapeutic qualities of the thermal springs and also grace to the beauty of the surroundings.
There are corners of a hidden nature where the landscape and the peaceful life of people preserve almost unaltered nature, in its original form. The Cerna Valley is such a corner, with its straight flank, like a beam of light, passing through the steep limestone, which is asymmetrically unfolding on both sides of the Cerna River.
From the spring to the confluence with the Danube, the Cerna River has a length of 85 km. The river has its springs at an altitude of 2070 m, where it is called Cernişoara (Cristescu I, 2012) and reaches the confluence with the Belareca River at an altitude of 118 m. On a difference of 1952 m, between the two mountain ranges, the Godeanu-Cerna Mountains and the Mehedinţi Mountains, Cerna made and deepened its riverbed on the shard line of the “getic canvas“, giving the valleys a specific wild note.
The Cerna Valley is the most beautiful valley in the Romanian Carpathians.
On the right bank of Cerna, watching the river facing its mouth, the entire Mount Godeanu and a large part of the Cerna Mountains are made of crystalline shale.
On the left shore of the river, Mount Domogled is mostly made of limestone and it is part of the Mehedinti mountain chain. The highly tormented steeper, with various sculptural shapes, determines the specific features of the Cerna’s geographic landscape. Beginning with the Domogled Peak (1106 m), which rises above the Herculane resort, and far away, to Stan Peak (1464 m), the Mehedinţi Mountains top is maintained high, with steep walls, with short and wild valleys.
This clean place is pleasant for the many “hiking trails” that extend over a distance of 45 km – “mountain tourist routes roaming the valley through thick shadow from the Cerna Springs to its meeting with the Belareca River“, as it is beautifully described by the mountain lovers dr. Stefan Negrea and dr. Alexandria Negrea in the book about Herculane Baths and Cerna Valley. [Negrea Ş., 2002].
Overwhelmed by the splendid harmonies of nature, you will feel the life of Cerna in the middle of the summer, in the shadows of the beech and pine forests, and late in the autumn, in the vermillion of the smoke tree, that is burning on the “white rocks of the rushes” as the locals call the majestic crests of limestone parallel to the river. Upstream of the resort, the valley remained an errand of secrecy, in some places hardly accessible, travelled by a small number of hikers who ventured to start its course.
Wherever you may start, towards one or the other of the places that seem to call you, look at the shape of the crests, to the refreshing white of the limestone, sprinkled with the pine’s silhouettes, and views with a special note of slimness and elegance will be printed in your eyes with some unique and surprising images.
Not even the Cerna’s legends, with their whole mystery atmosphere, cannot be recounted and heard by the travellers without seeing the white rocks in which the black holes of the caves are distinguished, the eruptions and dives, the gorges and the narrow erosion keys, like are those from Corcoaia. There is another and another view at each turn. Either you let yourself sink in the deep silence of the green forest, shivering its foliage in a thumping whistle, or you listen to the sound of the bouncing river, becoming very noisy over the great terraces of the waterfalls. Faces and traces rising on the white rocks of the cliffs awaken in every tourist the infinite power of fantasy
That is why we offer you a stunning and adventurous trip, with breathtaking landscapes, on the road of Hercules’ struggles with the dragon, the hero renamed Iovan Iorgovan in the mythology of Banat:
Touristic route no. 8: Hercules’ Road
The Cerna Valley reveals its beauty from the very moment when, from Herculane Baths Station, you go towards the resort taking the national road DN 67D.
To get to Herculane railway station, on the modernized road Caransebes – Orşova on the European road E70, you have to pass through the Oriental Gate between Teregova and Domaşnea. This saddling area, located at a height of 500 m, separates the basin of Timiş, river that flows towards Caransebes, from the basin of the Cerna River, the Belareca River heading for the Danube and meeting with Cerna at the Herculane Station.
On the crest of the road you will see eastward the beautiful Domaşnea village with its orchards of plum, apple and pear trees, fruits you can taste at the side of the road, where the locals bring their healthy fruits, as well as their famous Banat slivovitz for selling.
Domaşnea is the birthplace of the Banat scientist, the mathematician Dr. Traian Lalescu, the founder of the higher technical education in Timisoara, and of the famous professor, writer and narrator of ” The Miracles of Cerna“, Ilie Cristescu, who created and launched in tourism the Hercules road. [Cristescu I., 2012].
Down the valley, 6 km away, the road reaches Cornea, a village famous for crafting leather clothes, and then it descends to “Megica”. At Mehadica you can visit the Ethnographic Museum of the Village with “interesting and original exhibits, gathered since 1967 by the teacher Gheorghe Coca” [Irimia N., 2011].
The road goes up to the village of Cuptoare, where you can see one of the most beautiful and expressive erosion shapes, the Dragon, in the form of a huge stone snake suspended above the steep hillside. It is the dragon from the struggle with the hero of the Banat mythology, and after receiving its prey from the Cerna Valley, withdrew for a while on these grounds.
After the Iablaniţa intersection, from where the road branches out to Craina and Almăj Valley, the road passes in serpentines over the hill and descends to the Belareca valley at Plugova. From here, the road leads to the largest settlement in the Mountainous Banat, Cornereva, having 39 villages. The Cornereva cheese in fir tree “block” is famous in the area, being one of the Banat’s delicacies.
Before entering Mehadia, look to the right side of the road and admire the “Black Ravine”, a bad-land with a distinct picturesque appearance of the torrential erosion on the hill with carboniferous sandstone. From the side of the road you can reach on a footpath near the ravine in 15 minutes. Viewed near, the deep grooves on the vegetation-free walls overwhelm you with its dark gray-black colour of the rock, leaving the spectator with an unforgettable impression.
Mehadia welcomes you with the vestiges of the fortress situated on the foundation of the Roman citadel Praetorium, which can be seen from a distance on Barcan Hill. It is one of the oldest settlements in Banat and among the few that has preserved its Roman name (Ad-Mediam) until today. The locals call it Megia in the Banat idiom, because the settlement is approximately at an equal distance between Drobeta Turnu Severin and Tibiscum Jupa-Caransebes, and the commercial Roman road from Almăj Valley passes also here. The settlement is also called “The Banat’s Keys” due to its strategic position on the Timis-Cerna Corridor, both in the Roman and Medieval periods. Then, in the time of the Austrian Empire, it was “a guarding nest” in the Severin Banat. From below you can see the gate of the citadel, and nearby the ruins. The fortress can be reached in 20 minutes on a road that starts from the middle of the village. By visiting these vestiges, the traveller can reconstruct the troubled history of the Romanians from these places.
Also in the vicinity of Mehadia are the ruins of the “Broken Church” from Ulici, which represents actually a Roman temple over which the Slavs have built a church. Another touristic destination is the Orthodox Church from Mehadia, a monument of architecture and painting, and in its courtyard you can see the tombstone of the chronicler Nicolae Stoica of Haţeg, a former deacon of Mehadia and the author of the two reference studies for Banat: “The Banat Chronicle” and “The Chronicle of Mehadia and Herculane Baths “. Here you can also see the tomb of General Nicolae Cena, who, after his retreat to his native region, at Mehadia, made the machete of the Roman fortress and donated his valuable collection of archaeological discoveries for the establishment of the first museum in a Romanian spa resort, at Herculane Baths (1924).
Continuing on your path, at the exit of Mehadia, you will cross the Belareca River on the longest iron bridge from the Southeast Europe (110 m),without any supporting posts in the middle.
After only 5 km you reach Herculane Railway Station, near the confluence of the Cerna River with Belareca, from where it turns left and climbs parallel to Cerna towards Herculane Baths.
Only 3 km from the railway station, on the “roses ‘route”, you cross Cerna for the first time in a spot, (in the present on a concrete bridge) where in 1837 the world’s first spring –loaded metallic bridge was realized, using the lattice beam technique, according to the design of the Banat engineer Carol Maderspach, with materials from the Iron Factories from Rusca Montana. The bridge had a 40 m wide opening with four metallic arches, being “an outstanding technical achievement, all the more since a similar one was not realized before in the Western World, except for the “Cristal Palace “Bridge in London, in 1851. An indication of the constructed bridge is found in 1872: a bridge with semicircles of iron – very well wrought “. [Bălteanu D, 2011].
After crossing the bridge, the first sight with which Cerna welcomes you is an enigmatic one. The slightly curved Domogled’s white slope rises easily on the horizon. At its foot lies the Modern Centre of Thermal Baths in Vicol Park. The opposite slope also becomes more and more inclined, just to settle after that in the Coronini Plateau, the home of Coroaia’s legendary character, the telltale old woman. Then the road squeezes scarcely on Cerna’s left narrow bank, and after almost 3 km you reach the Central Park of the resort. The perspective opens suddenly, with the beautiful architecture of the Cerna Hotel. From here begins the Historic Centre of the Resort, stretching upstream for one kilometre.
On this part of the Cerna Valley, both banks of the river are filled with buildings with a unique architecture, in a harmonious combination of lines, shapes and colours, and Cerna sneaks closed between the towering walls of the masonry. Halfway through the historic resort the road passes on the right bank of Cerna. A moment of rest on the stone bridge realized in curves in 1864 and the eyes are blurred by the clearness of the water and the turmoil of Cerna’s water, captured between the stone walls.
By crossing the bridge you enter the Hercules Square, dominated by the Statue of Hercules (1871) in the middle. Next to the statue you will find a guide and the coach every day, who will lead you on the trails of Hercules’, battles with the dragon, the starting point being upstream the resort, to the Corcoaia Gorges.
There is so much charm in this valley that, to truly know it, it must be looked at independently of what you have seen in other parts.
The trip will start early in the morning, when the sun rises and wishes the traveller “Welcome in the middle of nature!.
All the legends and folk ballads present the fight of the hero Iovan Iorgovan with the dragon, in a mysterious atmosphere. The five fights are located in close liaison with the appearance of the places from Cerna Valley and the healing features of the thermal springs from these lands.
Starting up by coach on the Cerna Valley, you will go on the “prehistoric road” on which the three king’s daughters of the Hercules Country climbed on their doomed day to be sacrificed to the dragon, singing and dancing, full of joy of life in these wonderful places. In the twilight, in a drone’s mirror, where their quenched their thirst, the elder sisters realized that their little sister was much more beautiful than them:
Three proud sisters
The oldest sister
The youngest sister
Then the two older sisters consulted each other and conspired against the youngest one, who was asleep, leaving her alone, and fleeing, forgetting about her and hoping that the dragon would eat her.
Waking up, Ana Cosânzeana began wandering through the silence of the woods and calling out continuously for her sisters, but no one answered, neither the voice of the birds, nor the whisper of the springs. The dragon heard her and went to the clearing to devour her. At its sight, the girl ran into the forest, praying to the sun to rescue her. Then the magnified sun turned her into a bucket, and she ran like the wind and the thought. Seeking for her continuously, the dragon found her sisters instead and swallowed them in a gulp.
After a dream in which the hefty Iovan, as beautiful as a Iorgovan (the lilac flower) had seen how the king’s daughter had lost her way and was facing the danger of death, he set off on his way with a sword and a mace to kill the seven-headed dragon.
The snake on the rock
The girl, I left her
At the edge of the thick forest, from the top of the barren mountain, Iovan Iorgovan sees the dragon running away from him. Then, from above, the strong man threw his mace to a huge rock that collapsed in the dragon’s way, cutting one of its heads. That’s how the Natural Bridge from Ponoare was formed. Knocked down by the blow, the dragon propped on its tail and leapt to the top of the mountain. Then Iovan Iorgovan (aka Hercules) tested his sword and with a strong blow, cut off its second head, severing also the half of the mountain top, hence the name of Mount Retezat / Severed Mountain.
Near the Cerna Springs, in the Cerna Village, you will make the first stop on the Corcoaia Gorges, the wildest and the most impressive sight from the Cerna Valley. As you get out of the village after a hundred meters, you get to the entrance to the gorges. Although they are only 300 m long, the Corcoaia Gorges impress through the 10-meter-long ovoid tunnel dug by Cerna’s water into the 100-meter high cliff.