THE SMALL CAULDRONS
The trip through the Mountainous Banat is not complete without visiting the Danube’s Gorge, the most grandiose and spectacular defiles of the Danube.
The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga, with a water course of 2860 km, of which 1075 km are on the Romanian territory. The most delightful part is between Bazias and Orșova, whose beauty cannot be equalled by any other section or region in Europe.
Destiny made it that the attribute “black” appears both in her riverbed, as well as its mouth flowing into the sea. The springs are located in the Black Forest Mountains (Schwartz Wald, Germany), and the three branches (Chilia, Sulina and Sf. Gheorghe) flow their waters into the Black Sea (Romania).
The Danube owns also another superlative: it is the river that crosses most countries and 4 European capitals on its journey on the “old” continent.
In the 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine) the great river “gives nobility and greatness to the places where it passes, and sometimes the view, combining the stretching of the glowing water with jagged, rocky and wooded shores, provides an impressive show. This is particularly true in Danube Gorge.“[Meila M., 2011].
The name of the river does not differ much in the languages of the 10 riparian countries: Donau in German, Dunaj in Slovakian, Duna in Hungarian, Dunav in Serbian and Bulgarian, Dunai in Russian and Danube in Romanian.
The proposed route is an unforgettable trip to the Danube Cauldrons, a true monument of nature through the sculptures that the Danube has created in its struggle to make its way across the Carpathians.
Touristic route no. 9: The Road of the “Danube Cauldrons”
Between Eşelniţa and Plavişeviţa, the Danube has outdone itself by creating the most sought after place as a touristic attraction of the gorge: the Danube Cauldrons.
The notoriety is fully deserved, because here the Danube “boils” between the steep walls cut in the limestone, a phenomenon that can be understood only if the tourist sees it with his own eyes, directly from the middle of the water. Although the majestic beauty of the landscape makes any attempt to describe it in words pointless and futile, we will relate the journey step by step.
Embarkation on the boat is made either at the Orşova harbour or near the recreation place called “Orșova Island”. With the excitement of a journey on the Danube’s waves, the tourist is urged to look at the settlement in an “amphitheatre” of the new town of Orşova, the most beautiful town on the Danube Gorge. Turning towards the north end of the city, you can see the “mouth” of Cerna, where the legendary river spills its waters into the Danube. Not far from the Gulf of Cerna lies the Orșova Harbour, and then on the Danube downhill, at about 2 km, you can spot the place where Ada Kaleh Island was. For tourists eager to adventure, it is not far off the day when they can dive to see in the depths the “Sunken East” after flooding the island with the waters of Iron Gates Storage Lake, in 1971.
“A corner of a strange world, tossed by fate, symbolically, between passing waves, Ada-Kaleh hides behind a legend and a lyrical moment. The legend was created by an old and gentle dervish, Mischin Baba, which, in Turkish, means poor. And almost all the Turks on the island were poor, but they knew how to live their simple life. The lyrical moment is the reliving of the battles of the Caras inhabitants with the Turks over two centuries. And the inhabitant of Caras erased from the soul even the memory of the Turkish times. “[Birou V., 1982].
Still under the bay’s water lies the hearth of the old town of Orşova.
Along with the starting of the ship upwards on the Danube, you can see above the town of Orşova, on Mosului Hill, the Saint Anna Monastery (founded by Pamfil Şeicaru), watching over the Danube and the city.
After 5 km (960 km) of walking, you reach the confluence with the Eşelniţa brook. It is the place where, in the first Roman-Dacian war, in 101 AD, the Romanian soldiers crossed the Danube on ships to advance to the heart of Dacia.
At km 962 fluvial, you reach the Ogradena Island where, instead of the village swallowed by water, on the left bank of the Danube, there are newly constructed holiday houses and pensions, with many attractive offers regarding the meals, accommodation and recreation.
After a trip from km 955 on the river (Orşova) to the km 965 fluvial, you arrive at the Danube Cauldrons, which stretches over 9 km, including the Dubova Bay connecting the Small Cauldrons (3.6 km) to the Big Cauldrons 3,8 km).
The Danube is fascinating and spectacular on the whole “gorge”, but the most beautiful, imposing and enigmatic is only at the two “cauldrons”. Here, time and water carved the white limestone, moulding a unique natural monument.
The Small Cauldrons are situated between the Ogradena Valley and Dubova Bay and are 3.6 km long, located between km 965 fluvial and km 968.6 fluvial. They are guarded by the Little Ciucaru Mountains (313 m) on the Romanian shore, face to face with the Little Strbacul Mountains (626 m), on the Serbian side. The Small Cauldrons are the last open gate of the Danube waters on their way to the sea. Here, the valley narrows so much that the limestone walls on both sides are only 150 m apart. It is the place where, before 1989, the youngsters used to jump from the boat into the water, swimming across the Danube, to escape to Serbia (the former Yugoslavia) and head to the West, in the search of freedom. Just like everywhere where the riverbed becomes narrower, the depth of water grows in the Small Cauldrons too and reaches up to 100 m.
The Big Cauldrons are separated from the Little Cauldrons by the Dubova Bay, which extends on almost 1.4 km. It is the name of the gorge section between the Dubova Gulf and the Plavişeviţa Valley. On a length of 3.8 km, between km 970 and km 973.8, the river is bordered by the steep and high limestone walls of Big Ciucaru Mountain (318 m) and Big Strbacul Mountain (768 m). Big Ciucaru belongs to the Almaj Mountains in Romania, and Big Strbacul is part of the Miroc Mountain chain in Serbia. At the Big Cauldrons, the banks of the river get close to each another at nearly 200 m and the depth of the water reaches 80 m. Even before the construction of the dam, the Danube had in this place a depth of 45 m. Although Big Ciucaru is not tall, the vertical walls rising above the water over 200 m and the river “running” at your feet gives a spectacular image of the Danube that “boils” at the Cauldrons. Through the high currents from the shallows, “bubbles” are created on the water surface, giving the impression of a cauldron in course of boiling. The Iron Gates dam has slowed down the current speed which exceeded 5 m / s (18 km / h).
The Danube Cauldrons are part of the Cross–Border “Iron Gates” Natural Park and constitutes a natural reserve, preserving unique Sub-Mediterranean plants that are found only in this area. When spring comes, the cauldrons turn green, you feel how nature lives. When April comes, the cauldron’s tulip blossoms over the rocks in the Big Cauldrons and near the Veterani Cave. There are thousands and thousands of yellow flowers, with long stems, emerging from the cracks of the mountain, a miracle of resistance in the rocks. It smells of wild lilac in the Cauldrons in May. The lila flowers pass, and it is the turn of the white acacia flowers, which enchant you with their perfume. Then lime trees bloom, another scent, and another delight. Then you begin to feel the smell of fish. It’s the sign that the summer has come.
You can swim in the Danube and everybody goes fishing go. August nights are with full moon, and falling stars can be seen. In autumn, the landscape of the Cauldrons changes its colours, and the end of October it is wonderful. The winter comes, soft and gentle to the Danube Cauldrons, a “breather” to the reawakening of nature, with an even greater desire for life.
While the Small Cauldrons can be seen even from land, as the DN 57 winds along the Danube along the entire gorge, the Big Cauldrons are only visible from the water through a cruise on the Danube.
Until recently, on this part of the Danube, the ships has circulated with great difficulty, because at the bottom of the river there were rocks and stone thresholds, but with the construction of the Iron Gates dam, the Danube has become a “big lake” on which you can navigate easily.
At the entrance of the ship in the Small Cauldrons (km 964,5 fluvial), the Tabula Traiana can be seen on the Serbian bank, while in the middle of the Small Cauldrons, on the Romanian bank, in the Mraconia Bay (km 967 fluvial), you can see the Decebalus’s Statue, so renowned among the tourists.
In front of the ship, only 500 m from the rock statue, you can see the Mraconia Monastery, also known as the “Underwater Monastery”.
When you go past the monastery, the steep banks, wooded at the base and ridged to the summits, dominate the water mirror with their heights of over 150 m, so close to each other, at a distance equal to their height.
Continuing the trip “against the current”, you reach km 970 fluvial, where the Danube widens into the Dubova basin, having the appearance of a bay, on the bank of which the locality of Dubova is situated.
Looking at the beautiful summer houses and pensions from the Dubova Bay, you will not even realize that the limestone steeper restrict the water mirror again to less than 350 m and enter in the most impressive place: the Big Cauldrons.
While in the Little Cauldrons the lapis predominate, the Big Cauldrons are full of sinkholes and caves, the most famous of which are: Ponicova Cave and Veterani Cave.
After completing the route of the 3.8 km through the Big Cauldrons, at km 973.8 fluvial, the boat will turn back to Orșova, and after almost 15 km turn and 15 returns, you will say, “I will return here as soon as possible”.