THE BANAT ARCADIA
When descending from the White Stone (Piatra Alba) Peak (546 m) of the Locva Mountains on the so symmetrically arranged serpentines, on the 14 km between the Naidas Bridge across Nera and the Radimna Bridge, and walking on the new road crossing the mountains in the middle of the fir, beech and oak forests, you reach the Pojejenei Peak, from where the Danube can be seen for the first time.
It is the first place where the Danube will surprise you with the yellowish-green colour of its waters, which only the writer Jules Verne intuited in his posthumous novel entitled “Le beau Danube jaune”, in Romanian “The Beautiful Yellow Danube“.
If in Vienna, the Danube is blue, in the Danube Gorge it has “blonde waves” with greenish and silver irritancies, which speak about the “toil” of the river to pierce the Jurassic and Cretaceous limestone of the Carpathians at the beginning of the quaternary period. “At that time, the Carpathians were bound to the mountains across the Danube, on Serbia, in a continuous chain.”[Bureau V, 1982].
This is how the Danube was born, opening the “keys” of the Iron Gates stretched from Baziaş (70 m altitude) to the Mouth Valley (45 m altitude) and forming the Danube Gorge with cataracts, thresholds and remote cliffs, the winding and wild strait that bound the Pannonia Lake to the west and the Getic Lake to the east, a lake stretching over the current territory of Bărăgan to the Black Sea.
“Who were the first sailors on the Danube is not known. According to the classic legend the Argonauts have also ventured here in search for the golden wool. The Romans, in order to be able to master the river, carved their road along the right bank, in many places above the water, hung on the beams embedded in the rock wall. They also dug the first channel to navigate at the Iron Gates (at the time of Traian, near the Serbian locality Sip). The Turks raised the bastions to support the left bank fortresses. In the eighteenth century, history changed, the Austrians fortified the shore on the left bank against the Turks. After another century the great road along the left bank between Bazias and Orșova (1834-1837) is cut. And at the end of the century, the Hungarian government, with German money and with Romanian labour, executed the regulation on the riverbed as far as Turnu Severin. (…) In order for the ship to pass with today’s safety, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of rock have been blown off from the bottom and from the banks, huge dams were built into the water and kilometric channels were cut in the places where the water did not have the required depth for navigation.“ [Birou V., 1982].
The second navigable waterway from the Iron Gates was inaugurated on September 15/27, 1896, after the canal works commenced in 1891 ended in 1895.
The channel provided with two stone dams was 2200 m long and 80 m wide. The depth of the channel was calculated to be at least 2 m to allow navigation also when the waters were down.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz Joseph, King Charles the First of Romania and King Alexander the First of Serbia. The event was marked by a jubilee medal, that on one side presented the three sovereigns, and on the reverse of the medal the date of the meeting was written.
For hundreds of years, this Banat region full of natural charm, but also of history is called “The Danube Gorge”. As a tourist area, the Danube Gorge stretches from Bazias to Orşova. It is a Danube area between Nera’s mouth (km 1075 fluvial) and Cerna’s mouth (km 955 fluvial) on a 120 km distance.
Etymologically, the word “clisura” (meaning gorge) derives from the word “clis” which means key in Greek, as one of the closest researchers of the Danube Gorge, Prof. Alexandru Moisi, states. [Moisi A., 1934]. The metaphorical name is a suitable one, as it can be said that, always, the Danube strait was the key of the West to the Orient. Furthermore, “the name is adequate, since both at the entrance and at the exit of the strait; the valley has a perfect resemblance to a grandiose key.” [Moisi A., 1934].
Narrowly defined, the Danube Gorge is the narrow valley of the Danube from Babacaia to Tabula Traiana, divided into two parts: the Upper Gorge, from Babacaia to the border between Caraş-Severin and Mehedinţi counties, close to the Greben Cataract, and the Lower Gorge, from Greben to Tabula Traiana.
After the intervention of “man” in search of greatness, through the construction of the Iron Gates dam, nature took back the wild domination over the Danube Gorge.
“The Danube is flowing without return like sand through the hourglass of time. New waters always pass before us in unrepeatable moments; creating the strange feeling that time has become material, embodied in waves.” [Meila M., 1912].
The Danube River is always alive as a huge fluid being made of water. Sometimes it can be gentle and quiet like a spring breeze. Sometimes, however, it is disturbed, as if driven by the turmoil of the people from these places.
The wild unparalleled beauty of the Gorge sights is also given by the flow of the Danube waters through the 5 keys of the Gorge, closing and opening through an alternation of narrow sections and depressions:
• Baziaş-Divici (8 km) narrow section, followed by a wide depression in Moldova Veche (27 km);
• Coronini – Alibeg narrow section (6.2 km) and Sichevita (Gornea) – Liubcova depression (17 km);
• Berzasca – Greben narrow section (18 km) and Greben-Plavişevita long wide section(25 km);
• The Big Cauldrons (3.8 km) with Dubova Bay (1.4 km);
• The Small Cauldrons (3.6 km) with Ogradena-Orşova depression (10 km)
When you come to the Gorge for the first time, it will be hard to believe that such a beauty exist, unique in the whole Europe. Delightful places are all along, that you will later remember as a journey through a “Banat Arcade.” [Meila M., 1912]. Once you see this land, you will never forget it, and you will always have the nostalgia for the joy of the past.
As every trip to Mountainous Banat is a small adventure, we offer you a last touristic route, a cruise on the Danube where, for 8-10 hours, you will experience total relaxation through a dreamlike state that the river bestows to those who come to see it flowing quietly
“with the smoothness of a mirror.”
The Touristic Route no. 10: Cruise on the Danube
For a cruise on the Danube Gorge, it is necessary to reach the town of New Moldova, in the southern part of it, passing through the urban area called the New Town. Then you enter the “Old Moldova ” harbour built on the location of the old Dacian Mudava settlement. Here, during the Romans’ times, a camp was built, and in the Middle Ages a fortress. The first territory occupied by the Romans and the last one left by them was the Gorge.
Moldova Noua or New Moldova was founded in the seventeenth century by forest cutters and miners coming from Oltenia, who built their homes along the Boşneagului Valley, until the exit of the Danube in the meadows. But no further, for the arable land commenced here, being in the property of the mining exploitation’s owners, who were the following along the time: first the Emperor of Vienna, then the StEG Company and later the UDR. Until 1989, New Moldova was an important non-ferrous mining centre, and today it is a harbour town on the Danube.
You can reach the harbour of Old Moldova from Pojejena Hill descending from Pojejena, where the newest Touristic Compound on the Gorge was opened. From here, through Măceşti, you can reach Old Moldova, a village with a Mediterranean landscape, with narrow streets and houses with the front to the street, built close to each other and with the grapevine growing on the walls of the houses, without the need to bury it in during winter. At Old Moldova there is the most famous wine from the Gorge, called by locals “Linden Leaf” and “The Golden Cauldron” Festival is organized here every year.
The Golden Cauldron
It is a culinary-cultural-sporting event, the first edition of which dates back to 2002. It is organized in early August by the Serbs from the Danube Gorge in Moldova Veche, financed by the Serbian Union of Romania.
The manifestation has three moments:
1. The competition of sports fishing in the Danube, completed by other sports games as well, such as: soccer, chess, table tennis, etc.
2. The culinary moment, when you can see the craftsmanship of all the competitors, when preparing the fish soup in large cauldrons, according to their own recipes. All the tourists are offered a bowl of fish soup, a plate of fried fish and a glass of red wine.
3. The cultural moment concludes the event and contains a folklore show of the cultural and artistic groups of the Banat and Serbian ethnic groups, a Miss Danube Gorge contest and a tombola whose main prize is a big fish of 10 kg.
At the event, the tourists are able to get to know the people, the traditional folk costumes and the folklore of the Danube Gorge, to taste the fish dishes specific to the area and even to participate directly, as contestants, in the organized competitions.
At almost 3 km from Old Moldova, on the Great Valley, you can visit a new reservation from the Iron Gate Natural Park: the Great Valley Nature Reserve.
It is a botanical and forest reserve with ash, oak and beech forests mixed with hornbeam. It is sheltered from the cold air mass; being an oasis of Mediterranean vegetation and the only place in Romania where the white ivy (Daphne laureola) grows outdoors, in bushes up to one meter, with hard and big leaves.
Characteristic of the white ivy are also its fat leaves covered by a layer of wax, arranged in bouquets on branches, which remain green also in the winter time. It makes fruits in the form of black “pearls”. Besides the white ivy, there are also other rare plants in the reservation, such as: the globe thistle, the manna ash, the sycamore, smoke tree, the wild lilac, the silver linden, the Oriental hornbeam and the garden peony.
Once you arrive at the harbour of Old Moldova (km 1048 fluvial), you will hear the most beautiful folk creation of the Serbian villages, Dunave, Dunave (Oh, ye Danube, Danube), as an imaginary dialogue with the river of the Gorge:
Oh, Danube, Danube,
The boat starts its journey through the Danube Gorge, by passing the emerald island called “the Danube Island” from the middle of the river, loaded abundantly with willows, but attended like a suspended garden. It is the natural reserve where the last specimen of the “European beaver” lived, a kind of animal akin to the common beaver, but with a wide, strong tail and sharp, prominent teeth. These animals lived in shelters of branches built in the riverbed.
Right in the middle of the island you can see a hill (a “hunca“) that rises 50 m above the Danube level and from the top of which unforgettable views open both up and down on the river. Upwards, to the north-west, you can see the entrance of the Danube into the country, and downwards, to the southeast, the Danube Gorge arises, with the two fortresses face to face, as watchmen, the Golubać fortress, on the Serbian bank, and St. Ladislau fortress, on the Romanian bank.
Here the Danube has a width of 5 km, the largest on the strait, and also here, near Varad, the winds blow the hardest. The wind farms on the nearby hills stand as evidence. Only the nearby “tailing dust” sometimes pollutes the area.
Several hundred meters further down the valley, on the left bank, lies the Coronini village, which in 1965-1995 was called Pescari, meaning fishermen in Romanian, after the main occupation of the inhabitants, fishing, by which the Danube fishes arrived as gifts on the table of the rich. The village developed a lot during the “embargo”, but after the glory of the 1990s, the locals were forced to return to their traditional occupation to earn their living: cultivating the land and fishing.
The name of the settlement reminds of the Count of Coronini-Cronberg, the former governor of Banat Timiş and Serbian Vojvodina, between 1851-1859.
Past Coronini, at km 1040 fluvial, the Babacaia Rock rises from the Danube with its “beauty of stone” and its legends.
The Babacaia Rock – before the construction of the Iron Gate – was a “sent envoy” of the numerous cliffs that from here, downstream, were tearing the quiet canvas of the Danube into thousands of waves, whose foamy and laced ridges frightened you. Here, all the ships crossing through the strait were customs cleared, and here, when the Coşava wind is blowing hard, a weeping sound is heard, being the cry of the beautiful girl held by the Christian prince, sculpted by nature in the “rock of the father”. On both sides of the Danube two fortresses can be seen, on the Romanian bank there are the ruins of St. Ladislau citadel, with its tower called the Coronini Cula, and the Serbian Golubac Fortress (the Pigeon Fortress), whose laced profile rises slimly on the top of the limestone rock. Today the pigeon has become the symbol of the Serbian town Golubać near the fortress. The legends of the place and the so beautiful Danube sights around Babacaia inspire not only artists and writers but also travellers to feel and live like the Banat writer, Mircea Cavadia, always “with the Danube in the heart”. Even in the misty days, when the Babacaia Rock appears and disappears among the clouds driven by the wind along the Danube, you will feel that everything seems to be surrounded by an unearthly atmosphere.
And in the middle of summer, in cloudless nights, you can see the UEM Resita House of Tourism, you can watch the stars falling from the sky vault down to their twin sister mirrored in the water, like some “broken wings” in the memory of the youngsters who have lost their lives on the Danube Gorge when they tried to flee the country in search of freedom. According to the traditional belief of the inhabitants from the Gorge, when a star falls, a man dies. That’s why, when the moon appears, look at the magical path of light laying on the water’s shiny surface until bellow the night’s star. You will see that the light descended from the sky is twinned with that reflected by the waters, and in the silent night it will be light as the day. It is the moment you will look for the answer to the question:
Why do stars fall when people die,
and why falling stars appear, so that people die?
Towards dawn, dew pearls appear on the leaves of grass from the water’s edge, symbolizing the tears of the ending night and of the mothers who miss their children departed in the wide world.
“Downstream Coronini, to the right and to the left, the mountains crowd together more and more over the Danube, forcing it to narrow its bed, and when the rains or thaws swell its waves, the river rushes over the rocky shore, to dig it and to break it down always and forever.” [Bizera M., 1971].
It is the narrowing of the Coronini–Alibeg, where the banks of the Danube come closer to less than 500 m, the walls are steep and tall over 100 m high, made of Jurassic and Cretaceous limestone, and the depth of water is more than 35 m above the marshes from the bottom.
On the right bank of the Danube, the Serbian road follows the old Roman road, fact proved by the riverside quarry. On the left bank of the Danube, the Moldova Noua – Orşova new road overlaps basically the “Széchenyi” road between Orşova and Baziaş, being commenced at Orşova in 1834, and finished in 1837 at the Cauldrons; after another two years (1839) it arrived at Coronini-Alibeg and ended up at Bazias in 1848. Next to the road we can see even today a plate fixed during the time of Emperor Franz Josef, evoking the road of Stefan Széchenyi and Gabor Baross. Until recently, the road on the Romanian side looked differently. It slithered along the Danube below the high limestone walls in tight and dangerous curves. In the bent hairpin curves, the carriages and then the cars were seen only in a mirror, and the railing was made of small successive arches that separated the road from the steep bank. Photographs with people in carriages, strolling through these charming places stand as testimony even in the present.
In the limestone rocks many caves open. One of the most picturesque and easily accessible is the “Fly Hole” Cave near the road, 20 m above the spring at km 1039 fluvial. Legend has it that this was the shelter for the swarms of flies called “musca golumbaca”, emerged from the head of the dragon killed by Iovan Iorgovan in the Cerna Valley, head that rolled up until here, close to the Strait of Alibeg-Coronini. The cave has a length of 254 m and the entrance is illuminated by a large natural window facing the Danube.
Also nearby, 3 km downstream of the ” Fly Hole” Cave, on the Danube slope, 80 m above the water, there lies the “Chindiei Hole” Cave, declared an archaeological reserve, where 425 prehistoric cave drawings have been discovered , but also traces of Dacian inhabitancy. On the walls of the rock, unknown artists painted birds, flowers and other signs, using natural pigments and collared clays from the surroundings.
The red coloured “Clay sun” is one of the oldest drawings, being completed 6500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the proof of a primitive aesthetic beginning, in a certain ritual where most paintings are on the eastern and northern walls of the cave, which are illuminated by the last rays of the sun before sunset, at chindie ( dusk) as they say in idiom, hence the name of the cave.
The “Faces of the Danube” is another natural reserve in the strait, where on the limestone slope you can see rich clusters of bellflowers bushes (Campanula crassipes), a true delight for the eyes grace to the blue-violet colour of their flowers.
Coming out from the limestone “strap” from the “Stenca Cataract“, the Danube widens and the first “cauldron” appears, where the water canvas takes a round shape and the waves rotate and give the feeling that they boil just like the water in a cauldron.
The cruise continues, and from the boat, on the Romanian shore, you can see the “Şumita” guesthouse at Liborajdea, and on the Serbian bank you can see the locality of Brnijica. Flowing almost parallel to the Liborajdea River, one kilometre downstream you reach the Crusovita River which flows into the Danube. You reach the Sicheviţa – Liubcova Depression, where you can see the traces of the 3rd century roman Villa Rusticae tot the right, next to “Căuniţa” Guesthouse. In the right of the Pazariste bridge you can see the county road DJ 571A branching out from the national road DN57, passing through the village of Gornea, where you can visit the “Ion Dragomir” Archaeology and Ethnography Village Museum, with unique pieces, and through Sicheviţa commune, formed of 19 villages renowned for the Compound of watermills with buckets and buttons. Then the road continues on Cameniţei Valley towards Gârnic and Padina Matei.
Looking in the distance from the boat you can see the border that separates the Locva Mountains from Almăj Mountains, along the Camenita river, that measures 13 km from the springs till the mouth of the Danube, at the Păzărişte bridge.
Passing next to the villages of Liubcova to the left and Dobra to the right, you pass through the village of Berzasca, located at km 1018 fluvial, where the newest Lacustrine Village on the Danube Gorge is going to be built. Downstream from Berzasca, on a distance of 18 km to Greben, the Danube forms a new narrowing. At Drencova, at km 1015, the ruins of the Drencova fortress can be seen rising from the river’s waters, after which the “Cozla Cataract” appears. From the border of Caraş-Severin County with Mehedinţi County, the Lower Danube Gorge begins.