The Iron Gate Nature Park on the Serbian border in Romania is home to millennia-old legacies and massive structures between spectacular cliffs of the Danube basin.
In the southwest of Romania on the Danube and thus the border to the Đerdap National Park in Serbia lies the idyllic Iron Gate Nature Park (Parc Natural Porțile de Fier). Between spectacular valley basins and the rugged peaks of the Carpathians, Roman ruins, neat monasteries and caves with fossil remains and historical significance are hidden alongside a diverse flora and fauna. The fantastic landscape is one of our top 10 sights of Romania.
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PICTURES: Iron Gate Nature Park
Photo gallery: Iron Gate Nature Park
By boat through the Iron Gate Nature Park
The best way to explore the beauty of the Danube basin in the nature park is by boat. Boat tours on the Danube start best in the village of Orșova.
This is located on the edge of the Porțile de Fier dam and was relocated in 1970. The original Orșova sank in the floods of the reservoir. Worth seeing today are the massive Roman Catholic church, considered an architectural monument in Europe, and the listed St. Nicolai Church.
Before the Danube was defused by the dam, the kilometres before the Iron Gate were considered the most dangerous section of the Danube and could only be navigated with the assistance of pilots.
Spectacular steep walls on the Danube
Despite all the danger, the most beautiful stretch of the Danube basin begins here. The Danube is only 200 metres wide here and a massive 80 metres deep. The steep walls, up to 300 metres high, seem to literally float above the water in places and offer fantastic photo motifs.
Tip: Boat trips can be booked on request at the administration of the national park. Some guesthouses in Orșova also organise tours with private boats for their guests. The beauty of the Danube basin can also be enjoyed from the DN57 national road.
Millennia-old legacies of former rulers
From Orșova to the Iron Gate, the river landscape captivates not only with its attractive panorama, but also with historical legacies from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as the Roman Empire.
The first attraction visible on a boat trip from Orșova is the so-called Tabula Traiana, the "Tablet of Trajan". This inscription was carved into the mountain to commemorate the construction of the section of road also called the "Trajan Road". After the construction of the dam, it was moved to the top.
Statue of the Dacian King Decebalus
The statue of the Dacian king Decebalus at the mouth of the Mraconia on the Serbian bank of the Danube is particularly impressive. The Romanian businessman Iosif Drăgan had the huge stone head chiselled directly into the mountain. Completed in 2005 after ten years of work, the colossus is 40 metres high and 25 metres wide, making it the largest rock sculpture in Europe.
15km before the Iron Gate, you can also still see the remains of the once impressive Trajan's Bridge, which crossed the Danube as early as the first century AD and connected what is now Serbia with Romania. For over 1000 years, the bridge designed by Apollodor of Damascus was the longest in the world.
Fortresses and monasteries in the Danube basin
As an important traffic route, both banks of the Danube were provided with fortifications and places of worship early on. Today, only ruins remain of many historical buildings, many of which were flooded by the construction of the dam. However, some of them have been rebuilt, such as the pretty Mraconia Monastery.
Located about 100 metres past the mouth of the Mraconia River and the statue of Decebalus, it could hardly be more picturesque. The present building dates from 2000, after the original monastery was also flooded by the dam. Also striking are the stone towers of the Tri Kule fortress ruins.
Iron Gate - Talenge and Power Station
The Iron Gate is considered one of the most impressive valley breakthroughs in Europe. In the middle of the Carpathians, between Serbia and Romania, the course of the Danube narrows to a mere 150 metres. The Iron Gate 1 power station is the most powerful run-of-river power station on the entire Danube.
The approximately 130km long valley is known in Serbia as Djerdap Gorge and in Romania as Cazanele Dunarii (Danube Basin) and impresses with its steep walls up to 300 metres high. The Danube basin is divided into the small basin (Cazanele Mici) from the Ogradena Valley to Dubova and the large basin (Cazanele Mari), which runs from Dubova to the Graniceri Viaduct.
Cross-border nature conservation at the Iron Gate
The 115,000-hectare Iron Gate Nature Park was founded in 2000 and has been of international importance under the Ramsar Convention since 2011. The opposite bank of the Danube in Serbia is also protected as the Đerdap National Park.
In the future, both nature reserves are to form a transboundary biosphere reserve to protect the unique flora and fauna in the Serbian-Romanian Danube region. This involves over 1,000 plant species and rare or endangered animal species such as brown bears, wolves, golden jackals, lynxes, wild boars, black storks and several species of owls.