A few weeks ago, you may remember my post “a hill, like no other“, where I explored the bountiful nature of the Danube River from Eastern Serbia with my parents. Disappointed that we could not take a river cruise, I was on the hunt to find an alternative, and found my luck with Serbian Adventures. Offering a range of interesting activities and tours around Serbia, I booked the Iron Gates cruise with my brother and his girlfriend on a sunny Saturday.
You may be wondering, why the fascination with the Danube River and what these Iron Gates are, so allow me to briefly explain. Located in Serbia’s largest National Park, Djerdap (pronounced: Jerdap), the Iron Gates are Europe’s largest and longest gorge. The river forms a border between Serbia and Romania, while the cruise highlights the majestic nature and allows visitors to witness historical landmarks, seen only from the gorge. Now I have your attention… continue reading 😉
Our journey started bright and early at 8 a.m. with a pick up from New Belgrade. With the bus at max capacity, our tour guide announced the itinerary for the day and warned us that we would be arriving back to Belgrade very late. After a 2 hour drive, we arrived to Srebrno Jezero (Silver Lake), which is located next to the town, Veliko Gradiste. Although it is not technically a lake, rather an “arm” of the Danube River, the resort is popular for Serbians, thanks to its clear and unpolluted water. We enjoyed a short and refreshing break, indulging in a palachinka (Serbian crepe) and ice cream before continuing our journey.
The first sight of the Danube caught my eye as we arrived to the town of Golubac, the gatekeeper of Djerdap National Park. The town has immense historical significance in this region as it borders Romania from across the river. The town’s historic fortress was built in the 14th century and has been the object of countless battles between the Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians, Serbs, Bulgarians and Turks due to its strategic position at the entrance of the gorge, where the water is narrow and controls river traffic. Having experienced heavy damage over the years, the fortress is currently undergoing a renovation project and will be fully restored next year. From Golubac, we drove almost an hour along the majestic river, admiring not only its strong current, but also the change of landscape. From green hills, to steep rocky mountains, the scenery was simply breathtaking.
We stopped at Lepenski Vir, an important protected archaeological site and museum. While studying world history, most of us learned about the oldest civilizations from Egypt or Greece, however, this exact spot, was home to Europe’s first urban settlement, over 8,000 years ago. The excavations which uncovered these ghosts took place in the 1960’s when archaeologists peeled away thousands of layers of history. While analyzing their findings, archaeologists learned that this group of inhabitants lived passed the age of 60, the longest, at that time, and had all 32 teeth intact. A healthy diet of fresh fish and herbs ensured a long and healthy life thanks to the abundance of species in the Danube River. The museum shows a short documentary of the excavation, and has replicas of the archaeological findings which include fish-like stone sculptures. (The original findings are located in the National Museum of Serbia, in Belgrade). After that intriguing history lesson, we headed to Kapetan Misin Breg for a traditional Vlach lunch, overlooking the beautiful river (check out Nomandnommer’s post, for scrumptious details!) After lunch, we continued our journey to Tekija, to catch our boat cruise into Djerdap’s gorge, the most exciting element which I was looking forward to all day long! The boat has an upper deck for those who wish to enjoy the sunshine, and a lower deck with AC for those who wish to stay cool. I enjoyed the breeze from the upper deck, finding a lovely alcove where the shade was perfect and the sun’s rays blended with the light waves. A kaleidoscope of colours immersed the background from shades of blue, to deep hues of greens and browns blending into each other…simply a perfect backdrop for an artist’s canvas.
The 1.5 hour cruise uncovers hidden historical landmarks while allowing its guests to immerse in the beautiful nature. Between the steep and rocky mountains, the secrets of the Iron Gates started to reveal themselves, staring with Trajanova Tabla (Emperor Trajan’s Tablet) located in the Mali Kazan (small reservoir). Around 105 A.D., Roman emperor Nerva Trajan Augustus constructed the first bridge across the Danube, connecting Serbia to Romania. This Roman road was used as a supply route for soldiers fighting in Dacia (Romania). The tablet was raised in the Emperor’s honour upon completion of the road and is located in the entrance of the small reservoir, which is the narrowest part of the Danube.
The most characteristic feature about this landmark, is that from the Serbian side, it can only be seen from the river. The impressive plaque measures 8.2m height and 3.85m length and the inscription in Latin highlights the Emperor’s work through rock excavations and wooden beams. As a part of the Serbian / Romanian partnership, two hydroelectric dams were constructed, which increased the water level by 35 metres, causing the government of Serbia to raise the tablet to prevent it from being flooded. The second hidden landmark is located on the Romanian side called Mraconia Monastery, a church built in the 1500’s. As most of the region, the church also underwent significant damage during the battles, however was fully restored in the 1960’s. The third hidden landmark, located at the entrance of the Veliki Kazan (large reservoir), is the face of the Dacan king, Decebalus, sculpted on the Romanian mountain. While this sculpture is not ancient, it is an impressive work of art. Measuring 42.9 metres in height and 31.6 metres in width, the gigantic face is the tallest rock sculpture in the world. Commissioned between 1993 – 2003 by Romanian businessman, Iosif Constantic Dragan, it commemorates the defeat of King Decebalus, the last king of Dacia (modern day Romania), who fought Roman Emperor Trajan from the Serbian side. At the entrance of the Veliki Kazan, which is the deepest part of the Danube River, measuring 100 metres in depth, is a unique traffic light system called “Balon Stanica Pena”. From the position of the ball, captains of boats knew when to pass through the gorge, however this was the most dangerous form of traffic, as the Danube’s current and landscape was unsteady, before the dams were constructed. After our cruise ended around sunset, we drove back to Belgrade feeling completely relaxed and serene. I am always fascinated by water and can only imagine what other kind of secrets the majestic Danube has passed throughout the generations across time.
Enjoy all the breathtaking photos, right here!
- Serbian Adventures: http://www.serbianadventures.com/en
- Silver Lake: http://www.srebrnojezero.com/
- Iron Gates: http://www.danube.travel/activities/Iron-Gates-of-Danube.l-926.45.html
- Lepenski Vir: http://www.serbia.com/visit-serbia/cultural-attractions/archaeological-sites/lepenski-vir-the-oldest-urban-settlement-in-europe/