The largest sculpture in Europe, third largest in the world, carved into the limestone in the Mrakonia bay, the visage of the last king of Dacia keeps eternal vigil over the Iron Gates. The face of Decebalus, whose name means Might of Dacia is 40 meters tall, only 6 meters shorter than the Statue of Liberty, and was carved from 1994 to 2004 right across the Tabula Traiana (Trajan’s Plaque). This Romanian Mt Rushmore was financed by Iosif Constantin Drăgan, a controversial Romanian businessman and a history lover. Drăgan supplied over a million dollars out of a wish to see the two rulers of the ancient world – Decebalus and Trajan, stand forever across each other. Much like the ancient monuments within Đerdap, the face of Decebalus is a tourist attraction, with the benefactor’s name carved at the base: Decebal rex – Dragan fecit (King Decebalus – made by Dragan).
Trajan’s Plaque was erected 1900 years ago by the Roman emperor Nerva Trajan to commemorate the completion of the Roman road through Đerdap – the Via Traiana, made in preparation for the war against the Dacians. Carved into the rock overlooking the most inaccessible section of the road, the Plaque is yet another incredible feat of engineering by the Roman emperor. It has “survived” the formation of Lake Đerdap and rising water levels. The Plaque, along with a section of the ancient road were cut as a single piece and raised by 21.5 meters. The stone monolith, weighing over 300 tonnes was set exactly above the original location, some 2.5 kilometres from Tekija, right at the entrance to / exit from the Lower Gorge, where the Danube is at its narrowest and deepest. It can only be seen from the river.
When you see it from the river, it will appear as if you are standing in front of a monastery situated on Mount Athos, built upon rocks and stone foundations with waves breaking at its feet. Today, the Mrakonia Monastery (meaning “hidden place” or “dark water”) stands upon the left bank of the Danube, having been built where a signal station used to stand, itself intended to monitor the shipping through the narrow section of the Danube where the river admits only one ship at a time. According to historical documents, the monastery has existed since the middle of the 15th century, and it has been known as the “underwater monastery” thanks to its turbulent history. It was destroyed during the wars of 1787–1792, then rebuilt and destroyed again in 1968, with the ruins being flooded by the rising Danube. It was rebuilt once again in 1995, in the shape of a cross and with a porch overlooking the Danube. A window at the monastery’s entry reads: “Born and killed multiple times, the monastery stands today, beyond death, as a testament of faith, symbol of hope in resurrection and a foundation of love.”
Few places in Serbia can boast of having been relocated three times in its history, and Donji Milanovac is just such a place. It was called Banja in the Middle Ages, then Poreč (“place in the middle of the river“), then Donji Milanovac (named in honour of prince Milan Obrenović II), and had been known as Taliata to the Romans before all else. At the heart of Đerdap, this quiet little town enjoys a most solubrious climate, and is known for being the sunniest place in Serbia., as well as its rich fishing grounds, marvelous sunsets and terrific local cuisine. The residents take pride in counting captains Tenka and Miša Anastasijević amongst their number, as well as having one of the oldest schools in Serbia (founded in 1807). If you enjoy nature, history and adventure, then Donji Milanovac and the nearby Lepenski Vir are ideal destinations for you.
About a hundred kilometres of the Danube, out of the 588 that belong to Serbia, are under the protection of the Đerdap National Park. The famous Iron Gates, the largest and longest gorge in Europe, is also known as a wild botanical garden. Around a quarter of the total plant life of Serbia grows here, along with about 170 species of birds and 50 species of fish, as well as over half of all mammal species in Serbia. With over 40 cultural and historical monuments, spanning from prehistory to the Middle Ages, the National Park is the largest outdoor archaeological park in Europe, as well. The Danube is at its widest, deepest and narrowest in this area. Cruising the river, you will have the opportunity to witness the beauty of its banks, breath-taking natural phenomena and cultural monuments, and see for yourself why Đerdap has been a challenge for travellers, armies and peacemakers throughout the ages.
The Kazans of Đerdap, Great and Small, have become well known across the world as the place where the Danube is at its narrowest (40 meters) and deepest (over 90 meters). The name comes from the steep gradient and fast flow of the water, sudden changes in the width and depth of the river bed, as well as strong vortices, all of which combined to make the water surface seem to boil (“kazan” means “cauldron” in Serbian). Before the HE Power Station “Đerdap 1” was built, the gorges were known as spawning areas for sturgeons and belugas migrating from the Black Sea. The navigation was monitored and regulated by a series of balloon stations, and a ship would be piloted by a river pilot called “loc”. Near the bottom of the slopes that rise up to 500 meters you can find powerful karst springs, as well as Veterani cave. The gorges hide the Hajduks’ Mill, a smaller Roman and Medieval settlement, as well as a church and necropolis, known for priceless caches of silver and gold coins dating from the Middle Ages and early Byzantine periods, respectively. At the same time, this is the very centre of the Danube’s Lower Gorge that affords an impressive view of the steep cliffs of Mt Miroč on the Serbian side and the Almajului Mountains on the Romanian bank.