Iron Gates Nature Park: Biodiversity and Multiculturalism
Iron Gates Nature Park is a distinct presence on Romania’s map of protected areas. It’s the place where the Danube forms its longest and most spectacular gorges. The landscape it creates is one of the most breathtaking in Europe and one of Romania’s top natural attractions.
Wetland of international importance
Located in the south-west part of the country, on more than 115,000 hectares and bordered for 140 km by the Danube, Iron Gates Nature Park is a rare mix of biodiversity, geological attractions, traditional villages and multicultural heritage.
It’s also a favorite place for many aquatic birds that live in the park or migrate here for the mild winters, the area of the Iron Gates being included on the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance. Most of the 205 bird species identified in the park are in fact aquatic birds and if you have an eye for it, you can spot Black Storks, Pygmy Cormorants, the Small Egret or the White Great Egret.
The Danube Gorges
On the territory of this nature park, the Danube forms the longest gorges in Europe (134 km) and, in its narrowest sector, creates the Great and Small Danube Gorges where tall and abrupt rocky hills like Ciucarul Mic (313 meters) and Stirbatul Mic (626 meters) border the river.
The Great Gorges are 3.8 km long and 200-350 meters wide while the Small Gorges narrow Europe’s second largest river to just 150 meters in some areas. You can take one of the numerous river cruises that depart all day long from the small bay where the statue of Decebal is located. This way, you get to navigate between the Great and Small Gorges, but you’ll also visit the cave Veterani, used many times across the centuries for protection against wars and conflicts.
You can also choose one of the many hiking trails that will take you to panoramic viewpoints above the defile. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, go on a guided tour of the cave Ponicova, also known as the Bats’ Cave.
The variety of the relief, the climate’s Mediterranean influences and the gorges make this protected area one of the richest areas of Romania in terms of biodiversity. Important species, some unique in the country, are found here. The animal species are best represented by the high number of birds, fish or amphibians. Thirty-four species of mammals are found in the park, from big carnivores like the brown bear or the lynx to wild cats or red deer. Iron Gates Nature Park is also the home of two rare reptile species, Hermann’s Tortoise and the Long-Noised Viper, both protected and endangered.
Multi-ethnic heritage and historical attractions
In the villages from the Iron Gates, Serbian, Czech and Turkish communities left their mark on local culture, shaping its authenticity and cultural value. This is, in fact, the protected area with the highest ethnic diversity in Romania. A visit to the ethnographic museums from Eselnita, Gornea or the Iron Gates I Hydroelectric Power Plant Museum is an excellent chance to learn more about the local multicultural diversity.
Plenty of historical attractions complete the list of places to see. Among the main attractions are the ruins of the medieval fortress Trikule, Mraconia Monastery, the water mills from Sichevita, the 14th-century Vodita Monastery and the unconventional Catholic Cathedral from Orsova.
European record sculpture and dams
And there’s more. Close to the Monastery of Mraconia, you’ll find the biggest rock sculpture in Europe, representing the ancient Dacian king, Decebal. Almost 55 meters tall, the sculpture required 10 years (1994-2004) of hard and often dangerous work as the rock is only accessible by water. On the opposing Serbian shore, you’ll see the symbol of the Roman Empire’s final attack over the Dacian Kingdom, the rock inscription Tabula Traiana, almost 2,000 years old.
One of the best attractions of the Iron Gates was, however, drowned by the Danube. The construction of the largest hydroelectric power plants on the Danube River, Iron Gates I and Iron Gates II, increased the water level with 35 meters. Together with other villages, the island of Ada Kaleh, inhabited for centuries by a Turkish community, was submerged and lost forever.
Creating a unique landscape in Europe, crossing half of the continent and four capitals, the Danube parades in its full glory on the territory of Iron Gates Nature Park, one of Romania’s must-see natural attractions. Spend at least 3-4 days here, we can guarantee you will remember it for years to come as very few places in Europe offer this mix of cultural, geographical and biological diversity.
Save half a day for the Serbian part of the Danube defile. You can cross the border through the checkpoint Iron Gates I. Besides the spectacular views and many tunnels, you can visit the large and overwhelming Golubac fortress that was hundreds of years ago a key customs point for ships.
Book your accommodation in time. There are few good options in the area.