1. Legends of the Iron Gates

 November 4th, 2006 | by Alexandru Boariu 

Porta Ferea in Latin, Donje Djerdap in Serbian, Vaskapu in Hungarian, Demir-kapi in Turkish, Iron Gates in Romanian: a barrier of rocks and whirling waters, which, for centuries, made Danube navigation almost impossible at the entrance in Romania. Many brave or foolish navigators lost their lives trying to cross this dangerous corridor.

Today the “killing gates” are peaceful. Hundreds of cliffs that came lofty out of the Danube, creating nightmares to any sailor, lay up now still under the waters of the immense accumulation lake created by the dam of the Iron Gates I Hydroelectric Power Plant. Ships float in silence above them. After centuries of fierce confrontation, the old Danube and the millenary mountains – the Carpathians on the Romanian bank, the Balkans on the Serbian one – ceased their sharp combat. They have concluded an armistice. The river and the mountain, the water and the rock have made peace. Only the legends, impressions and testimonies of those who traveled along the centuries through this wonderful gorge still recall the terrible clenching.

2. Legend on the Iron Gates

One of the many legends about the Iron Gates is reported by the BaronessAloyse de Carlowitz. The story’s heroine is Sieglinde, nymph of the Danube. According to the legend, Sieglinde made her husband, “the spirit of rocks and whirlpools”, to build an iron gate to prevent navigators to enter the maze of cliffs. If, however, they came here, they could escape the wreck only if they were driven by Sieglinde herself. Once arrived opposite the gate, the navigators brought offerings to the nymph, until the gate announced her arrival by opening. In one of the days, however, the ingratitude of a conceited sailor put the crossing luck just on the account of his skills. This has upset Sieglinde so much that she has left the place, leaving open this passage dangerous for anyone would have ventured. (“In Roman countries – foreign travelers in the nineteenth century” – Sports-Tourism Publishing House, 1984).

In her travel diary of 1856, Baroness of Carlowitz Aloyse has also left us one of the most beautiful descriptions of the exciting passage through the Iron Gates. “Among the rocks, frightening roars, mournful groans and sharp cries run, among which a human voice had tried in vain to be heard. We are at a very short distance from the place where the water and stone were clenching in a fierce battle, when our silent sailors made a sign that, although urging the attention, inspired horror:

<Here is the Iron Gates!>. The boat plunged into chaos, seeming to seek refuge on the Serbian bank. Then, the head of the crew, going to the steering wheel, suddenly changed the direction of the boat, pointing it to a moving platform, covered with white foam, where dark swirls opened here and there. Among them higher or lower cliffs were rising, watching our vessel as the tiger watches the imprudent traveler who ventured into the desert where it is the only master.

Salamanders in flames.

Oarsmen have stopped, but this stop was worrying. The steersman, curled up in the back of his head, stretched his arms toward the steering wheel, but he did not dare to touch it, realizing that it was driven by a hand more skilled than his. The single pilot was happy, an unexplained happiness, that of the salamander in the middle of the flames (…)

Our boat slipped in the midst of these swirls, rocks and waterholes and went forward quickly on the edge of a crowd of narrow waterfalls, separated by some distorted rocks, like some imaginary socket for the petrified Giants laying their fantastic  hands on top of the waterfalls.

You would have said that under this awful appearance, they have retained the ability to speak, as one can speak only in the Underworld. Vague voices crying, screaming and moaning around us melted in a frightening noise so powerful that twenty cannon bursts would not have been heard (…)

Monsters’ wings.

Our vessel was no longer floating; it seemed to fly as if carried on the wings of the marine monsters that seemed to be meeting here to breathe and give out the water swallowed, turning it into a harmless and limp foam. Between their gaping mouths round, flat and sharp rocks were rising, so close together that it seemed possible to descend on them, as on a ladder, to the depth of the abyss that one could guess without seeing it, because light could not penetrate there and the darkness sometimes covered by sparse sun rays could turn the Iron Gates passage a true descent into the underworld. Suddenly, as foreseen by the guide at Mount Alion, our boat started to sway gently on a large slightly agitated water layer, heading towards an enchanting small island called Balmid (it no longer exists today – e.n.). The cliffs, proud that they challenged the Danube with an insurmountable barrier, withdrew behind it, grouped on the Serbian bank, reaching down to the foot of the Carpathians and leaving the fertile Wallachia plains at the mercy of the winning waters.

Bibliography-Internet— NATIONAL JOURNAL- Nov. 4th, 2006

3. “The legend of the Marcopici path”

The elders of this area talk fondly of legends heard of old; this is how it is said that the path called Marcopici, near Vodita Monastery, took this name because of the following happening:

Vodita Monastery, a monastery of hardworking monks and with the fear of God in their souls, was a place where the monk Marcu lived, the second as position after the monastery abbot. Like everyone else, Marcu lived an ascetic life according to the church canons, but because he went on countless occasions at trade fairs to purchase various things, one of the days he fell in love with a girl from the locality of Jidostita. The love he had for her was stronger than anything else and, in violation of the church canons, he decided to see her in secret. The secret place where they met was a nearby fountain. They saw each other for a while, until the abbot of the monastery realized that Marcu was deviating from the church, so one day he tracked him down and caught him in the act. So the next day, the abbot gave the monk Marcu a wooden hoe to dig his way up to the secret place and, pointing him the direction where he left to meet up with the girl secretly, he told him: This way, Marcu! This is the origin of the name of the path that the monk Marcu made with the wooden hoe. It is further said that, reaching with the path to the place where he secretly met the girl at the fountain and being tired, he put the hoe under the head and fell asleep near the fountain because he was too tired. And he slept so much beside the fountain that his last rest caught him so that the fountain is called the priest fountain since then.

4. Legend of the Outlaws Cave

Legend says that in olden days this cave was the refuge of the outlaws hunted by the posse and hence the name of Outlaws Cave.

In times of tribulation locals retreated in this cave in the face of invaders.

5. Fly Hole Cave

It is located on the Romanian bank of the Danube, below the 12 heads of the Dragon defeated by the legendary Iovan Iorgovan, which escaped in the Cerna River and reached the Danube then, hiding in the cave. In order to avenge the defeat, the Dragon was sending from here a dangerous vampire fly sucking the blood of hundreds of people. Locals from this deeply rooted area believe that, in reality, the multiplication of the fly makes up the place at the Iron Gates.

6. Babaca Rock

In the Turkish language the name means ‘bad’ destiny. Legend says that a Serbian vaivode tied his unfaithful wife to the rock, telling her: ‘Babo Kaise’ (wife, repent yourself!). The woman died in terrible torments, and here the cosava wind blows harder than in the rest of the Danube Gorge, reminiscent of those sufferings. In ancient times, ropes were tied to the rock to lock the passage of vessels up to their customs clearing.

7. Atila’s Tomb

In the special avifaunistic area of Moldova Veche Islet, Atila’s tomb is supposedly located. Locals assume that in the olden days, every soldier put a sand helmet over Atila’s tomb, thus creating a huge mound visible from great distance.

8. The legend of Iorgu Iorgovan

Iorgu Iorgovan was a hero who lived on our lands. At that time there lived a three-headed dragon that had the courage to disturb the brave Iorgu Iorgovan. Upset, he decided he must chase and kill this dragon. During the chase, he caught it for the first time in a strait in the Cerna Valley area, where he struggled with it and cut off a head; feeling that its powers are lower and lower, the dragon ran further but it was caught for the second time by the hero and lost another head; in its despair, the dragon ran further but it was caught for the third time in the area close to the current locality of Svinita, where it fought but it lost the third head also and died. Much blood drained from its body and the earth was reddened and remained red until nowadays, so the valley where the dragon died is called the Red Valley.

9. The Legend of Vodita Monastery construction

It says one night the God’s Messenger revealed in a dream to the monk Nicodemus, telling him: “Nicodemus! You stay here taking a rest and your brothers in faith beyond the Danube are tormented and wretched because they can not serve God. Wake up, Nicodemus, and go as fast as possible and help them because only this will be their salvation”. Troubled by this dream, Nicodemus took with him all the necessary things for the road and put away for the Danube. After many days of searching and difficulties, he came to the river bank to a place where the riverbed was deep and impassable. Tired and upset by this, he slept in the shade of a tree. While he was sleeping, God’s Messenger showed again, telling him to lay the soutane over the water and so he will cross the river. Awakened from sleep, he did that and so managed to reach the other side, between two close rivers. He searched the place, went along the smaller water course and decided to erect a monastery. Aided by locals, he built the monastery whose ruins can be seen even today.

10. The legend of the cold spring

Legend says that Nicodemus himself planted some vine acres on Duhovna Hill and asked to build a pipeline from scorched earth tiles, through which the must squeezed from Duhovna Hill flows directly into the monastery’s barrels. Escaping from the direct control of Nicodemus, some monks used too much grape liqueur instead of water, forgetting the spiritual rules. Nicodemus punished one of them to bring water from a spring in the mountains, through the same type of tiles; this spring still exists and is currently captured and arranged at ca. 60 m upstream on the Vodita River, and its water is so cold that during the summer a glass vessel weeps with a density close to hoarfrost density.