The Iron Gates: the widest, narrowest and deepest in Danube

Tue 16.10.2018

Author: Lydia K. Kyvelou-Kokkaliari

Danube needs no introduction. Countless the poets, composers, painters, writers it has inspired. Long ago it served as the frontier of the Roman Empire (2,000 years), whereas, now, traverses ten countries and connects four capital cities. It is, without a doubt, the most important waterway in Central Europe and countless civilizations flourished on its banks.

Yet, Danube’s (widest, narrowest, deepest and oldest) superlative beauty and record-breaking sites are all scattered around the 63,000he of Đerdap National Park a destination of extraordinary natural, historical, cultural significance and magnificence. Our day starts with early morning’s light-beams and expectations grow while the bus swings lightly among the picturesque green hills of northeastern Serbia. We escape the cityscapes; we witness the gift of the countryside. Who could ever deny its splendor?

The first stop is typical of Danube’s abundance- it’s widest point. Just before ten (10:00 a.m.), we pass through the town of Golubac to enter the northernmost part of Đerdap National Park. In a cinematographic worthy close up, we lay our eyes for the first time at Golubačka Tvrđava (Golubac Fortress) locked between the limestone hills and the water. Here, Danube stretches up to 6 km, the fresh breeze causes an almost imperceptible murmur as the surf strokes the shore giving it a sea feel. And, exactly, through Danube’s own serene melody, I follow the curator’s chronicle to visualize all those who have desired to attain this exceptional brick-stone combined construction since medieval times- Serbs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Turks and Austrians. Its name comes from the serbian word ‘golub’ which means ‘pigeon’ or ‘dove’ and it’s such either due to the shape of its towers viewed from the hills above or to legends of unrequited loves, those of young Golubana or the Byzantium princess J/Helena.

Both stories follow the same tragic trope: voluptuous Turkish chieftain seizes the most beautiful maid of the region who doesn’t surrender to his will, and, in turn, she’s reprimanded for repudiating him. The first narrates the misfortunes of Golubana, a beautiful Serbian village girl who enchanted a Turkish pasha. By gifts and presents he tried to convince her to take her hand to marriage, yet she, enamored with a local shepherd, refused him time and again. Blinded with anger he kidnapped her, rowed his boat to a rock in the middle of the widest part of Danube and deserted her there where she perished. Similarly, H/Jelena, renowned for her beauty, negated the union with a heathen, so the Turkish pasha/ Vizier imprisoned her to the single conic-shaped tower of the fortress from where she used to feed the pigeons as her sole recreation and soon enough, also passed away.

Unsurprisingly, the conical tower is situated at the highest point of the complex; to me is the most memorable, and its shape bears a similitude to the tiny rocky island protruding amid river; the one where Golubana drew her last breath. Interestingly enough, although Golubac fortress was a site of contestation for several centuries (until mid-19th century), mostly among Serbian, Hungarian, and Ottoman, it has been seized by force only once at 1458 by Mahmud-Pasha Andjelkovic. In memoriam of his (grand) victory the Grand Vizier erected a hamam (bath) outside its walls facing northwards. Just behind the Turkish bath remains, there is the museum and gift shop where a comprehensive exhibition of Golubac Fortress, and the surrounding area’s, history is presented with relics dating back to the Copper Age (4500 B.C.).

Evidence of human activity in Đerdap National Park spans to the Mesolithic Era (approximately dating 9,000 BCE). Few kilometers to the south of Golubac gorge, Gospodjin Vir gorge is located. Lepenski Vir is considered the most important Mesolithic urban settlement in Europe. Hidden behind the thick vegetation and the vertical cliffs securing the access to the river, Lepenski Vir was the permanent abode of hunters who could establish there their religious and artistic center due to the affluence of its surrounding area. Lepenski Vir is an impressive illustration of the link between man and nature. The exhibition, the virtual tour, the reconstruction of the settlement points to the significance of this discovery which irreversibly changed the way we perceived the role and importance of the natural environment for the development of familial relations (clans), and the organization of life and culture in general. As a travel enthusiast and cultural scholar, Lepenski Vir quenched my thirst for knowledge and whetted my appetite for pondering on human origins. Whatsmore, it’s hosted in a breathtaking complex with an amazing view, possibly one of the most photogenic museums you’ll visit. I was dumbfounded!

But the thirst to understand the human condition can only be satisfied with other living humans and no contemplation can go forward on an empty stomach. Fortunately, at Kapetan Mišin Breg charming farm and open air gallery, our next stop, we experience both. Local specialties with a view to Danube (to die for), and the exhibition scattered smartly entitled “wood, water, land” is the ideal location for a repose. The warm welcome we receive brings us together, allowing us to recharge and be pleased, satisfied, so we could, readily, enjoy the last part of our journey: the cruise through the Iron Gates! And, yes, it is as overwhelmingly impressive as its name suggests.

During autumn, this rare natural setting has a sun that accentuates the shades and shapes of trees and shrubs from dark green to burgundy red to deep yellow; what a symphony of colors and textures! The spirits are high while we set off from Tekija; we’re navigated upstream to meet the most scenic parts of Danube- its narrowest and deepest. The riverboat climbes gracefully as we all in awe take in excitedly every basin and ravine we pass. The deepest point, of around 90 meters, comes halfway through, close to Traiana’s Plaque (Tabula Traiana) which thrusts between the vertical cliffs in a sudden spell of grandiose. On the boat there’s a shared feeling of bliss, anyone who had been reserved before has no longer any excuse. So, enthralled we’ve all been with the natural beauty that when the Iron Gates appear we clap and cheer in a widespread frenzied excitement.

This tour around the key points of the longest fissure in Europe, was a once in a lifetime experience. The natural beauty of the forest, the historical and cultural richness, the freshness of the air, the savory meal and the best quality of light required of me to plan my next visit already. Honestly, I can’t wait for the spring to come so I can climb up to the top of Golubac Fortress’ conical tower to take in the view! Don’t miss the widest, narrowest, deepest and oldest of Danube!

Tour for Iron Gate you can see HERE