On the border of Romania and Serbia you will find one of the most exciting and most visited parts of the Danube, the Big Boilers. The strait separates the Carpathians from the Balkan Mountains. This part of the Danube is famous not only for this reason, but also for the Iron Gate and the Big Boilers located on it. In our current article, we take a look at the location, learn more about the history of the area, and discover its natural treasures.
This part of the Danube with its vast latitudes is a truly wild, exciting destination. As almost the only drainage river in the Carpathian Basin (except the Danube, it is only the Olt and the Jiu), life in the river gorge valley moves, lives and awaits the tourists visiting it forever.
If you are planning a trip to the strait, you have chosen a really great destination to relax, as in addition to sailing the river, the area has a lot to offer.
Where is the Iron Gate Gorge?
Located on the border of Romania and Serbia the gate has always been a parting between the Carpathian Basin and the Balkans. Before the restraint of this part of the Danube, the river was wild, winding and dangerous, so only the bravest sailors dared to take it.
- Distance from Timisoara: 3.5 hours / 220 km
Tip: Coming from Timisoara, you can make a stop at the Bigar Cascade Falls, about which you can find a summary here.
What are the Iron Gates, Iron Gates Gorge and Lower-Danube?
If you have ever searched for where the Iron Gate is, you may have faced a bit of confusing information online, and Google Maps is not always there to help you clear it up.
• Iron Gates: officially the Iron Gates name refers to the 2 hydroelectric power plants located in the Danube. But more commonly the "Iron Gates" also refers to the that smaller part of the river around the power pants. It's a bit confusing, I now...
• Big Boilers: Officially the gorge is located on the upper, narrow section of the Danube.
• Lower-Danube: The official name of this 135 km section of the Danube is Lower-Danube. In the colloquial language, many people (and many websites as well) also refer to this 135 km section as the Iron Gate.
The confusion is given by the fact that 3 areas are called Iron Gates in the colloquial language. For help, when we write about power plants, we will refer to them as the Iron Gate Power Plants, while when we mean the smaller, official Iron Gate, we will refer to it as the Iron Gate Gorge. Hope this will help to eliminate the confusion. 😉
The section of the Lower-Danube, meaning the unofficial Iron Gate Gorge, can be found between Golubac – Drobeta-Surnu Severin, in an approx. 135 kilometers long section. This is called the Lower-Danube, but it is much rarer to hear, as many simply refer to it as the Iron Gate.
Parts of the Lower-Danube (Iron Gate Gorge)
The straits follow each other in the same way as the Danube - from left to right on the map.
- Golubac gorge
- Gospodin Vir gorge
- Big Boilers (Cazanele Mari)
- Sip Gorge (The Iron Gate power plants are located in this last section. This is where the river exits to Wallachia.)
Officially, the short part of the Danube below Orsova is called the Iron Gate Gorge.
Attractions at the Iron Gate
You can find the main sights and cities of the Iron Gate, or Lower-Danube, on this Google Map link.
- Golubac Castle
- Szechenyi Memorial Plaque
- Ponicova Cave
- Trajan's board
- Head statue of King Decebal
- Iron Gate Power Plants
- Ada Kaleh Underwater Island (not visible)
- Ciucarul Mare - Iron Gate hiking trail
- Three tower ruin
Cities of the Iron Gates
The most important cities are ideal for hiking, exploring the strait, finding accommodations, and are starting points for cruises.
- Orsova (Romania)
- Dubova (Romania)
- Donji Milanovac (Serbia)
History of the Iron Gates
As the extinction of the Pannonian Sea began, the area filled with alluvium. The water left here from the sea sought a way out, which it eventually found among the mountains.
The body of water flowing in the direction of the Black Sea formed a bed deeper and deeper for itself, and then finally found its place in the form of an unregulated river. Interestingly, here, on the Lower-Danube, the deepest river point in the world, 82 meters deep, was measured.
The area was characterized by rock slides, the formation of whirlings, and getting through was made difficult by debris floating in the river.
The walls and rock towers of the tight limestone alternate between 300 to 150 meters on both sides of the river. The mountains in the area are higher than this, some reach altitudes of 500 to 700 meters.
Iron Gates Nature Reserve
In Romania, the area is part of the Iron Gate Nature Reserve, which covers 115 hectares. The Romanian side of the area is not a national park, but the Serbian side is.
Djerdap National Park (Serbia)
On the Serbian side the gorge is part of the Djerdap National Park. The park is also UNESCO classified. The 1,330 km2 park was founded in 1974. Not only on the Serbian, but on the Romanian side as well there are many caves, fissures, and gorges.
The park's tourist office is in Donji Milanovac. The starting point of many tours is the Serbian town, so it may be worthwhile for you to visit the gorge from here as well! The town can be ideal if you want to stay somewhere in the area or if you would bite into something local specialty before-during-after-hiking.
The Serbian village is also interesting because the opposite Romanian side was the southernmost point of historical Hungary. Currently, there is a castle ruin, which was built during the reign of King Sigismund (Three Towers Castle).
What is the Boiler Gorge?
The Lower-Danube consists of several sections of different lengths, of which the Boiler Gorge is the most famous, as the Danube is the narrowest here. The 9 km long Boiler Gorge has two parts (upper and lower), the so-called Big Boiler Gorge, and the Small Boiler Gorge. The length of both sections is approx. 3 to 4 kilometers.
- Great Boiler Gorge
- Small Boiler Gorge
Did you know? The word Kazan (in Romania, the area is also called Kazan Gorge) is of Turkish origin and has several meanings. It can mean bubbling, stirring, but it can also mean cauldron. In all probability, before the regulation of the river, it could have referred to the vortex of the area.
Golubac Castle is located at the beginning of the Lower-Danube on the Serbian side in the opposite direction to the other sights. The fortress was built in the 14th century, on a rock.
There are 9 towers in the castle, which are connected by ramps. The castle consists of two parts - the Inner and Outer Fortress. The Exterior was completed later, and here you will also find the tallest tower of the castle. There are also exhibitions inside.
Opening hours and prices
You can buy 4 different types of tickets to enter. The smallest ticket gives an insight into the Palace and some towers. You can find out about the prices here.
- The fort is closed on Mondays, as well as on February 14th and 15th.
- November to February: 10:00 to 15:00
- October and March: 10:00 to 16:00
- April and September: 10:00 to 17:00
- May to June: 10:00 to 18:00
- July - August: 10:00 to 19:00
The castle is approx. 4 km away from the town.
- Address: Golubac 12223, Serbia
- Distance from Donji Milanovac: 45 minutes / 52 km
#2 Szechenyi Memorial Plaque
If you have ever looked at pictures of the Iron Gate or the Boiler Gorge, you must have come across a huge, stone-carved memorial plaque in honor of Count Szechenyi. The plaque was made in 1885 and you have to look for it on the Romanian side of the gorge.
Work on the regulation of the Danube began in 1834 according to the plans of Paul Vasarhelyi. The attention to the regulation was raised by Szechenyi after he sailed on the Danube in 1830. Shortly after the work began, further developments came to a halt due to a lack of money, but navigation of the Lower-Danube became safe in the middle of the year. The works lasted until 1896.
The biggest development was the Iron Gate Dam (1965 - 1972), completed in 1972. Thanks to the development, the water level of the Danube has risen (making shipping safer), with the negative consequence that several offsets of the river, monuments, districts and islands have also been submerged.
# 3 Ponicova Cave
You will find several caves along the Iron Gate and the Boiler Gorge. Unfortunately, some of them have already been submerged, so they cannot be visited. Not far from the Szechenyi Memorial Plaque you will find two semi-underwater nooks. The most famous cave is Ponicova, which can be reached by boat.
Tip: Not exactly in the gorge, but in the Serbian Djerdap National Park, including the Miroc Mountains, you will find several special caves. Some of them are the deepest caves in Serbia.
# 4 Trajan's Sign
On the Serbian side, almost opposite the Szechenyi plaque, is the Tabula Traiana, meaning the sign of Emperor Trajan. Interestingly, the sign, also engraved in stone, did not originally stand here, but when the Danube was dammed, the sign was flooded, so it was later raised by the Serbs and placed higher. The board is nearly 2,000 years old huge stone-carved writing.
If you want to shoot a good picture in the gorge, you should keep in mind the Tabula sign, as not only is it 2000 years old, but the gorge is the narrowest here - and at the same time there is that certain 85 meter deepest point.
# 5 Head statue of monarch Decebal
Chipul lui Decebal
You will already be walking at the Little Boiler Gorge when you will see a statue on the Serbian side, one of the symbols of the Iron Gate, the statue of monarch Decebal. The 55-meter-high, 25-meter-wide statue is the largest rock-carved statue in Europe.
Decebal (87-106 AD) was the last Dacian king who fought against the Romans for independence (the territory of present-day Romania). According to a legend, the ruler ran away after the losing battle, but was surrounded by soldiers of the enemy Roman army, and for that reason the king committed suicide. The soldiers beheaded the ruler and put his head on display in Rome as it was the command of the Roman emperor.
The sculpture was carved by 12 sculptors and took more than 10 years (1994-2002) to complete. The works were funded by Romanian billionaire Constantin Dragan.
- The statue is located near the town of Orsova.
- Address: DN57, Dubova 227170, Romania
# 6 Iron Gate hydroelectric power plant
Few know, but the Iron Gate power plant means not one, but two separate power plants. You can find one on the Romanian side and the other on the Serbian side. Serbia has been planning to build a third hydropower plant for more than 10 years now.
- Iron Gate 1 (1964-1972, Romanian side)
- Iron Gate 2 (1977-1984, Serbian side)
# 7 Ada Kaleh - The Underwater Island
After the construction of the first Iron Gate hydroelectric power plant, the water level of the Danube rose so high that an entire island was buried underwater. The 1.7 km long and 4.5 km wide area of the island is no longer visible to the eye. The underwater island is located 3 km from Orsova.
A fortress and a monastery were built on the island, and later a mosque in Turkish times.
The island has changed hands many times throughout history. Imre Thokoly also fought for the fortress (with Turkish help) against the Austrians, but in the end he was defeated and the island came under Austrian rule. The irony being is after that, the Turks annexed the island and it belonged to Turkey until the First World War.
# 8 Hiking at the iron Gates
Ciucarul Mare Boulevard - Iron Gate tour route
When visiting the area, lovers of hiking and trekking should climb the summit called Ciucarul Mare, as the gorge is best seen from above.
The route follows the yellow triangle sign from the town of Dubova (Romania) and can be completed in about 2-3 hours, making it an ideal half-day program. Beginner hikers can also try, because the terrain is not particularly technical. Bring a lot of water and a hat with you in the summer.
After about 30 minutes, you will reach the first observation point. From here, the view is breathtaking and it will only get better in the next 60 to 45 minutes.
- Hiking distance: approx. 5 km
- Type: round trip
- Starting point: Dubova
- Level: Easy hike
- Duration: 2 to 3 hours
- Level difference: approx. 300 m
# 9 Three towers
The remains of the Three Towers, or Tricule towers can be found on the Romanian side. The Danube has covered one of them completely - so you can only see two with your eyes. The towers connected together depict a triangle.
The three-storied towers are approx. 10 - 11 meters high, and their walls are approx. 1 - 1.5 m thick. Unfortunately, the weather was not gracious for the sight, so today you can only see the towers as ruins.
- Address: Cetatea Tricule, DN57, Romania
- Access: about 4 km from the village of Senice
Boiler Gorge by boat
The boat tour is a must when visiting the Iron Gate. The tour takes approx. 1 hour and costs an average of 30 to 50 lei per person.
During the program, you can see the head statue of Decebal, the Tabula Traiana, the Ponicova Cave, as well as several bays.
👉 Here you will find a provider that offers boat trips.
Visiting the Boiler Gorge on bike 🚴
The road in the gorge is relatively quiet, with little traffic, so many cyclists visit to conquer the place on two wheels.