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Iron Gate (Danube)

Gates in Sip
Iron Gate (Danube)
Iron Gate (Danube) — doris.gilmour
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The Iron Gate (Romanian: Porţile de Fier; Serbian: Ђердапска клисура, Đerdapska klisura; Hungarian: Vaskapu; Slovak: Železné vráta; Turkish: Demirkapı; German: Eisernes Tor; Bulgarian: Железни врата, Zhelezni vrata) is a gorge on the Danube River. It forms part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania. In the broad sense it encompasses a route of 134 km (83 mi); in the narrow sense it only encompasses the last barrier on this route, just beyond the Romanian city of Orşova, that contains a hydroelectric dam, with two power stations, Iron Gate I Hydro Power Plant and Iron Gate II Hydro Power Plant.

The gorge lies between Romania in the north and Serbia in the south. At this point, the river separates the southern Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkan Mountains. The Romanian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Turkish, German and Bulgarian names literally mean "Iron Gate" and are used to name the entire range of gorges. An alternative Romanian name for the last part of the route is Clisura Dunării, "Danube Gorge". In Serbia, the gorge is known as Đerdap (Ђердап), with the last part named Đerdapska klisura (Ђердапска клисура). The Romanian side of the gorge constitutes the Iron Gate natural park; on the other bank, in Serbia, is the Đerdap national park.


The first narrowing of the Danube lies beyond the Romanian isle of Moldova Veche and is known as the Golubac gorge. It is 14.5 km long and 230 m (755 ft) wide at the narrowest point. At its head, there is a medieval fort at Golubac, on the Serbian bank. Through the valley of Ljupovska lies the second gorge, Gospodin Vir, which is 15 km long and narrows to 220 m (722 ft). The cliffs scale to 500 m and are the most difficult to reach here from land. The broader Donji Milanovac forms the connection with the Great and Small Kazan gorge, which have a combined length of 19 km (12 mi). The Orşova valley is the last broad section before the river reaches the plains of Wallachia at the last gorge, the Sip gorge.

The Great Kazan (kazan meaning "boiler") is the most famous and the most narrow gorge of the route: the river here narrows to 150 m and reaches a depth of up to 53 m (174 ft). East of this site the Roman emperor Trajan had the legendary bridge erected by Apollodorus of Damascus. Construction of the bridge ran from 103 through 105, preceding Trajan's conquest of Dacia. On the right bank a Roman plaque commemorates him. On the Romanian bank, at the Small Kazan, the likeness of Trajan's Dacian opponent Decebalus was carved in rock from 1994 through 2004.

Significantly older treasures have been unearthed in the geographically less spectacular gorge of Gospodin Vir: in the 1960s the archaeological survey Lepenski Vir was unearthed, the most significant in Southeast Europe. The sandstone statues from the early neolithic are particularly splendid. Along with the other surveys that can be found in the Iron Gate, it indicates that the region has been inhabited for a very long time.


The riverbed rocks and the associated rapids made the gorge valley an infamous passage in shipping. In German, the passage is still known as the Kataraktenstrecke, even though the cataracts are gone. Near the actual Iron Gate the Prigrada rock was the most important obstacle till 1896: the river widened considerably here and the water level was consequently low. Upstream, the Greben rock near the Kazan gorge was notorious.

In 1831 a plan had already been drafted to make the passage navigable, at the initiative of the Hungarian politician István Széchenyi. Finally Gábor Baross, Hungary's "Iron Minister", completed the financing for this project.

In 1890, beyond Orşova or Orsova in Hungarian,(Ursa in Romanian) being the last border town of Hungary, rocks were cleared by explosion over a 2 km (1.2 mi) stretch to create an 80 m (262 ft) wide and 3 m (10 ft) deep channel. A spur of the Greben Mountains was removed across a length of over 2 km (1.2 mi). Here, a depth of 2 m (7 ft) sufficed. On 17 September 1896, the Sip Channel thus created (named after the Serbian village on the right bank) was inaugurated by the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph, the Romanian king Carol I, and the Serbian king Alexander Obrenovich.

The results of these efforts were slightly disappointing. The currents in the channel were so strong that, until 1973, ships had to be dragged upstream by locomotive. The Iron Gate thus remained an obstacle of note.


The construction of the joint Romanian-Yugoslavian mega project that would finally tame the river commenced in 1964. In 1972 the Iron Gate Dam was opened, along with two hydroelectric power stations (Iron Gate I Hydro Power Plant and Iron Gate II Hydro Power Plant) and two sluices.

The construction of this dam gave the valley of the Danube below Belgrade the nature of a reservoir, and additionally caused a 35 m rise in the water level of the river near the dam. The old Orşova, the Danube island Ada Kaleh (below) and at least five other villages, totaling a population of 17,000, had to make way. People were relocated and the settlements have been lost forever to the Danube.

The dam's construction had a major impact on the environment as well—for example, the spawning routes of several species of sturgeon were permanently interrupted.

That said, the flora and fauna, as well as the geomorphological, archaeological and cultural historical artifacts of the Iron Gate have been under protection from both nations since the construction of the dam. In Serbia this is done with the Đerdap National Park (since 1974, 636.08 km2 (245.59 sq mi)) and in Romania by the Porţile de Fier National Park (since 2001, 1,156.55 km2 (446.55 sq mi)).

Ada Kaleh

The isle of Ada Kaleh is probably the most evocative victim of the Đerdap dam's construction. A Turkish enclave, it had a mosque and a thousand twisting alleys, and was known as a free port and smuggler's nest. Many other ethnic groups lived there beside Turks.

The island was about 3 km (1.9 mi) downstream from Orşova and measured 1.7 by 0.4-0.5 km. It was walled; the Austrians built a fort there in 1669 to defend it from the Turks, and that fort would remain a bone of contention for the two empires. In 1699 the island came under Turkish control, from 1716 to 1718 it was Austrian, after a four month siege in 1738 it was Turkish again, followed by the Austrians reconquering it in 1789, only to have to yield it to the Turks in the trailing peace treaty. Thereafter, the island lost its military importance. The 1878 Congress of Berlin forced the Ottoman Empire to retreat far into the south, and the island came under the control of Austria-Hungary, though it remained the property of the Turkish sultan. The inhabitants enjoyed exemption from taxes and customs and were not conscripted. In 1923, when the Ottoman monarchy had disappeared, the inhabitants chose to join Romania.

The Ada Kaleh mosque dated from 1903 and was built on the site of an earlier Franciscan monastery. The carpet, a gift from the Turkish sultan, has been located in the Constanţa mosque since 1965.

Most Ada Kaleh inhabitants emigrated to Turkey after the evacuation of the island. A smaller part went to Dobruja, another Romanian territory with a Turkish minority.

Proposed Hunting in National Parks

The Romanian Parlament is currently (September 2008) discussing a bill aiming to open 13 National Parks to sustainable hunting, in order to manage the wildlife bio-diversity in these areas and promote greater tourism and the accompanying revenue necessary to support and maintain the parks.

Cultural references and uses


  • The pre-historic settings of the well researched Earth's Children book series focuses in on difficulties traveling through or around the Iron Gate in both the second ("The Valley of Horses") and fourth ("The Plains of Passage") novels during scene sequences detailing travel adventures whilst the protagonists navigate between the upper and lower Danube valleys.


  • The 2003 film Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea contains several minutes of film of the Iron Gate.

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Boldan 3 May 2015
Ma fascineaza locul asta
Simona Rosca
Simona Rosca 1 May 2014
Coada mare in vama...
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