Iron Gates (Romanian: Porțile de Fier, Serbian: Đerdapska
klisura, Bulgarian: Железни врата, German: Eisernes Tor,
Hungarian: Vaskapu) is a gorge on the river Danube. It forms part of
the boundary between
Serbia (to the south) and
Romania (north). 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 Orșova, that contains two hydroelectric
dams, with two power stations, Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station
and Iron Gate II Hydroelectric Power Station.
At this point in the Danube, the river separates the southern
Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkan
Mountains. The Romanian side of the gorge constitutes the Iron Gates
natural park, whereas the Serbian part constitutes the Đerdap
Archaeologists have named the
Iron Gates mesolithic
Iron Gates mesolithic culture, of the
Danube region circa 13,000 to 5,000 years ago, after the
2 Natural physical features
2.2 Navigation and channels
3.1 Prehistoric and Roman era
3.2 Ada Kaleh
3.3 19th century
4 Cultural references to the Iron Gates
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Kazan gorge at its narrowest point
In English, the gorge is known as
Iron Gates or Iron Gate. An 1853
article about the
Danube in The Times of London referred to it as "the
Iron Gate, or the Gate of Trajan."
In languages of the region including Romanian, Hungarian, Polish,
Slovak, Czech, German and Bulgarian, names literally meaning "Iron
Gates" are used to name the entire range of gorges. These names are
Romanian: Porțile de Fier (pronounced [ˈport͡sile de ˈfjer],
Hungarian: Vaskapu, Slovak: Železné vráta, Polish: Żelazne Wrota,
German: Eisernes Tor, and Bulgarian: Железни врата
Železni vrata"). An alternative Romanian name for the last part of
the route is Defileul Dunării, literally "
In Serbian, the gorge is known as Đerdap (Ђердап;
[d͡ʑě̞rdaːp]), with the last part named Đerdapska klisura
(Ђердапска клисура; [d͡ʑě̞rdaːpskaː klǐsura])
Byzantine Greek Κλεισούρα (kleisoura), "enclosure"
Natural physical features
The Roman plaque "Tabula Traiana", Serbia
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, Gospodjin 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 the Small Kazan gorge, which have a combined length of
19 km (12 mi). The
Orșova 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 "cauldron" or "reservoir") is the most
famous and the most narrow gorge of the whole route: the river here
narrows to 150 m and reaches a depth of up to 53 m
Navigation and channels
The riverbed rocks and the associated rapids made the gorge valley an
infamous passage for shipping, even for the most seasoned boatmen.
During the period of the Ottoman rule, the ships were guided through
by the local navigators, familiar with the routes, called kalauz (from
Turkish kalavuz, meaning guide, travel leader). During the rule of
prince Miloš Obrenović, local Serbs gradually took over from the
Ottomans, being officially appointed by the prince. In order not to
aggravate the Ottomans further, the prince named Serbian navigators by
a Turkish name, dumendžibaša, from dümen (rudder) and baş (head,
chief, master). The navigation fee was divided among dumendžibaša,
loc (river pilots) and regional municipalities.
In German, the passage is still known as the Kataraktenstrecke, even
though the cataracts are gone. Near the actual "Iron Gates" strait the
Prigrada rock was the most important obstacle (until 1896): the river
widened considerably here and the water level was consequently low.
Upstream, the Greben rock near the "Kazan" gorge was
Some of the channels created included:
Stenka, 1,900 m (6,200 ft) long, with 10 navigational
signals (originally, the balloons were used)
Izlaz-Tahatlija, 2,351 m (7,713 ft), with 7 signals
Svinița, 1,200 m (3,900 ft), with 4 signals
Juc, 1,260 m (4,130 ft), with 5 signals
Sip, 4,375 m (14,354 ft)
Mali Đerdap, 1,050 m (3,440 ft), as an extension of Sip
In total, 15,465 m (50,738 ft) of navigable channels was
created. They were flooded when the artificial Lake Đerdap was
created (early 1970s).
The results of these efforts were slightly disappointing. The currents
in the Sip Channel were so strong at 15kts (8 m/s) that (until
1973), ships had to be dragged upstream along the canal by locomotive.
Iron Gates thus remained an obstacle of note.
Iron Gate I dam
Iron Gates (1970)
The construction of the joint Romanian-Yugoslavian mega project
commenced in 1964. In 1972 the Iron Gate I
Dam was opened, followed by
Iron Gate II Dam, in 1984, along with two hydroelectric power
stations, two sluices and navigation locks for shipping.
The construction of these dams gave the valley of the
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
Danube island of
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 dam's construction had a major impact on the local fauna and flora
as well—for example, the spawning routes of several species of
sturgeon were permanently interrupted.
The flora and fauna, as well as the geomorphological, archaeological
and cultural historical artifacts of the
Iron Gates have been under
protection of both nations since the construction of the dam. In
Serbia this was done with the Đerdap National Park (since 1974,
636.08 km2 (245.59 sq mi)) and in
Romania by the
Porțile de Fier National Park (since 2001, 1,156.55 km2
(446.55 sq mi)).
Prehistoric and Roman era
Sandstone statues dated to the early neolithic era indicate that the
area has been inhabited for a very long time. Even more significant
Iron Gates mesolithic
Iron Gates mesolithic (c. 13,000 to 5,000 BP) sites – in
particular, the gorge of Gospodjin Vir, which contains the major
archaeological site of
Lepenski Vir (unearthed in the 1960s). Lepenski
Vir is often regarded as the most important mesolithic site in
East of the Great Kazan the Roman emperor
Trajan built the legendary
bridge erected by Apollodorus of Damascus. Construction of the bridge
ran from 103 through 105, preceding Trajan's final conquest of Dacia.
(On the right (Serbian) bank a Roman plaque commemorates him. On the
Romanian bank, at the Small Kazan, a likeness of Decebalus, Trajan's
Dacian opponent was carved in rock in 1994–2004.)
Main article: Ada Kaleh
Ada Kaleh in the 19th century
Perhaps the most evocative consequence of the Đerdap dam's
construction was the flooding of an islet named Ada Kaleh. A former
Turkish exclave, 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 Orșova
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 following peace treaty.
Ada Kaleh in 1912
Thereafter, the island lost its military importance. The 1878 Congress
of Berlin forced the
Ottoman Empire to retreat far into the south, but
the island remained the property of the Turkish sultan, allegedly
because the treaty neglected to mention it. The inhabitants enjoyed
exemption from taxes and customs and were not conscripted. In 1923,
when the Ottoman monarchy had disappeared, the island was given to
Romania in the Treaty of Lausanne
Ada Kaleh mosque dated from 1903 and was built on the site of an
Franciscan monastery. The mosque's carpet, a gift from the
Turkish sultan Abdülhamid II, has been located in the Constanța
mosque since 1965.
Ada Kaleh inhabitants emigrated to
Turkey after the evacuation of
the island. A smaller part went to Northern Dobruja, another Romanian
territory with a Turkish minority.
By the early 19th century, freedom of navigation on the
regarded as important by many different states in the region and
beyond. Allowing passage through the
Iron Gates by larger vessels had
become a priority.
By 1831 a plan had been drafted to make the passage navigable, at the
initiative of Hungarian politician István Széchenyi. Finally Gábor
Baross, Hungary's "Iron Minister", succeeded in financing this
project. Not being satisfied with the solutions
compiled by the Austrio-Hungarian government and the Austro-Turkish
commission, the government of Hungary formed its own commission for
the organization of the navigation through the Iron Gates. The project
was finished in 1883.
Works on the gorge section were done by the Hungarian Technical
Administration, over 11 years from 1889. The works were divided in two
sectors, the upper and the lower Iron Gates. The channels in the upper
section, at the town of
Orșova (the tripoint between Austria-Hungary,
Serbia at the time) were up to 60 m (197 ft)
wide and 2 m (7 ft) deep, at the zero water level in
Orșova. In the southern section, the channels were 60 m
(197 ft) wide and 3 m (10 ft) deep, except for the Sip
Channel, which was 73 m (240 ft) wide. In 1890, near
Orșova, the last border town of Hungary, rocks were cleared by
explosion over a 2 km (1.2 mi) stretch in order to create
channels. 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 Sip 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.
Cultural references to the Iron Gates
Two novels –
The Valley of Horses
The Valley of Horses (1982) and The Plains of Passage
(1990) – in Jean M. Auel's series
Earth's Children focus on the
difficulties of prehistoric people traveling through or around the
Iron Gates in both during scene sequences detailing travel adventures
whilst the protagonists navigate between the upper and lower Danube
The 1986 book Between the Woods and the Water, by travel writer
Patrick Leigh Fermor, describes a night on the now submerged island
Ada Kaleh and a trip by ferry through the Iron Gates, in August, 1934.
The 2003 film Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea contains several
minutes of film of the Iron Gates.
Iron Gates are mentioned in the second verse of the Zvonko Bogdan
song Rastao sam pored Dunava.
The folk song Jugoslavijo by Milutin Popović, commonly called Od
Vardara pa do Triglava, includes a mention of the
Iron Gates in the
Iron Gates Museum
Commissions of the
Danube River Conference of 1948
Energy in Romania
^ "The Seat of War on the Danube," The Times, December 29, page 8
^ "Да ли знате: Како су некада звали
спроводнике лађа на Ђердапу?" [Do you know:
how the Đerdap navigators were used to be called?].
Serbian). 31 January 2018. p. 32.
^ a b c "Da li znate? - Kada je regulisana plovidba kroz đerdapski
sektor?" [Do you know? - When was the navigation through the Iron
Gates sector regulated?],
Politika (in Serbian), p. 30, 8 October
Bonsall, Clive; Lennon, Rosemary; McSweeney, Kathleen; Stewart,
Catriona; Harkness, Douglas; Boronean, Vasile; Bartosiewicz, László;
Payton, Robert; Chapman, John (1997). "Mesolithic and Early Neolithic
in the Iron Gates: A Paiaeodietary Perspective". Journal of European
Archaeology. 5 (1): 50–92. doi:10.1179/096576697800703575. Archived
from the original on 2013-01-26.
Bonsall, C; Cook, G T; Hedges, R E M; Higham, T F G; Pickard, C;
Radovanović, I (2004). "Radiocarbon and stable isotope evidence of
dietary change from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages in the iron
gates: New results from Lepenski Vir". Radiocarbon. 46 (1):
Teodoru, Cristian; Wehrli, Bernhard (2005). "Retention of Sediments
and Nutrients in the Iron Gate I Reservoir on the
Biogeochemistry. 76 (3): 539–65.
Micić, Vesna; Kruge, Michael; Körner, Petra; Bujalski, Nicole;
Hofmann, Thilo (2010). "Organic geochemistry of
Danube River sediments
from Pančevo (Serbia) to the Iron Gate dam (Serbia–Romania)".
Organic Geochemistry. 41 (9): 971–4.
Roksandic, Mirjana; Djurić, Marija; Rakočević, Zoran; Seguin,
Kimberly (2006). "Interpersonal violence at Lepenski Vir
Mesolithic/Neolithic complex of the
Iron Gates Gorge
(Serbia-Romania)". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 129 (3):
339–48. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20286. PMID 16323188.
Boric, Dusan; Miracle, Preston (2004). "Mesolithic and Neolithic
(Dis)Continuities in the
Danube Gorges: New Ams Dates from Padina and
Hajducka Vodenica (Serbia)". Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 23 (4):
Bonsall, Clive (2008). "The Mesolithic of the Iron Gates". In Bailey,
Geoff; Spikins, Penny. Mesolithic Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. pp. 238–79.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Iron Gate (Danube).
(in Romanian) Porțile de Fier National Park
Iron Gates in 1965 on YouTube
(in Serbian) Lepenski Vir
(in German) Ada Kaleh, die Inselfestung, also the source of the Ada
Kaleh section in this article
Coordinates: 44°40′16″N 22°31′47″E / 44.67111°N
22.52972°E / 44.67111; 22.52972
National parks of Serbia
Protected areas of Romania
Piatra Craiului Mountains
Balta Mică a Brăilei
Defileul Mureșului Superior
Hateg Country Dinosaur Geopark
Lunca Joasă a Prutului Inferior
Mehedinți Plateau Geopark
Repedea Hill Fossil Site
Bridges of the Danube
Seven Wonders of Serbia
Seven Serbian Wonders of Construction
Cathedral of Saint Sava
Subotica Town Hall
Seven Serbian Wonders of Nature
Drina with spring
Tara National Park
Iron Gates (Đerdap)