A Romanian Rushmore on the Danube Gorges honoring the king of Dacians

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

The narrowest passage of the Danube, the most important river of Europe, creates a fabulous natural landscape. The river breaks through high walls of stone, creating several gorges with luxurious wild vegetation, that also give water a green shade. This is the background against which a record sculpture was carved in ten years. The largest rock sculpture in Europe represents Decebalus, the last king of the Dacians, who, according to the general accepted legend, committed suicide after the defeat by the Romans.

Among the numerous Latin countries, Romania is the only country that takes its name from the Roman Empire, the greatest empire of Antiquity. And though the Roman legions officially stood here less than three centuries, the locals speak a language resembling with Italian, that is very close in its structure with the Latin language. But Romanians also revere the occupied Dacians as their ancestors, as this sculpture shows once again. The sculpture is also visible from the Serbian bank of the river.

The region of the Great Kazan (boiler) is close to Orsova city, about 365 km West of Bucharest. Coming from Drobeta Turnu Severin, the road turns near the Iron Gate Dam and the Serbian checkpoint. The road follows the mountain shape, with several viaducts. From the outskirts of Orsova, you head towards Eselnita and finally to Mraconia. Because the Danube turns, you get the bizarre feeling of suddenly being on the other side of the river, but don’t worry, you are still in Romania, seeing the Serbian villages on the other bank.

Before the Iron Gate Dam was built, the flow of the Danube was higher, and the water pressed by the rocky walls seemed to be boiling, so this gave the name of Kazan. The area was flooded when building the dam, which lead to the disappearance of island Ada Kaleh, a unique Turkish island with mosque and its own civilization. The vestments of the locals and fragments of islamic art can still be seen in the Drobeta Turnu-Severin Museum.
From the banks, you can see the Small Kazans, but for the Great Kazans you have to take a boat. There are many such boats in the area, as well as accommodation facilities and restaurants with fish specialties.
In spite of its name, the Small Kazans are one km longer than the Great Kazans, which are 4 km long. The width of the river is 250 m, with depths as much as 100 m.

The stone sculpture is not on the banks of the main river, but in a small bay formed by the river Mraconia flowing into the Danube. Mraconia means “black water” or “hidden place”, and the small monastery that can be seen from one side of the road is recently rebuilt, as a replica of an old monastery destroyed by the dam. On a rangers road you can climb to Ciucaru Mare (316m).

The sculture has a Latin carving (“Decebalus Rex, Dragan fecit“, which means “King Decebalus, made by Dragan). The linguistic choise is as bizarre as the place chosen for the monument, as artifacts of the empire that was the nemesis of the Dacian king can be seen around. Here emperor Trajan carved a stone wall announcing his conquest, and not far from here a humble remain testifies the existence of the largest bridge of Antiquity. Trajan built this bridge with the help of the brilliant architect Apollodorus of Damascus, the same man who built the column in Rome, glorifying the conquest. The fabulous bridge was used by the Romans to invade Dacia, but they were also the ones to destroy it when they retreated from the migrating tribes. For the Romans, the crossing of Danube and the conquest of Dacia was a huge event, proven not only by the column in Rome and the adoption of the name Dacicus by the emperor Nerva Traian afterwards. When he returned home, the emperor payed for an unprecedented 123 days of contests and shows at the Colosseum to entertain the people. After all, the Romans invented the phrase “Bread and circus” (Panem et circenses).

Sculpting the head of Decebalus in the mountain took ten years, from 1994, to 2004, with 12 men working under the lead of Florin Cotarcea. Among the problems that arose was the crossing of the Mraconia bay and climbing to the top with the needed tools. Several workers suffered accidents after falling and one was bit by a viper. A tone of dynamite was used for the sculture.

The work has a visible flaw, the nose of the king, that was about to fall and was replaced by concrete. The dimensions of the statue are differently estimated, depending on where you consider the sculpture ends: from 38 to 55 m. Anyway, this still makes it the largest stone monument in Europe.
Though carving stone dates from antiquity, one of its peaks being the mausoleum of Petra (Jordan), the source of inspiration for this monument is Mount Rushmore from USA, where four American presidents are carved (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt si Abraham Lincoln).

Though the American memorial has only 18 m, so less than half or the representation of Decebalus, the work of Gutzon Borglum is esthetically superior and more accurate. But we shouldn’t forget that the Rushmore sculpture is also a collective work, with 300 sculptors, working 14 years with enormous funds.
In Asia there are similar monuments, carved in rock. Near Leshan (Seshuan, China), there is a representation of a sitting Budha, which is 71 m high, very skilfully finished and with steps for tourists, and a similar representation can be seen near a temple in Japan.

The talibans in Afghanistan have attracted the world’s outrage when they blew up the ancient statues of Budha, including a 55 m statue destroyed in 2001.
The most resembling in spirit to the Danube sculpture is one found in Zhegzhou (China, Henan province), representing the yellow emperors Yan Di and Huang Di, the first Chinese emperors. In order to mentain the comparison, at the Danube, there must have stood not only a statue of Decebalus, but also one of emperor Trajan. This Chinese sculpture is 100 m high.
The last Dacian king, Decebalus, was also the most famous ruler of Dacia. Although his kingdom no longer had the dimensions of that of one of his predecessors, Burebista, Decebalus was a good organizer of a prosperous Dacia. He attracted the admiration of those he fought with as the Latin chronicles show. Almost 20 years of his reign were occupied by the war with its mighty neighbor from the west. The king committed suicide after losing the decisive battle in order not to be captured.

The work was financed by a controversial billionaire, Iosif Constantin Dragan, a nationalist praising the Dacian legacy. Dragan, who lived and died in Italy, was suspected of escaping communism with the money reserve of the fascist movement Iron Guard. After creating an empire in energy (Butan Gas), Dragan manifested as an admirer of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceasescu and of its later nationalist doctrine. This lead to the suspicion that some of his business was helped by the Securitate, the communist secret police. After the anticommunist Revolution of 1989, IC Dragan funded works that reevaluate in a positive manner the activity of Ion Antonescu, military dictator during the 2nd world war, executed after the Soviet occupation. For a while, his 1 billion dollar fortune made Iosif Constantin Dragan the richest Romanian. The sculpture at Mraconia cost Dragan around 1 million euros.

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