Cazanele Dunarii have two narrowings – Cazanele Mari (The Big Cauldrons) and Cazanele Mici (The Small Cauldrons) and represent the most impressive part of the Danube Gorges.
Before the construction of the Portile de Fier Dam (The Iron Gates Dam), in this area, the whole debit of the Danube was flowing through the narrow riverbed, creating cataracts. The waters were forming whirls and seemed like boiling in a cauldron, hence the name.
The construction of the Portile de Fier I Dam raised the water level by 30 m and paced down the speed of the stream, which was surpassing 18km/h. Hence, the areas with whirls and rocks that made the navigation more difficult disappeared.
Cazanele Dunarii belong to the Natural Park Portile de Fier. The symbols of the park are the Tricule towers, the tulip of the Cazane and the fossil of an ammonite, referring to the three features of the park: historical, botanical and geological.
Cazanele Dunarii is one of the 18 natural areas protected in the Natural Park Portile de Fier. It is a mixed reservation that preserves unique floral elements (the tulip of the Cazane, the bellflowers of the Cazane, the rock iris, sub-Mediterranean plant associations) and wildlife (the Hermann’s turtle, the horned viper, the scorpion, the European green lizard etc.). You can also see here endokarst formations: caves, pit caves, as well as exokarst ones: limestone pavements, sinkholes, uvalas.
The entire area of the Cazane between the confluence of Danube with the streams Plavisevita and Ogradena measures 9 km.
Of this length, the narrowing Cazanele Mari is 3.8 km long, between Plavişeviţa and the Dubovei Bay.
In Cazanele Mari, the width of the Danube reaches 200-250 m and the depth 80 m.
Here, the Danube is surrounded by the steep walls of the Ciucarului Mare (318 m) on Romanian soil and the Strbacul Mare (768 m) on the Serbian bank.
The narrowing Cazanele Mici is 3.6 km long between the Dubovei Bay and the Ogradena stream.
- In Cazanele Mici the Romanian and Serbian banks draw close to 150 m.
- The depth of the water is here 100m.
- Cazanele Mici are surrounded by the steep walls of the Ciucarului Mic (313 m) on the Romanian bank and the Strbacul Mic (626 m) on the Serbian bank.
The Ciucarul Mic Massif is divided by the Mraconia Valley that continues at 700 m from an interior lake, Lake Mraconia. Near the mouth of the River Mraconia in the Danube you can see the face of the Dacian king Decebal, the biggest rock sculpture in Europe (40 m tall and 25 m wide).
The Dubova Bay has a 1.6 km opening, it divides the two Cazane and you can find here the village Dubova. Dubova is 22km away from Orsova and 80km from Moldova Veche. The land strap between the bank of the bay and the road DN 57 is nowadays filled with many guest houses.
The Cazanele Dunarii can be admired from the water level, by crossing them by a boat or from the karst mountains that surround them.
From the water level you can visit: Tabula Traiana, the statue of Decebal, the Monastery of Mraconia and the Caves Veterani and Ponicova.
The Veterani Cave from Cazanele Mari, reachable only from water is a small 90 m long cave. It has an entrance of not more than 3 m, blotted out by trees. You can reach it through a wooden small bridge. You enter a short gallery that leads to the big gallery that is 20 m high and 40 m long. The gallery is lightened through a natural window in the morning when the sun rays come through. At the end of the gallery there is a pit almost clogged, built of stream rocks.
The cave was inhabited by man since prehistory, being considered by the Dacians the sanctuary of Zamolxis. The name of the cave is given after the field marshal of the Habsburg Empire Army – Friedrich von Veterani, who refortified the cave in the 17th century.
Before the construction of the accumulation lake, in front of the cave there was a board sign that said: “In this cave, 700 soldiers found shelter from the fighting between the Turkish and the Austrian armies. It was fortified by Veterani, the adjutant of lt. col. Ianovici, the commander of the Austrian army from Caransebes. The mouth of the cave could be covered by a rock. Fierce fighting between the Turkish and the Austrian troops occurred in 1692, and then again in 1788”.
At 500 m from the Cave Veterani, there is the Cave Gura Ponicovei. The cave Gura Ponicovei is one of the most spectacular caves in the Danube Gorges. It is also known as the Bat Cave due to many colonies of bats that live in the Gallery of the Bats.
The cave Gura Ponicovei crosses the massif Ciucarul Mare, one of its entries being at the level of the Danube, in Cazanele Mari. The other 2 entries are located on the western slope of Ciucarul Mare, near the road DN 57. It is the biggest cave in the Danube Gorges, with a length of 1666 meters. The boats passing through the gorges can get inside the cave for a dozen meters, depending on the level of the Danube.
This semi-flooded gallery is the active gallery of the cave, which can be crossed along the brook Ponicova on a length of 400 m. The gallery has a large size opening on the mainland side. At the mainland entrance (located at 700 m from the bridge over the Ponicova on the DN 57 and 1 km from the entry in the Ciucarul Mare trail), the brook Ponicova creates small wild gorges and a natural bridge approximately 25 meters long and 6-8 meters high. Two wooden ladders facilitate the crossing of this portion.
The cave has several fossil galleries, where there are formations of different shapes and sizes. Without special equipment you can enter only in the Column Hall that continues with the Gallery of Concretions. You will also need a flashlight.
The car road DN57 winds along Cazanele Mici and the Dubova Bay, and then it makes a detour by the Cazanele Mari.
From this road, 4 marked routes detach, which allow access to the most beautiful views over the Danube Gorges.
- The ecotourism route Cazanele Mari or the Ciucarul Mare Circuit
The sightseeing route of the Cazanele Mari is a route that starts from DN57, from the last houses in Dubova, exiting to Moldova Nouă.
- The route is marked with yellow triangle and has a length of about 5 km., it could take you about 2 hours.
- The marking leads you through 4 lookout points over Cazanele Mari. The last lookout point offers an overview over the Dubova Bay and the Cazanele Mici.
- It is only here that you can see the yellow tulip of the Cazane – an endemic species, whose habitat is the eastern slope of the Massif Ciucarul Mare. It blooms in April, at the same time with the wild lilac, the latter dressing the rocky walls of Ciucarul Mare.
2. The ecotourism route Cazanele Mari 2
It is a route that starts from DN57, exiting towards Moldova Nouă, at a distance of approximately 2 km from the entrance to the route of Ciucarul Mare.
- It is marked with blue triangle and has a length of about 1.6 km. After 300 metres from the departure, the route splits, with two variants of journeys. The one on the right descends to the shores of the Danube and the left one climbs to 2 lookout points.
3. The ecotourism route Cazanele Mici or Ciucarul Mic.
Access is from DN57, in the Dubova Bay, immediately at the exit from the Cazanele Mici.
- The trail is marked with red triangle and has a length of about 3.5 km.
- Although shorter than the route on the Ciucarul Mare, the access to the 2 lookout points is more demanding, due to the fact that they get a higher elevation gain, from the level of the Danube (about 100 m) up to 313m. You start climbing on the Ciucarul Mare (318 m) from an altitude of 190 m.
Representative for these routes is the karst topography, the trail creeping among ditches, uvalas and sinkholes.
The trails go through forests of oak, hornbeam, beech and cross the small clearings. The steep slopes towards the Danube are covered with plant association specific to warmer areas, called “șibliac” which includes: oriental hornbeam, downy oak, flowering ash, wild lilac, tanner’s sumach and purple star thistle.
4. The ecotourism route Dubova – Cazanele Mici.
- The access is made from the same point with the route Ciucarul Mic.
- The route has a length of 9 km and is marked with yellow triangle. The routes Ciucarul Mic and Dubova – Cazanele Mici can be made together, as the beginning, of about 900m, is common. Therefore, first, you can see the Ciucarul Mic then return to the intersection with the yellow triangle, on which you can continue up to Dubova.
- This route, in addition to several interesting lookout points over the Dubova Bay and the Danube Gorges, goes through forests of oak, beech and through meadows dotted with dwellings (summer houses of the inhabitants of Dubova). One of the dwellings is permanently inhabited, being the only place on the route where, at need, you can find a water supply.
Recommendations for the journeys:
- during the spring-autumn season, pay attention to vipers;
- take your water supply, there are no streams on the route;
- do not approach the edges of the steep vertical walls of the Ciucarul Mare and the Ciucarul Mic;
- in order to cross the Danube by your personal boat, either a motor one or an oar-propelled one, you need to register at the Border Police Orșova.
The Danube Gorges which stretches from Baziaș to the dam of the accumulation lake Portile de Fier (Gura Vaii) is accompanied by paved roads
– Baziaș – Pojejena on DN 57 (20km)
– Pojejena – Moldova Nouă – Orșova on route 57 is 113 km long. You can get to Pojejena from Oravița on the national road 57 (40km), and to Orșova on DN6 Drobeta Turnu Severin – Orșova – Plugova.