Danube Cauldrons (Cazanele Dunarii) have two narrowings – Cazanele Mari (The Big Cauldrons) and Cazanele Mici (The Small Cauldrons). Certainly they 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. Because of this the speed of the stream in Danube Cauldrons (which was surpassing 18km/h) it paced down. Hence, the areas with whirls and rocks that made the navigation more difficult disappeared.
Danube Cauldrons 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. Certainly, they are referring to the three features of the park: historical, botanical and geological.
The Danube Cauldrons area is one of the 18 natural areas protected in the Natural Park Portile de Fier.
Most noteworthy it is a mixed reservation that preserves:
- unique floral elements: the tulip of the Boilers, the bellflowers of the Boilers, the rock iris, sub-Mediterranean plant associations.
- wildlife like: Hermann’s turtle, the horned viper, the scorpion, the European green lizard etc.).
- endokarst formations: caves, pit caves, as well as exokarst ones: limestone pavements, sinkholes, uvalas.
The entire area of the Danube Cauldrons between the confluence of Danube with the streams Plavisevita and Ogradena measures 9 km.
Of this length, the narrowing Cazanele Mari (Big Boilers) is 3.8 km long, between Plavişeviţa and the Dubovei Bay.
In Big Boilers, the width of the Danube reaches 200-250 m and the depth 80 m.
Here, the Danube is surrounded by the steep walls. On the Romanian bank we find Big Ciucarul peak (318 m) while on the Serbian bank is the Strbacul Mare peak (768 m).
The narrowing Cazanele Mici (Small Boilers) is 3.6 km long between the Dubovei Bay and the Ogradena stream.
- In Small Boilers the Romanian and Serbian banks draw close to 150 m.
- The depth of the water is here 100m.
- Similarly to Big Boilers, the Small Boilers are surrounded also by the steep walls. On the Romanian bank is Small Ciucarul peak (313 m) while on the Serbian bank is the Small Strbacul peak (626 m).
The Small Ciucarul Massif is divided by the Mraconia Valley that continues 700 m with 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. Certainly, this is the biggest rock sculpture in Europe, having 40 m tall and 25 m wide.
The Dubova Bay has a 1.6 km opening and it divides the Danube Cauldrons in two areas. Also, you can find here the Dubova village.
Dubova is 22 km away from Orsova and 80km from Moldova Veche. The land strap between the bank of the bay and the road DN 57 is nowadays almost filled with guest houses.
The Danube Cauldrons 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 Big Boilers, 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 Veterani Cave, there is the Gura Ponicovei Cave. The Gura Ponicovei cave is one of the most spectacular caves in the Danube Cauldrons. It is also known as the Bat Cave due to many colonies of bats that live in the Gallery of the Bats.
The Gura Ponicovei cave crosses the massif Big Ciucarul. It is the biggest cave in the Danube Gorges, with a length of 1666 meters and has 3 cave entries.
One of its entries is at the level of the Danube, in Big Boilers while the other 2 entries are located on the western slope of Big Ciucarul peak, near the road DN 57.
The boats passing through the gorges can also 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.
The mainland entrance is located at 700 m from the bridge over the Ponicova on the DN 57 and 1 km from the entry in the Big Ciucarul trail. Here, the brook Ponicova creates a 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 need also a flashlight.
The car road DN57 winds along Small Boilers and the Dubova Bay, and then it makes a detour by the Big Boilers.
From this road, 4 marked routes detach, which allow access to the most beautiful views over the Danube Gorges.
- The ecotourism route Big Boilers or the Big Ciucarul peak Circuit
Big Boilers sightseeing route starts from DN57, from the last houses in Dubova, exiting to Moldova Nouă village.
- The route is marked with yellow triangle and has a length of about 5 km.
- Necessary time for trekking: about 2 hours.
- The marking leads you through 4 lookout points over Big Boilers. Most noteworthy, the last lookout point offers an overview over the Dubova Bay and the Small Boilers.
- It is only here that you can see the yellow tulip of the Cazane (Boilers). This is an endemic specie, whose habitat is the eastern slope of the Massif Big Ciucarul. It blooms in April, at the same time with the wild lilac, the latter dressing the rocky walls of Big Ciucarul peak.
2. The ecotourism route Big Boilers 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 Big Ciucarul peak.
- It is marked with blue triangle and has a length of about 1.6 km. After 300 m from the departure, the route splits, with two variants of journeys. The one on the right descends to the shores of the Danube while the left one climbs to 2 lookout points.
3. The ecotourism route Cazanele Mici or Little Ciucarul peak.
Access is from DN57, in the Dubova Bay, immediately at the exit from the Small Boilers.
- The trail is marked with red triangle and has a length of about 3.5 km.
- Although shorter than the route on the Big Ciucarul, the access to the 2 lookout points is more demanding. This is due to the fact that they get a higher elevation gain, from the level of the Danube (about 100 m) up to 313 m. You start climbing on the Big Ciucarul peak (318 m) from an altitude of 190 m.
Seems like representative for these routes is the karst topography, the trail creeping among ditches, uvalas and sinkholes.
The trails go also through forests of oak, hornbeam, beech and cross the small clearings. 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. Ecotourism route Dubova – Small Boilers trek.
- The access is made from the same point with the route Small Ciucarul peak.
- Has a length of 9 km and is marked with yellow triangle. The routes Small Ciucarul peak and Dubova – Small Boilers trek can be made together, in the same day. This is because the beginning of the trek, of about 900m, is common. First, you can see the Small Ciucarul peak. Finally, return to the intersection with the yellow triangle, on which you can continue up to Dubova.
- Furthermore, this route, goes to several interesting lookout points over the Dubova Bay and the Danube Gorges. Passes 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 journeys in Danube Cauldrons area:
- during the spring-autumn season, pay attention to vipers;
- there are no streams on the route, therefore take your water supply;
- do not approach the edges of the Big Ciucarul peak and the Small Ciucarul peak because there are big vertical walls that can cause free falls ;
- also, in order to cross the Danube by your personal boat 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). The access to Orșova is on DN6 Drobeta Turnu Severin – Orșova – Plugova.