Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania – Guardian of the Iron Gates 2

Those who have read my blog will know that I like rock-cut architecture (you can check out my rock-cut architecture page here). One day, many years ago, I came upon a picture of the rock sculpture of King Decebalus, last king of Dacia, on the banks of the Danube River, in southwestern Romania; it took just a nanosecond to determine that I wished to visit the site in person.

Who was King Decebalus?

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

The rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Decebalus was the king of Dacia (a region more or less equivalent to modern day Romania) in the 1st Century CE. The last king of Dacia successfully fought off the armies of Roman emperor Domitian, but, as you may be able to tell from his moniker (i.e the last king of Dacia), he was defeated by emperor Trajan. The lands of Dacia were subsequently conquered by the Romans.

Decebalus committed suicide in 105 CE to avoid capture by Trajan. It’s a scene that is captured on one of the panels on Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Over the millennia Decebalus became a folk hero, and a symbol of Romanian nationalism.

The rock sculpture of Decebalus

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The rock sculpture of Decebalus was commissioned in the early 1990s by wealthy Romanian businessman, Iosif Constantin Drăgan.

Construction began in 1994. It took six years of blasting to get the rock outcrop into the right basic shape, followed by 4 years of finely tuned sculpting. The sculpture was completed in 2004.

The Iron Gates

Iron Gates, Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

The Iron Gates. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The sculpture of Decebalus sits on an small, placid offshoot of the Danube, amidst a narrow, rocky passage of the river known as the Iron Gates.

The lands of the opposite shore of the Danube belong to Serbia (the river acts as the political border between the two nations).

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White

With the rock sculpture of Decebalus underway, Drăgan (the business who funded the project), urged Serbia to build a similar sculpture on their side of the Danube.

He envisioned an enormous statue of Trajan, the Roman emperor, on the Serbian side of the river, staring angrily at the lands of Dacia. And there, on the opposite bank, would be his statue of Decebalus, glaring defiantly back.

Serbia wasn’t interested in the proposal.

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Practical information and how to reach the rock sculpture of Decabalus:

The rock carving of Decebalus is located on the Danube River, approximately 18km southwest of the city of Orșova (a 20 minute drive). There are no public transport optionsThe best way to get there is with your own vehicle. More transport info here.

During the warmer months scenic river cruises – departing from Orșova – make a stop at the rock sculpture.

Don’t forget to check out my awe-inspiring rock-cut architecture page.

More on Romania:

Bran Castle – is it Dracula’s castle? Nope!

Sighișoara – birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula)

Brașov – Christmas in Transylvania. Think snow!

More on southeastern Europe:


Berat – town of 1000 windows = no window tax!

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Sarajevo – Franz Ferdinand, and the Jerusalem of Europe

Mostar – bullet holes, a sniper tower, a prized Ottoman bridge


Pristina – capital of the newborn country complete with Bill Clinton statue

Republic of Macedonia:

Ohrid – an old, deep lake, where Cyrillic was invented?

Skopje – controversial statues, and ownership of Alex the Great?

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