The sculpture of Decebalus by the Danube – the Tallest Rock Relief in Europe

Located on a cliff on the banks of the Danube, near the city of Orsova, at the Iron Gates and the border with Serbia, the rock sculpture of Decebalus is one of southern Romania’s landmarks. Portraying the one who battled against Trajan, the last Dacian king Decebalus, the imposing sculpture measures 43 meters in height and 32 in width and it was made between 1994 and 2004.

The creation of this sculpture cost 1 million dollars and took ten years and twelve sculptors to finish after having been endorsed by a businessman, Iosif Constanting Dragan, one of the wealthiest people in Romania. In fact, out of the 10 years only 4 were dedicated to the actual sculpture, whereas the other 6 involved detonating the rock to reach an adequate base.

The sculpting conditions were rather unbearable taking into account the heights, the extreme weather and vipers, and on top of all, not being able to reach the site other than via boat.

Alike the great sphinx from Egypt, Decebalus’ 7 meters high nose eventually cracked and the alpinist sculptors had to remodel the nose with iron and cement.

The impressive sculpture comes, as often sculptures do, with an inscription. The Latin words engraved under Decebalus: “DECEBALUS REX – DRAGAN FECIT” translate as “King Decebalus – Made by Dragan”.

Amazingly, across the water, on the Serbian side of the Danube, near Ogradina, there is a Roman Empire memorial plaque known as Tabula Traiana. This monument, considered “of exceptional importants” by the Serbs, notes the end of Trajan’s military road along the Danube as well as it celebrates the final battle of 105, when Dacia was absorbed by the Roman Empire.

Because the position of the Decebalus rock relief was not at random, commissioner Dragan would have wanted the Serbians to make a rock sculpture portraying a Roman emperor on the opposite side of the Danube suggesting an eternal confrontation with Decebalus. The Serbians refused to do so.

By modeling this portray of the Dacian king, Dragan wished to commemorate and demonstrate that Romanians indeed contributed to the formation of European cultures, based on the fact that the cultural identity of Romanians can first of all defined by its dacian-thracian ancestry.

Decebalus, 6 meters smaller than the Statue of Liberty and 8 meters taller than the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro (which was, in fact, partially built by a Romanian sculptor), is just one of the touristic wonders down and up the Danube. While visiting the imposing sculpture, tourists can also see the Ponicova and Veterani Caves, the Mraconia Monastery and the Iron Gates Museum.

Yes, wherever you may visit in Romania, there’s always more to see… as this country is made out of landmarks.

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Stefania Tripe
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” ― Stephen King.


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