Ever been jealous of the presidents carved into Mount Rushmore? After all, fame may be fleeting – but mountain sculptures tend to be rather permanent.
It turns out George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln aren’t the only figures to make their mark with mountainside glory. Dacian King Decebalus, the last Dacian King in the area now known as Romania, stares out from above the Danube River on the Romanian side of the Iron Gates. The sculpture itself, with its bold features, almost looks like it’s been embedded into the rock formation for centuries. But it’s a recent addition to the natural wonder of the Iron Gates -- a stunning gorge on the Danube River that forms part of the natural boundary between Romania and Serbia and is located between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
Significantly, it is also located across from the Tabula Traiana plaque on the Serbian side of the Danube. This monument commemorates both the Roman Emperor Trajan’s march towards Dacia and a long-since destroyed bridge that was specifically erected to deploy Trajan’s troops. Along with leading the Roman troops to victory, this bridge takes another historical footnote as the first over the lower Danube. Trajan emerged victorious and the Roman Empire took control of Dacia – and its golden treasures. King Decebalus was defeated, after many years of fighting.
But now, two millennium later, King Decebalus heroically rises again. Over 130 feet tall and 82 feet wide, the sculpture took 10 years, 12 sculptors and over one million US dollars to bring to its larger-than-life reality upon in its 2004 completion. It is over 26 feet taller than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer and less than 20 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.
The rock sculpture of King Decebalus was the brainchild of Romanian billionaire and businessman Iosif Constantin Drăgan. A controversial figure for admiring fascist ideals and Nazi war criminals, the businessman was exiled for 30 years, not even allowed to step foot in his native homeland. Still through it all, he was a staunch supporter of the protochronism movement promoting Romanian nationalism and the idea that Romania was the ‘flame’ of civilization. He was quoted as saying, “Anyone travelling towards ‘Decebal Rex Dragan Fecit’ is also travelling towards the origins of European civilization and will discover that a United Europe also represents the natural course of history.”
Drăgan invited the Serbians to carve a rock sculpture of Trajan across the way so the two warriors could meet again, face-to-face, on opposing sides. The Serbians were not interested, giving the King the chance to reign supreme, at least metaphorically.
See the rock sculpture of King Decebalus as you cruise through the Iron Gates on one of our Gems of Southeast Europe sailings.