Lost in the Danube
1966 A Cold War Journey before the waters rose at the Iron Gate
The Iron Gate

A short distance up-river from the Romanian port of Drobeta Turnu Severin, 927 kms from the mouth, the Danube is squashed in a series of gorges known simply as The Iron Gates. In Romanian they are Portile de Fier and in Serbian on the opposite bank they are Derdap. The foothills of the Carpathian mountains are on the right and the Balkan mountains on the left

Tony Morrison with John Marriner on his motor yacht September Tide ' As we prepared to leave Turnu Severin in September 1966 our thoughts were varied. The current upstream was notorious and John Marriner was concerned for the safety of September Tide and for us, the crew. I was anxious to get some exciting film and to see the island of Ada Kaleh destined be drowned when the Iron Gate dam was completed. A River Pilot was obligatory and we were joined by Alexander Damaschin from Orsova a small, historic town about 26 kms up-river. [Orsova was flooded as the waters rose and a New Orsova was built]

The first hazard, the true Iron Gate was the most infamous. As you can see the gorge was not pronounced as some writers have said and the danger came from the river racing over hardly submerged rocks. The Iron Gate was an obstacle for shipping for centuries and late in the 1880s' some of the rocks were cleared allowing a two kilometer open route along the now Serbian shore. The cleared passage or Sip Canal as it was known after the nearby village of Sip had a steam locomotive to pull ships through against a current running often more than 15 kph..

Alexander arranged for a tug in Gura Vaii [translated as the' mouth of the valley']. It was a small place and it was drowned like others by the rising water. At Gura Vaii we were roped to the side of the Portile de Fier for the journey to Orsova.'


The Iron Gate l dam was being built approximately 13 kms above Turnu Severin as joint project of Romania and the post World War ll Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.The dam was to be 1,278 m across and 60 m high and work had started about two years before we passed. From here the river is not winding and in 1966 was almost a straight line path to Ada Kaleh island about 7.5 kms ahead.


We saw the early stages of the Iron Gate l dam which at the time it was the largest river dam in Europe and still is the largest on the Danube. Initially the projected output was 2,052 MW of power to be divided between the two countries [that has been increased by installing newer turbines].

 September Tide was strapped by ropes to the side of the tug and Alexander as Pilot was in control so all John Marriner could do was to watch and hope. Alexander said the river was running at an unusual rate of 23kph [or about eleven knots] For some time we made no headway against the current and then by using eddies the tug gained.

We were in 'The Old Way' outside the Sip Canal - Drumul Vechi in Romanian and Stari Put in Serbo-Croat and we passed the wrecks of two Hungarian barges that had snapped their tow going downstram. At this point the bed of the river was broken by large rocks and a rock shelf extending almost the full width. The great depths described by travellers were just fantasy. The water was racing and Alexander explained it was high due to an abnormal season. All that has changed and no the rocks are over 35 m below the surface of a calm lake. The Iron Gate is just a name.

As we approached Orsova the valley sides were steeper and broken in places by lateral valleys entering from the sides. These valleys were to be crossed by a new road supported on reinforced concrete pillars This road is now the spectacular Romanian E 70 between Drobeta Turnu Severin and the New Orsova. The lake formed behind the dam now reaches close to the top of the pillars and is revealed on Google earth . This section was close to Ada Kaleh and today is within sight from parts of New Orsova

It was not a long journey but one filled with tension. We arrived first in Orsova and then visited Ada Kaleh. Seppi Cserwenka the Assistant Harbour Master from Orsova, Alexander and John Marriner with September Tide at Ada Kaleh - behind them the new road is being carved in the hillside.

A recent image of the completed Iron Gate l dam - the Iron Gate ll dam is about 84 kms down river

The full account of this remarkable passge is in Black Sea and Blue River by John Marriner and can be 'snacked on Google Books by using keywords from this page.


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