Thu 30 Aug 2012
As I am a passionate of lighthouses, one of my questions to the local folks during my vacation on the Danube was obviously ‘Are there any lighthouses on the Danube’. The answer was ‘no, not any longer, as today navigation is GPS-guided, but there were until not long time ago’. Their story is fascinating.
A few kilometers from the nice hotel we were lodged in on the river of Danube you can find the area of the Small Cauldrons (Cazanele Mici). This is the place where the distance between the two shores of the Danube is the smallest in the area, and in the past, before the Iron Gates dam was built the white waters looked liked boiling, hence the name. Despite the dangerous waters the small distance between the shores made the place one of the preferred escape border areas for the daring people who tried to cross from Romania to Yugoslavia, and then to continue their road to freedom away of the Communist Romania. Hundreds perished during the crossing shot by the border police, even more were caught and imprisoned. This was another kind of wall then the wall of Berlin, less famous, but not less dangerous and not less the symbol of the futile tentative of the Communists to keep the people confined within the prison that became the whole country.
Until no more than 20 years ago two lighthouses regulated the traffic on the Danube in this area. One was located on the Romanian shore, the other at the other side of the gorges on the Serbian shore. Two big commercial ships could not traverse the gorges simultaneously, and two big balls signaled the permission to cross the Cauldrons. One of them was always down, the other up, allowing ships to traverse only one way at once.
While the disaffected building of the lighthouse on the Serbian shore seems to have remained unused and unchanged since the modern traffic methods were put in effect, the location on the Romanian shore received a new and interesting destination. It became the place where the new monastery of Mraconia (or Mracunea) was built. A monastery that has a long history and tradition, which was destroyed at least five times during its history and built back from ashes. A monastery that refuses to die.
The first mention dates from 1453, the year of the fall of Constantinople, and the monastery was at that time dedicate to Saint Ilie (Eliah). Destroyed by the Turkish invasions, it was rebuilt and consecrated again in 1523, three years before the kingdom of Hungary fell after the defeat at Mohacs. Destroyed a couple of times in the 18th and 19th centuries during the wars between the Russians and the Turks, it flourished in between the two world wars, to be again demolished and covered by waters in 1967, when the Iron Gates dam was built. And yet the history of the Mraconia refused to come to an end, and in 1993 the spectacular location of the former lighthouse on the Romanian shore was selected to be the place of the building of the new monks monastery. In 2008 it was transformed into a nuns monastery, which is now dedicated to the Saints Michael and Gabriel.
There are still works undergoing inside the crossed-shaped church, and we had the chance to see the painters at work. It’s a beautiful place in a fabulous location, a beautiful place of prayers that could not be silenced by history. Do not miss it during your future trips in the area.