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Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania. Dacian Fortress ruins.           Source: emperorcosar/ Adobe Stock

Spectacular and Ancient Dacian fortresses in the Mountains of Romania

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The mighty Dacian civilization once rivalled Rome in power and prestige. Today little remains of this empire apart from the six Dacian fortresses which are located across several sites in the beautiful Orăştie Mountains. These structures are the best-known heritage sites in Romania, a testament to an incredible society and popular with tourists.

The Six Dacian Fortresses and The War Against Rome

The Dacians were a Thracian tribe who lived predominantly in Romania and Moldova. In the first century BC, King Burebista united the various Dacian tribes and in the process established the capital at Sarmizegetusa in the Orăştie Mountains. The Dacian monarchs created a large and potentially threatening empire to the north of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar was believed to be ready to go on campaign against them before he was assassinated.

The Dacian capital grew rich and in order to defend Sarmizegetusa against the Romans, a number of fortresses were built in strategic locations throughout the Orăştie Mountains, forming an elaborate defensive system. It is important to note that the so-called six fortresses are not only military bastions, but some were also religious, social and cultural centers.

Rock sculpture of Decebalus in Danube gorge (Boggy/ Adobe Stock)

Rock sculpture of Decebalus in Danube gorge ( Boggy/ Adobe Stock)

Originally the structures were built in the murus dacicus style (Latin for Dacian wall), a combination of local Dacian and Greek building techniques . After each layer of the outer dry-stone walls was built, the gap between them would be filled and compacted with gravel and rocks held together with clay. This labour-intensive method allowed for shock absorption from projectiles. The construction of the various buildings and walls was a great achievement as a vast amount of stones had to be taken up the mountains.

Sarmizegetusa, reached its zenith in around 100 A.D. under the rule of King Decebalus , one of Rome’s greatest enemies. In 101 A.D., Emperor Trajan invaded Dacia and took Sarmizegetusa and it is believed that he ordered the destruction of the fortresses.

Relief of fight between Romans and Dacians (radub85/ Adobe Stock)

Relief of fight between Romans and Dacians ( radub85/ Adobe Stock)

Trajan imposed tributary status on the Dacians, but they revolted and rebuilt the six fortresses. This led to a second invasion in 106 A.D. The Romans once more took Sarmizegetusa, burnt it down, and turned Dacia into a Roman province. Later they built a new capital some 30 miles away and the old capital and its defensive system were abandoned.

Many important archaeological discoveries have been made at the fortresses and in 1999, the six sites were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Dacian fortresses in Orăştie Mountains

The first and most important site or fortress is Sarmizegetusa Regia, located on top of a mountain and surrounded by a forest. It is constructed with two rings of massive stones in the murus dacicus style in a quadrilateral shape. The sacred precinct nearby includes the ‘Andesite Sun’, a large stone disc thought to be a sun dial. The enigmatic structure of standing stones, called Romania’s Stonehenge, may once have been part of a sanctuary.

Solar disk at Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania (davidionut/ Adobe Stock)

Solar disk at Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania ( davidionut/ Adobe Stock)

The next fortress, some distance away from Sarmizegetusa Regia, is Costești-Cetățuie Dacian fortress, a hill fort. Its walls as well as stone pathways and roads can still be seen. It is believed that this fort guarded the road to the Dacian capital.

Another fortress in this area is Costești-Blidaru fortress. There are a number of earthen mounds within the massive restored walls, that are believed to be the remains of Dacian streets and buildings which would mean that this was a fortified town.

Paved Dacian road in Sarmizegetusa, the capital of the Dacian Empire, Romania (Calin/ Adobe Stock)

Murus Dacicus at Blidaru Dacian fortress ( Public Domain )

Twenty miles away to the west is Piatra Roşie, (Red Rock), a former hill fort which dates from the 1 st century BC. This fort enclosed a large area of the mountain top, which was flattened during its construction. This fortress once had watch towers and their remains can still be visited. By the First Century AD, the hill fort consisted of a double wall . These are now mostly in ruin, but their outline is easily followed.

At the Dacian fortress of Bănița, lie the ruins of a once impressive hill fort. Little remains of this, but it was once a massive bastion which again had double walls and towers.

Paved Dacian road in Sarmizegetusa, the capital of the Dacian Empire, Romania (Calin/ Adobe Stock)

Paved Dacian road in Sarmizegetusa, the capital of the Dacian Empire, Romania ( Calin/ Adobe Stock)

The fortress of Căpâlna, is located on a high, steep hill. The remains of an elliptical double-walls can be seen as well as two man-made terraces. The remains of a tower house and the south-east of the citadel of the fortress can be visited.

Visiting the Six Dacian Fortresses in Orăştie Mountains

More than one day should be devoted to these magnificent UNESCO World Heritage sites as there is much to see and they are not all close together. Located in Hunedoara County, in north-east Romania, some are remote and can be hard to reach as there is often no public transport to the sites. The exception would be the former Dacian capital. There are guided tours of the site and there is accommodation available in local villages.

Top image: Sarmizegetusa Regia, Romania. Dacian Fortress ruins.           Source: emperorcosar/ Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Adriana, P., Gelu, F., Razvan, M., Paul, P., Catalin, C., Cristina, B., & Eugen, P. (2014). The Dacian Fortress from Costeşti-Blidaru–Recent Archaeological Research . The Towers from La Vămi, Poiana lui Mihu, Platoul Faeragului

Available at: http://www.muri.utcluj.ro:8080/xmlui/handle/123456789/9

Farcas, S., Ursu, T. M., Tanaua, I., & Roman, A. (2018). The history of Dacia forests in the Orastie   Mountain Regions . Contributii Botanice, (53)

Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sorina_Farcas/publication/330483033_The_history_of_dacia's_forests_in_the_orastie_mountains_region/links/5c41fbd7a6fdccd6b5b6e098/The-history-of-dacias-forests-in-the-orastie-mountains-region.pdf

Schmitz, M. (2005). The Dacian Threat, 101-106 AD (Vol. 1) . Caeros Pty Ltd

Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=swDMiX4_9GIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=six+dacian+fortress+Or%C4%83%C5%9Ftie+Mountains&ots=ViSMQkj-e1&sig=6u163bZmr4_Yg_quxvNydVvCZFg#v=onepage&q&f=false

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