The Iron Gates is the traditional name for the gorge by which the River Danube passes through the Transylvania Alps, where it now forms the boundary between Romania and Serbia. The ‘cataract region’ extends from Moldova Island, 130 km downstream from Belgrade, for 120 km. Over that distance the natural fall of the river is 30 m, and in places its width contracts from 2 km to less than 100m, while the highest cliffs rise 683 f from the surface. A towing path, partly cut from the rocks and partly cantilevered on wooden beams was cut through the gorge by the Emperor Trajan and his successors between AD28 and 102. The first steamship passed through the Iron Gates in 1834.
From 1878 the river navigation was improved by the Hungarian government under the supervision of the International Danube Commission. A 2.5 km canal with a fall of 3.7 m was built on the southern side of the river in 1895-98, with a railway track alongside. The haulage upstream of heavy barges by steam locomotives being driven at maximum power was spectacular.
After the Second World War the governments of Romania and what was then Yugoslavia built a hydro-electric dam at the Iron Gates with pairs of locks on either side. The scheme was completed in 1972 and the passage of boats along the river is quieter than in the days of steam locomotive haulage.
The history of the river and of the communities on its banks is illustrated in the regional museum at Drobeta Jurnu-Severin.