Hercules’ columns from the Iron Gates

In the area of the Iron Gates in Mehedinți county, a beautiful legend circulates that, in ancient times, one of the works of Hercules, the most famous hero of Greek mythology, would have taken place here. The legend is also supported by the fact that, not far from these places, there is also today a magnificent spa resort, Herculane Baths (or Hercules’ Baths), known since ancient times.

The child of Zeus and of the mortal Alcmena, Hercules was always hated and persecuted by Hera, the all-powerful wife of his father. She takes Hercules’ minds, causing him, in a moment of madness, to kill his children. Legend says that in order to atone for this sin and to soften Hera, the hero finds out from the Delphi oracle that he must serve the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, Eurystheus, for 12 years. He orders Hercules to complete 12 tasks considered impossible, which remained known as Hercules’ Work.

The tenth of the twelve works consisted of capturing the oxen of Gerion, a monster with three bodies, living on the island of Eritia (or Erythia), and bringing them to Eurystheus. Gerion’s cattle on the island of Eritia were guarded by a two-headed dog, named Ortros, and by a giant, which the Greek hero managed to kill.

To reach the island, Hercules used a golden boat he had received from the sun god Helios, after having the audacity to hit him with an arrow during an expedition to the end of the known world. There, at the westernmost point of his journey, in a mountainous area, the demigod had erected two columns facing each other, Calpe and Abila, known as the Hercules’ Columns. According to legend, Hercules’ columns would have been near the Danube cataracts near the Iron Gates, and Eritia Island would be the same as Ada Kaleh on the Danube, which was flooded in 1970 by the waters of the Iron Gates.

The columns of Hercules were first discovered by the Tyrians (Phoenicians from Tyr), who would have sailed until they found a suitable place to establish a commercial colony. They worshiped Melqart, identified with Hercules, sometimes called Hercules the Tyrian or Hercules of Tyr. In its large temple were represented the two columns of the famous Greek hero, one of emerald and one of gold, which are also emblematic symbols of the Tyrrhenian politics and trade.

According to Nicolae Densuşianu in the “Prehistoric Dacia”, the Columns of Hercules were represented on a coin from the Roman period, where they were displayed next to a lighthouse, a sign that they were near a navigable watercourse. Moreover, old parchments that mentioned the columns said that they would be on the top of a mountain, below the island of Eritia. The description of the settlement of the columns would indicate that they were near the cataracts of the Danube, near the Iron Gates. This theory is supported by numerous toponymic evidence and many other legends from the Mehedinti area.

For example, Pliny wrote that in the places where the Columns of Hercules were erected, the mountains were bound by an unbroken chain which the hero would cut, leaving the sea and the ocean to flow, thus changing the face of nature. In the area of Banat there is an old popular legend that says that Hercules cut the rocks from Rușova (today the city of Orșova), causing the standing water to cover the plains of the Banat to flow down the valley towards the Black Sea.

Another legend speaks of a beautiful promontory rising on the north bank of the Danube, at the place where later the “St. Peter’s Cross” was located, where a chair-like shape would still be seen today in the hard rock. About this place is said to have been Gerion’s chair.

In the same work, Nicolae Densușianu also mentioned the connection with Hercule’s second column, Abila, the one made of gold. In the popular tradition, the region of the Carpathian Mountains north of the Iron Gates was called the Golden Mountains.



·         Alexandra Georgescu, “Hercules and the secret linking him to the island of Ada Kaleh. How the columns of the legendary hero arrived at the Iron Gates ”, 7 June 2015,  https://adevarul.ro/locale/turnu-severin/hercule-secretul-leaga-insula-ada-kaleh-ajuns-columnele-legendarului-erou-portile-fier-1_55704b05cfbe376e35eafc20/index.html

·         Horia Dumitru Oprea, “Legend of Heracles. (II) The twelve works”, 18 March 2015, https://istoriiregasite.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/legenda-lui-heracle-ii-cele-douasprezece-munci/

·         Nicolae Densușianu, “Prehistoric Dacia”. The Encyclopedic Publishing House, 1987