The Sphinx on the Danube

One of the most beautiful natural attractions in Romania is the Danube Boilers, the area where the Danube crosses its way through steep mountain walls in its pursuit towards the Black Sea. Since the entrance to the  Large Boilers, visitors are greeted by a huge rock, detached, as if from the wall of the mountain. The formation surprises by its human form, apparently carved in hard stone. More interesting, however, is the fact that the rock looks different in direction from the direction from which you look at it: seen from the town of Orşova, it resembles a monk wearing a mantle, with a hood on his neck; seen from the opposite direction, it appears as a woman with arms folded across her chest, covered from head to toe with a veil. This is the Sphinx on the Danube, not just a simple rock formation, but also the subject of many local legends and stories. The best known was collected by Ioan Ivan Loghin and included in the collection of stories “Legends of the Blue Danube”.

It is said that the Mehedinti lands were inhabited long ago by the family of some giants. Often, they would brawl between them and toss each other with as big stony wheels as the chariot wheel.  Hearing about this, the great of the giants, who ruled all the lands around as one could see with his eyes, commanded them to calm down, not to accidentally hit them with the rocks and to tear down his houses and palaces. Immediately the giants escaped the stones of their hand, fearing the wrath of their master. Of all, only one, called Jap, laughed at the king of the land of the giants. Very stubborn, he continued to provoke the other giants, just-to get one mad with him.

As the king of the giants saw that Jap does not calm down and continues to disobey his words, he decided to give him a punishment to remember him as long as he lived. He gave news to his subjects to guard on Japa and, when they saw him asleep, to catch him, to tie him tight and to bring him before him. Said and done! The giants were put on hold and on watch. As Jap fell asleep, they approached with thick ropes in their hands, ready to grab him. But the count at home didn’t match the one in the fair!

Jap was the grandson of Tuf, the greatest ruler of the running waters, the brother of the king of the great lands. He watched Jap in hiding and, as he saw he was in danger, jumped to his aid and woke him from his sleep. Frightened not to attract the wrath of the ruler of the waters, the giants scattered themselves like partridges, trying to escape among the ridges of the surrounding mountains. No use, though! With his power, the master of the waters has transformed everyone into stones that can be seen today in the small Ciucarul.

“Now that I have helped you escape safe death, it’s your turn to give me a helping hand”, Tuf told his nephew.

“Say what you want, to see if it is in my power to reward you”, Jap replied hesitantly.

“I want something you can easily accomplish: one virgin earthly woman to offer me as a sacrifice on the morning of every beginning of the full moon, asked the water master.

In vain did Jap turn from corner to corner, he had to obey his uncle’s wish. He did as he did, and in the first two full-moon deadlines he lured two virgins whom he immediately threw into the waves of the Danube. Then the earthly virgins learned of the horrible fate awaiting them and fled or hid who where they saw with their eyes.

About the understanding between Tuf and Jap also learnt the king of the huge lands, who was very sorry to hear what his people were doing. Determined to defend the virgins, he sent his good counsel, the Evening Wind, to them. The wind convinced the virgins that if they hid in the palaces of the master of the earth, he could defend them from his brother. Believing the words of the counsellor, the girls came together.

Finding out about the plans of the master of the earth, Jap kept thinking and thinking how to make them stand out. Immediately he turned from a giant into a handsome earthly boy and entered into conversation with one of the virgins heading for the cloister palace.

“Where do your steps are heading, beautiful girl?, asked the villan giant.

– To the glass palace of the emperor of the huge lands, to escape the fury of the giant Tuf, who wants to lose us in the Danube waters. Is that the way there?

– I go there too; let’s go together, offered himself the giant pretending, glad of the luck that had come his way. Unsurprisingly, Jap guided the young virgin to the banks of the Danube, intending to offer her to his uncle Tuf as sacrifice.

Hearing about the deed he wanted to do to his subject, the emperor of the lands decided, this time, to give him the punishment he deserves. He sent in search of Coşava, the terrible wind, which is said to have been the soul of a frightening dragon. When Jap and the virgin stumbled on the banks of the Danube, the wind swept over the giant with such courage that it was to take him up to the heaven. Seeing that he was about to kneel, the giant Jap stroked the virgin with his left hand, while with his right arm he grasped a huge rock, to withstand the urge and the wind.

“Let her go, you wicked!” The lord of the earth ordered.

– Hold on tight until the urge passes!, Tuf urged him, too, coming out of the angry waters.

But no matter how hard the Coșava was blowing, Jap did not let go of the virgin, nor the rocks from which she had clung. Very enraged, the emperor of the huge lands at once transformed them both, virgin and hgiant, into stones. Thus, the girl was offered a quick and painless death, and to Jap, the punishment he deserved. The Sphinx on the banks of the Danube has withstood thousands of years there, to remind people and giants alike to never anger it with the lord of the Danube lands.


·         Ioan Ivan Loghin, “Legends of the Blue Danube”. Ion Creangă Publishing House, Bucharest, 1971

·         “Legends from the Iron Gates Natural Park area”,