Few places in the world can transmit to you so many feelings tried by strong emotions, as if kept intact, over the centuries, as well as this sacred place in the heart of Dacia –
Few places in the world can transmit to you so many feelings tried by strong emotions, as if kept intact, over the centuries, as well as this sacred place in the heart of Dacia – Sarmizegetusa Regia. Not only the captivating beauty of the place, but also the unsolved mysteries of the city, which remain silent among the ruins of a city, once flourishing, touch the heart of any visitor, impregnating in the soul of anyone a huge curiosity.
The ruins of Grădiștea de Munte were discovered in the first years of the 19th century and at that time the first official excavations took place. In this context, numerous constructions were repaired, well known today (the fortification, the Roman bath, the large round temple, the pentagonal tower, etc.).
Initially, the main objective of the excavations was the search for treasures. Gradually, however, much more importance was given to the discovery of new monuments, out of the desire to find out the “origin, name, deities and temples” of the ancient settlement, as mentioned in a document of the time.
Also in the 19th century, the first topographic sketches of the Mountain Kindergarten were made, where the positions of the different monuments were marked.
- civil settlement (located on the slopes of the hill;
- fortification (located in the highest area (1000 m)
- the sacred area.
The fortress stretched for several kilometers, on the eastern and southern slopes of the height.
At the beginning (in the 1st century BC), the fortress was a holy place, as evidenced by the presence of religious buildings in the sacred area. The richness in iron ore, as well as the development of the ceremonial and cult center, led to the emergence of a settlement with a flourishing economy, especially after the middle of the first century BC. I AD, one of the largest steel centers in temperate Europe. Temples, homes, barns, workshops, water catchment facilities and objects discovered here show a high standard of living.
Sarmizegetusa Regia was the center of the Dacian Kingdom, along with the other fortifications and settlements in the region, which were conquered by Emperor Trajan in 106, AD.
The fortification of Sarmizegetusa Regia
The two Dacian-Roman wars led to the almost complete disappearance of the Dacian fortification at Sarmizegetusa. However, archaeological research has managed to outline a partial image of the ancient fortress: it was raised in a dominant position, on the plateau with a height of ~ 1000 m, located between the western civil district and the sacred area.
The walls were built of limestone blocks, according to a Hellenistic-inspired technique. The wall (Murus Dacicus) was composed of two facings of shaped blocks, emplecton (the filling of earth and stone between the two facings) and transverse wooden beams that connected the 2 walls.
At the end of the hostilities, the Romans built a new fortification at Grădiștea de Munte. This new construction partially follows the route of the Dacian one, the Romans considerably extending the defended surface. The old walls did not provide enough material for the Roman project, so they resorted to the use of pieces (blocks, plinths of limestone or andesite drums) from Dacian buildings, many from the sacred area.
The paved road
In antiquity, the Grădiștei de Munte hill was crossed by a paved road, mostly with small pieces. From near the fortress, a road paved with limestone slabs descended in a slight ditch, reaching as far as the sacred area. It separated before the area with cult buildings, one branch of which reached the large andesite temple, and another reached near the large circular temple, where it ended in a paved square. The road was 4 m wide and was bordered on both sides by a border of limestone blocks on which were placed wooden pillars that supported a shingle roof.
Probably, on this road, people descended in procession, from the fortress to the temples during the major religious ceremonies.
Originally, the paved road was made up of short steps, it was not flat, as we see it today, being in fact a stone staircase. Through the restoration project, the original slabs were replaced with replicas, and the structure of the sacred path was modified, eliminating the steps.
The sacred area
The sacred area is located approximately in the middle of the great settlement of Sarmizegetusa Regia and includes the temples, the altar, the road and the paved square. They were built on two huge artificial terraces and supported by massive walls of limestone blocks. The access from the civil settlement and fortification was made on the road paved with limestone slabs, which, as mentioned above, was probably used during some processions. Also, a stone drainage channel ensures the evacuation of meteoric water from these terraces. The construction and restoration of religious buildings most likely lasted throughout the existence of Sarmizegetusa Regia (1st century BC – 106 AD).
The temples, built of stone and wood (quadrilaterals with column alignments, as well as circular ones), had monumental proportions and formed together with the altar (“Andesite Sun”), an ensemble where ceremonies and religious worship took place. Unfortunately, the deities to whom these temples were dedicated are not known.
The sacred area suffered massive and systematic destruction after the Roman conquest. The original appearance of the religious buildings was almost impossible to reconstruct.
The great temple of andesite
Shortly before the confrontation with the Romans, the Dacians began to build a quadrilateral temple with 60 columns (6 rows of 10 columns each). The ancient destructions, as well as those that occurred over the centuries, left only a part of the parts that made up the building in place. From its structure we know three of its architectural elements: the baseboards, with a diameter of over 2 m, the bases of the columns and the columns themselves, all of andesite. In an earlier phase, also here, another temple had functioned, from which a corner block was preserved, but also a few limestone pilasters, placed on large rectangular slabs. It is possible that this building belonged to some of the dozens of blocks with Greek letters, and some of the limestone pieces with decorative role, on which waterfowl were represented. The mentioned ruins bear witness to a religious architecture, meant to mark the royal role of Sarmizegetusa. The gods to whom these ruins were worshiped, however, remain forgotten in the mists of time.
The large circular temple
The perimeter of the large circular temple was delimited by a double andesite belt, the first was made up of massive blocks, and the second of groups of pilasters. The presence of clay-clad wooden pillars has been documented archeologically inside. They supported a wall broken by four symmetrically arranged entrances. In the center was a solstice-oriented apse-shaped room, with walls identical to the one described above and with two entrances marked by limestone blocks. The roof of the large circular temple had a conical shape.
Another circular temple was built in the immediate vicinity, with smaller dimensions, but it could not be rebuilt.
The large circular temple dominated by its extent the entire sacred area of Sarmizegetusa Regia and was most likely dedicated to the most important god of the Dacian pantheon. The building was systematically destroyed by the Romans, and the moment of its disappearance symbolically marks the end of the Dacian religion.
The andesite altar
The altar represents the favorite place where the most important act of ancient religious practices, sacrifice, comes in its various forms. In Sarmizegetusa Regia an altar was arranged to be offered to the gods, an altar that is unique in the Dacian world by its monumentality and elaborate structure. In the upper part, the only visible part in antiquity, the altar was made of a central andesite disk, from which started 10 “rays” in the form of massive plates, also made of andesite. Towards the outer edge, there are some small rectangular recesses specially arranged, in which several small pieces of marble were fixed. The lower part was made up of limestone blocks that were arranged in the middle, and between them, at the ends, clay was compacted. The liquids spilled on the surface of the altar during the sacrifices flowed through a hole in one of the “rays” of andesite, and then, through a trough carved in a block of limestone, in the overflow channel that crossed the sacred area.
It is interesting that the plan of the altar is completed by a series of 16 blocks whose orientation (in which the north-south axis is marked) led to the hypothesis that the monument would have had astronomical significance.
Small quadrilateral temples
On the northern edge of the sacred area of Sarmizegetusa Regia are the remains of two quadrilateral temples. The first, in the vicinity of the small circular temple, had a perimeter delimited by pilasters, and in the corners were placed massive blocks of andesite. Only 16 andesite columns have been preserved inside the temple, out of the 18 that this building had in the Dacian era.
The second quadrilateral temple, in turn, had andesite pilasters that marked the sacred space. The Roman destruction affected the temple for the most part, currently being visible only 5 of the andesite columns that made up the structure of the building.
The entrance to the temples was made through the south side, through platforms supported by a wall of limestone blocks.
As in the case of the other Dacian temples, the ruins remain anonymous, the gods to whom they were dedicated.
The limestone temple
The limestone temple in the southern part of the sacred area has been archaeologically documented as the oldest temple at Sarmizegetusa Regia. The temple had three distinct phases of operation. In the first phase, most probably dated to the Burebista period, the building had wooden columns supported by limestone blocks. Later, on the same place, the Dacians built a temple of 60 wooden columns, placed on massive limestone discs (plinths). The entrance was arranged on the south side, where there was a platform that led, from the lower terrace, a monumental staircase lined with limestone slabs. From the last phase, only the andesite pilasters that delimited the sacred space, as well as seven plinths were preserved.
Among the pieces discovered here is a burnt clay medallion probably deposited as an offering for the divinity to which the temple was dedicated, as well as the many beautifully ornamented iron targets.
Near the limestone temple another temple was identified, with a plan consisting of three rows of six columns.
Building materials from Sarmizegetusa Regia: limestone and andesite
In the construction of various constructions from Sarmizegetusa Regia, the Dacians used mainly two types of rocks, namely limestone and andesite. Limestone was used either to raise the walls of the fortification and to support the terrace, or to build temples. Andesite, being a much harder rock than limestone, was used mainly for temples. Some of the architectural pieces, such as the andesite plinths from the temple structure on the 10th terrace, still impress today with their dimensions (2 m in diameter and 30 cm thick), but also with the elaborate processing mode.
The quarries from which the limestone and andesite come are at great distances from Sarmizegetusa Regia, so that the constructive effort was remarkable. The petrographic studies showed that the limestone elements were brought to about 40 km away, from the quarry from Măgura Călanului, and the andesite was brought from approx. 60 km, just from the Bejan quarry.
The money workshop
Under the level of the Roman wall of the fortress, archeological traces of older material have been researched: it is about an oven, and below, a pit in which were found the coins used for issuing coins from the Dacian Kingdom. Made of iron and bronze, they perfectly imitated some Roman pieces from the end of the second century BC to the emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD).
Starting with the 1st century BC. BC, the Dacian kings preferred to mint Roman coins, thus integrating the economic space of Dacia in the contemporary exchange of values. The monetary workshop at Sarmizegetusa Regia represented the economic strength of the kingdom, as well as an attribute of sovereignty.
Painted pottery from Sarmizegetusa Regia
In the great Dacian settlements, ceramic painting was mainly used on the forms used at the table (bowls, fruit bowls, bowls, cups with two torches, etc.), but it was also found on larger containers, intended for storing supplies.
At Sarmizegetusa Regia, in the 1st century AD, a particular style of painting on ceramics developed, namely the figurative one. In addition to the usual colored bands, he used a number of other ornaments, unusual for other contemporary Dacian centers. The artisans of the time used combinations of geometric figures, plant motifs and animal silhouettes. No human representations have been found so far.
Visiting program Sarmizegetusa Regia
- May 1 – September 30: daily from 9:00 to 20:00.
- March 1 – April 30 and October 1 – November 30: daily from 9:00 to 18:00.
- December 1 -February 28/29: daily from 10:00 to 15:00
The last entry of tourists in the administered area is made 30 minutes before closing time.
Legends related to Sarmizegetusa Regia
Although researchers strive to shed as much light on Dacian history and civilization as possible, many enigmas have remained unsolved and continue to fuel older or newer myths.
The most famous legends are certainly those related to the Dacian gold. There was a lot of talk about the wealth of the Dacians, not a few of whom said that the mirage of gold was the one that seduced the Romans to conquer the Dacian fortifications in the Orăștie Mountains.
The Latin chronicler Dio Cassius stated that before the Roman invasion, “Decebalus had swept down the river with the help of some prisoners and dug a pit there. He had put a lot of silver and gold in it, as well as other very precious things, placed stones over them and piled up earth, and then brought the river back into its bed. Decebalus had been safe with those people, in some caves, clothes and other things as well. After he had done all this, he slaughtered them, so as not to reveal anything to them. “
And because we mentioned the Dacian bracelets, we will move on to another legend that appeared in 1966, in the volume of archaeological research “At the citadel of Gradiu Muncelului”, where the historian Sigismund Jako recorded a strange incident, happened in 1700, about a peasant who he claimed to have dreamed of a treasure hidden by the Dacians around the fortress. This revelation was made to the priest of the village, during a confession, but the peasant in question dies suddenly on the same day. Shortly after the incident, the Austrian authorities discover several treasures in the area, but the bracelets are the ones that aroused their curiosity the most, assuming that they have magical powers. It was also believed that the bracelets, buried in strategic places, raised a kind of energetic defense shield, thus guarding the fortress.
Of course, this theory could never be confirmed with concrete evidence, but, like other legends about the strangeness of the ruins or the special energy from Sarmizegetusa Regia, it arouses our curiosity and stimulates our imagination.
The road to the fortress is good, and well signposted, so you can easily reach the fortress. From the area where you can park your car, you will have to walk a paved road, about one km. Carefully read the rules of the visit and venture into the mists of time, following in the footsteps of the ancient Dacians. Follow the two routes, the first leading to the sacred area, and the second to the mint.
It is worth mentioning that you will not have a signal on the phone. But even better, because in this way you can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, better entering the atmosphere of the place.
From now on, all roads lead to the heart of the Dacian Kingdom, to the great capital of Decebalus, Sarmizegetusa Regia. Dacian settlements and fortifications, unique in Europe, are exceptional achievements of the Dacian civilization, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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