The Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains are Iron Age defense works built as protection against Roman conquest.
They were built by the Dacians, who lived in what is now Romania (between the Carpathians and the Danube). Sarmizegetusa Regia was the Dacian capital and the center of its political and religious power. It was built on a fortified hill. The other sites formed a system of defense works to defend the capital.
Community Perspective: the 6 locations are located in remote, mountainous areas. The most important among them is Sarmizegetusa Regia; the reviews are full of adventures in getting there, although the access road has reportedly since improved.
Map of Dacian FortressesLoad map
After doing some research online (and trying to avoid dirt roads as much as possible), I decided to visit what seems like the most complete and representative location of the Dacian Fortresses, Sarmizegetusa Regia (a mouthful!).
The ancient Sarmizegetusa Regia, at an average altitude of 1,000 metres, is situated in Gradistea de Munte and the most straightforward way it can be reached is via the now fully paved main road DJ 705 A (still quite narrow and not ideal in very rainy conditions due to the risk of landslides) which ends at a small parking area and an 800 metre slightly uphill pedestrian road to the ticket office.
Sarmizegetusa Regia is truly the core of the Dacian fortification system in the Orastie Mountains and played a very important role as suggested by the sheer amount and size of the remains. Three main different areas with different functions have been identified: the fortress, the sacred zone and the civilian settlements. Starting from the first century BC, the terrain on this side of the Muncelu Mountains has suffered drastic changes, having as a result hundreds of man-made terraces surrounding mainly the temple area. The highly complex organisation of the territory, the various types of monumental architecture and the large number of inhabitants, stand in favour of Sarmizegetusa Regia as an important urban centre and the largest human settlement in the Dacian area. Its location as a capital of the kingdom was probably chosen for strategic, political, economic and spiritual reasons. The fortification system surrounding the capital in the first century BC was not built as a reply to the pressures exerted by the Roman Empire but as a political reflection of the local power structures, influenced by the Hellenistic backgrounds from the west shore of the Black Sea.
After buying your ticket at the ticket office, you'll be able to visit the remains of the Western, Southern and Eastern Gates, and the quite impressive preserved paved road, of the fortress area (where there is also a small UNESCO sign just next to the office). The 200 metre paved road, which used to be a ceremonial one, leads to a vantage point over the small and large limestone temples in the sacred zone. From there you head downhill towards a square paved with limestone slabs, a channel used for water drainage made of limestone elements and a spring which was used as a water source. The grassy area is frequently mowed as a precaution as much as possible to keep snakes away and to avoid overgrowth. A steep stairway leads down the main terrace of the sacred zone to the pentagonal tower where there is a secondary entrance via Godeanu.
The highlights of this site are the andesite altar, the large circular temple and the small circular temple, made up of several pilasters and stones. There are also the remains of five quadrilateral temples. From the ancient sanctuaries only the limestone and andesite plinths are left, which supported the wooden or stone pillars as well as the limestone and andesite pilasters, settling the boundaries of the sacred zone of the temples. The andesite altar, probably used for sacrificial purposes, had astronomic significance and uses. All these stone elements left from the Dacian temple structures, which were systematically destroyed by the Romans, still offer a very good overview of the site to the visitor when compared to certain Roman fortification WHS locations especially from the different vantage points around the sacred zone of Sarmizegetusa Regia.
A good pointer is that there is a good large accomodation option (with good food and wifi too) just before the uphill road to the parking area. It seems large enough to risk as a walk-in, even in summer, so it can be a useful base if you arrive late or if you want to explore the other locations as well.
Among the six sites listed as Dacian Fortresses, I visited Sarmizegetusa Regia in May 2023, by car, on my way from Sibiu to Budapest, Hungary (the rest of the ruins are also nearby, but I didn't have more time). If you don't have a car, you can find an organised tour from Sibiu, or take a bus to Orăștie and try to find a taxi there (or maybe hitchhike... it used to be a popular way of getting around in Romania, but this time I didn't see any hitchhikers by the road). From the A1 highway it takes about 50 minutes to arrive to the parking lot of Sarmizegetusa Regia, the road is good, then you need to walk (slightly uphill) about 1 km. The entrance fee is 15 lei, cash only.
There is little to see, but I still loved this place, the atmosphere was quite magical. Despite the obvious differences, it reminded me of Copan in Honduras and the Alto de los Indios Archaeological Park in Colombia. It started raining when I arrived, with thunder and lightning in the distance, so most visitors left (there were not too many people anyway), and I had the whole place to myself.
I visited the Câpâlna fortress by taking a local morning bus from Sebeş towards Şugag which dropped me off at the start of the track. It is a well signposted 2 kilometer steep walk through orchards and forest. Hardly anything remains of the fortress, but the views over the valley are pretty and it was nice to imagine the Dacians guarding the valley below. I had intended to walk to the fortified church of Calnic but the walk seemed rather daunting now I was here. So, I decided to hitchhike back to Sebeş which worked very well (as usually in Romania).
A few days later I was staying in Oraştie and faced the challenge to visit Sarmizegetusa Regia. After reading Tsunami's review, and as it was end of November, I decided to go on a Saturday, guessing there may be more tourists to hitchhike. I intended to take the 11.00h bus to Costeşti but when I arrived at the bus station that had served me so well in the past days, I found it had morphed into a busy market. I asked around and it seemed on Saturday the busses start from another location. But when I arrived at that location, there was no sign of a bus either. I was about to give up but when I went to ask if I may visit the bathroom at a local cafe, I was reminded of how friendly Romanians are. And I started to hitchhike. It went really well and after few rides I found myself in the company of four girls on their way to Sarmizegetusa Regia. We enjoyed the site with the temples and the remoteness of it and spent around 1.5 hours there. There were several other tourists too. The four girls drove me back to Costeşti where I had just 45 minutes to march up the hill to visit the Costeşti fortress. I found this site also a rather nice addition as this is more of a fortress and it does have some remains. Then I quickly walked back in the dusk towards Costeşti where to my relief I was able to find the last bus back to Oraştie. It had worked out!
A few days after my visit to Rosia Montana WHS I made my second attempt to visit the main component of this Dacian Fortress WHS, Sarmizegetusa Regia, this time by public transportation.
My first attempt was in winter 2016-17 when I found the ruins covered by snow, as described in my earlier report below. For that trip I rented a car because it appeared too difficult to get to the site without it. I typically like to utilize public transportation in my attempt to immerse myself more in the local scenes, but this time the main reason I did not rent a car was because my California driver's license expired almost 4.5 years ago and cannot be renewed online. The only way for me to renew it now is to physically appear at a DMV in California where I have not been back over 5.5 years.
I was staying in Deva and took a bus to Orastie and another bus to Costești. From there I was hoping to hitchhike to Sarmizegetusa Regia, some 20 km away, thinking having all afternoon in Costești was enough to do so. As described in my report below, there were a dozen Romanian tourists even during the snowy day in winter, so I thought it couldn't be too difficult to hitch a car. But when I got to Costești by bus, to my bewilderment and disappointment, I hardly saw any cars going in the direction of Sarmizegetusa Regia.
So after some 30 min., instead of waiting around to hitch a car in Costești, I decided to hike up to one of the minor components of this WHS: Blidaru Fortress. This 2 km hike was more strenuous than I expected and took more than one hour to get the fortress. It was of course just a cluster of rocks / ruins over a mound (photo).
A few minutes into the hike I noticed that a dog was following me for unknown reason. She/He ended up coming all the way up to the ruins. It turned out later that the dog belonged to a cafe in Costești. One month after this trip the same thing happened at the Rocks of Belogradchik Fortress TWHS in Bulgaria: a dog followed me all morning. They were not quite the goat that followed me at the Kotor WHS, but I wouldn't vet them.
After coming back down to Costești, I attempted once again to hitch a car to Sarmizegetusa Regia. Soon an English-speaking truck driver picked me up, who was transporting some building materials to a hotel being built some 4 km before Sarmizegetusa Regia. I took a chance and got on the truck, and at the hotel being built I had 15 min. to find another car from there to Sarmizegetusa Regia, as the truck driver offered me a ride back to Costești after his job was done. I couldn't find one. It's not difficult to walk for 4 km, but there was no way of returning to Costești in time to catch the last bus to Orastie unless I successfully find a ride back from Sarmizegetusa Regia.
So my 2nd attempt failed. This was a story of visiting a minor component of the WHS and failing to visit the major one. I am actually determined to visit Sarmizegetusa Regia one day, but it'll be perhaps after I go back to California the next time.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Visited Sarmizegetusa Regia and Piatra Rosie in 2016 during a 4-night stay in the Pensiunea Ulpia Traiana in Sarmizegetusa, which - as the name may already indicate, has the Roman ruins bordering its garden. The owner of the pensiunea is linked to the Archeology Museum in Sarmizegetusa. He and one of his neighbours drove our 7p. group as private guides in two 4WDs around the area, including the Orastie mountains with a hike inbetween visiting the two fortresses. We also included visits to Densus church, to the Dinosaur Geopark Hateg (with the Sinpetru formation), and to the Retezat mountains in the programme (all on the tentative list), among many other interesting closeby sites.
This way of visting the fortresses and having a local guide with us probably accounts for one of my stars. If I remember correctly, the views from the mountain at Piatra Rosie were more impressive than the overgrown ruins (photo) themselves, but Sarmizegetusa Regia was very nice.
It may not have been such a good idea to try to combine my annual ski trip with visits to World Heritage Sites along the way.
This winter the ski resorts of my choice were Poiana Brasov in Romania and Bansko in Bulgaria.
Accordingly, I attempted to visit the Dacian Fortress at Sarmizegetusa Regia and the Monastery of Horezu in Romania.
I usually use public transportation for visiting WHSs, but this time I decided to rent a car because it seemed very difficult to visit these sites with public transportation.
I left Brasov by bus at 6.30, arrived in Sibiu at 8.30, and explored the Sibiu TWHS for a few hours. And then I rented a car in Sibiu at 12, got to Sarmizegetusa Regia at 14 and arrived at my hotel in Targu Jiu at 20. The following day I started at 6.30, got to the Monastery of Horezu at 8.30 and drove back to Sibiu at 12 to return the car within 24 hours. The car rental was 35 Euros and the gas was about 30 Euros.
I ended up driving on icy roads from Costești to Sarmizegetusa Regia to find the fortress ruins covered by snow.
But there were about a dozen tourists, mostly Romanians. The site officially closes at 15:00 in winter.
Read more from Tsunami here.
Things can change rapidly in Eastern Europe and now it fell out for the best. Sarmisegethuza Regia is never more inaccessible, but neither it is free. (Els please remove it from the FREE list!) The road from Costesti has been repaired some places even tarred this summer, so you can drive up to the entrance easily with an urban car - we did it with a Renault Scenic. At the entrance a ticket booth was erected, there you can buy the entry ticket for 5 lei (cca 1,2 eur). Other kiosks are seemingly under construction -most probably in the next season souvenir shops and buffets will open. When we were there the parking was full, so there will be a considerable demand also. Though the road is significantly better than it was, it is still almost an hour s drive from Costesti where the tar road ends. It is advisable to spend the night there and begin the visit the next morning. As tourism begins to boost, there are a couple of good B&B s now in Costesti. We have found lodging in Pensiunea Cotiso - a place I can recommend to anybody. The place is spotless, meets the European standards, the kitchen is great - they serv traditional local cuisine mainly from ingredients they grow themselves or collect in the woods (mushrooms), and the owners are very hospitable - their daughter, Cristina speaks good English, and they have an English website also.
I found the reward for reaching two of the locations somewhat underwhelming given the amount of effort expended reaching them. The were both located at thev tops of vcery steep hills. The two that I reached were :
Calpana - a short distance by taxi from the Calnic fortified church.
Costesti Catatuie - by bus from Orastie to Costesti, then a 2km walk to the bridge where two tracks lead to Cetatuie and Blidaru respectively.
One should get bonus points having visited this remote and obscure site. Only 6 registered WHS enthusiasts did so before me - this puts the Dacian Fortresses on the same difficulty level as Nisa (Turkmenistan) or Sana'a (Yemen). Information about the site, practical or historic, is hard to get. The more interesting ones that I found on the web I've added to the Links section at the left of this webpage.
I planned to visit Costesti (2 locations) and mainly Sarmizegetusa Regia. Finding it is easy nowadays: the Dacian sites of Costesti are signposted from the main road in Orastie. All went very smoothly until I had to start the unpaved road to Sarmizegetusa Regia. It's 18km long and full of potholes. Unfortunately, it rained too, so that made driving there in a non-4WD even more adventurous. My effort ended about 2km from the site, where the road is full of loose stones and starts to go uphill. I didn't want to get stuck here, I doubt there will be more than a handful of visitors daily. So I parked the car at the side of the road and hiked the remaining part. It was still raining but I felt very determined in getting there!
After many turns, I finally arrived at a signboard "Sarmizegetusa Regia". From there it's still a short walk through the forest. There I already saw part of the Dacian road (impressively flat) and defense towers. The main complex is on an open field. I had seen pictures of it beforehand, but I still was impressed by the scale and variety of the remains. Especially the huge solar disc draw my attention.
Rain was still pouring so I didn't stay for long (I was also afraid that all the rain would make the road even worse). But I arrived safely back in Costesti. I had a look around how to get to the two fortresses here, but they are only accessible on foot (40-60 minutes). I decided against that as I already had enough of walking in the rain. On a summer day however this will be a wonderful trip, the scenery along the road is lovely (a river, a couple of farms and a mixed forest).
I have visited almost all Dacian fortresses in 2007. Almost all the places are located in the remote, mountaineous area (you should have a good local map to get there or at least have enough luck to find a person that show you the right direction, 4 wd car is also recommended). The places itself are extremely worth visiting as they are the only surviving examples of once powerful culture of pre-Roman Dacian state. The most important monument is Sarmisegetuza Regia, remnants of Dacian capital with its sanctuaries, walls and other buildings. It is one of Romanian touristic "must".
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