The unnecessarily long named Drobeta-Turnu Severin is on the bank of the Danube River bordering Serbia. This place goes way back, with Roman ruins to prove it, but the present town was laid out in the 19th century when its port was built.
It’s top attractions is the Iron Gates Museum (Muzeul Portilor de Fier) which has an incredible scale model of the old Roman bridge that spanned the Danube to Serbia. The museum is housed in the former Trajan school for girls, dating from 1922. The museum doors were thrown open on the eve of the 1972 unveiling of the mammoth Portile de Fier hydroelectric power station, 10km to the west. The bridge model is based on the real one constructed across the Danube in AD 103 by the Syrian architect Apollodor of Damascus, on the orders of the Roman emperor Trajan. The Trajan Bridge stood just below the site of the present museum, and the ruins (ruinele podului lui Traian) of two of its pillars can still be seen nearby on the museum grounds. In addition to the Roman bridge, the museum has sections on history, ethnography, astrology, popular art, the evolution of man, archaeology and a drab aquarium in the basement displaying various fish species prevalent in the Danube, including the giant Somnul fish.
Northeast of the bridge are ruins from Castrul Drobeta, a Roman fort used between the 2nd and 6th centuries to protect the bridge. West of the castle ruins (still on the museum grounds), are the ruins of the 16th century medieval Severin Church (Biserica Mitropoliei Severinului), including remains of a crypt under protective glass.
A prevalent, but deceptive landmark in town is the ‘old water castle’, standing a few blocks north of the square. While it looks the medieval part, it only dates from the early 20th-century.
If giant dams are your thing, make a trip out to the infamous Iron Gates (Portile de Fier) at Gura Vaii 10km west of Drobeta-Turnu Severin. This incredibly huge, concrete hydroelectric power station was a joint venture by Romanian and (then) Yugoslavian, started in 1960 and completed 12 years later to put some order into this perilous part of the Danube. A road linking Romania to Serbia runs on top of the dam wall.
In an unusual nod to environmental issues in the area, 115,000 hectares around the power station were conserved in the form of the Iron Gates National Park, meant to protect what was left of the flora and fauna in the region and the construction of the dam’s massive artificial lake swallow a sizable portion of land, including 13 settlements. A similar venture, the Djerdap National Park, sits across the river in Serbia.
If you hang around long enough for a day trip, 11 kilometers north of Drobeta is Topolnita Cave (Pestera Topolnita), one of the largest caves in the world (more than 10,000m long on four levels).