Macin Mountains are one of the oldest mountains in Europe, formed in the Hercinyan Orogeny. This mountain range have same age as the Scottish Highlands of Caledonia, The Black Forest Mountains in Germany (the birth place of the Danube), being way older than the Alps or the Carpathians. They live up to their name (ro. a macina = eng. to grind) and show up a scenery of crumbled rocks, sharp edges and many hidden wonders. Most will say it is not a mountain in the true meaning of the word, it is barely a hill, but from the lowest height (4 meters), to the peak of Tutuiatu (467 meters) the trail on the steep slopes takes around one and a half hours and lots of effort.
This is a mixture of sorts – it is the place where fauna and flora from Central Europe, Mediterranean, Pontic, Balkans or Asia Minor meet, so we can find around 1770 species of plants (herbs, flowers, bushes or even trees) and around 2245 species of vertebrates and invertebrates (from snails, insects, snakes, to eagles, deer and even jackals). It is one of the biggest nesting place in the country for predator birds and the place to be when the autumn migration starts. Macin is a truly wonderful place for the people that love nature, either for the rocks, for the plants, animals or just for the peace and quiet; here in just 30 minutes you can pass through all 6 levels of vegetation that can be found in Romania, be close to an ancient fortress or talk to people from different cultures.
Macin Mountains are part of The Macin Mountains National Park (it also includes Sarica-Niculitel protected area and part of the Danube’s Old Macin river Branch). Designed to protect the biodiversity of this wonderful natural place, it is open for ecotourist activities, like hiking, camping in specific places, biking, but with a strict policy for conservation. The area of the Park is marked on trees by a red or square inside a white frame.
Macin Mountains spread from the national road 22D, to county road 222A; having the village of Jijila to the N-W and Horia village to the S-E. From the peaks you can see the nearby cities of Braila, Galati, Macin, the old branch of the Danube – Macin river Branch (yes, the name Macin is pretty common in this area!), the fossil depository in Iacob’s Hill, and in clear days of winter even the Carpathian Mountains, in the far distance.
Macin Mountains have 2 parallel ridges, Pricopan Ridge (h. 370 m, Suluk Peak), with an alpine aspect, lots of scree and gravel, but beautiful ridge lines that can be seen from the national road passing by, or even from the water front of Braila or Galati. The other one, Macin Ridge (h. 467 m, Tutuiatu Peak), have an alpine look on the west part and a more forestry look in the middle and in the east part.
The composition of the rocks is mostly granite and crystalline slate to the North, with an intrusion of calcareous to the South (making way for some caves and caverns – e.g.. Mount Consul). The formation of these rocks had place in deep crust magma, cooled over time, creating macroscopic crystals of a dark colour. This kind of rock cracks and crumbles due to extreme difference in temperature between winter and summer, the process of erosion being still active – giving the whole landscape its name, its unique aspect and the wonderful rock colours.
There are some particular stone features that can be observed very easily on the trails. For example, in the Pricopan Ridge tourists can find The Dinosaur Eggs – a rock formation resembling huge cracking eggs. With a little imagination we can see a whole nest of them. Also, on the same trail we can observe The Macin Sfinx – as the one in Bucegi Mountains – a human head resembling stone, looking in the distance, like a guardian on a peak. In the Macin Ridge, we can find one of the few waterfalls in this part of Romania, compared to others it is not very high, but it is spectacular due to the rock gorge in which it flows.
An interesting part of Macin Mountains is that in some point in their lifetime they were roughly 3000 meters (estimate) in height, being part of a mountain chain spreading all across Europe from East to West (from the Ural to the Scottish Mountains). During the Paleozoic Era, when Gondwana started separating from Laurasia (splitting Pangaea), Macin Mountains went through a process of sinking and extreme marine erosion, nowadays the aspect of landscape is due to a second process of development around the time of Carpathians birth. Keeping all this in mind, what we can observe today are just the tips of a once great mountain range.
The 1770 species of flora represent around 50% of the Romania’s flora biotype; 72 are protected species, being rare or vulnerable, 27 are endemic for this region alone and 23 are rare for this part of Europe. Here it is a continuous process of development of new species and subspecies, due to the isolation of the site. Plants whit a significant importance are clopotel dobrogean (Campanula Romanica), ouale popii (Hismantoglossum caprinum), capul sarpelui (Echium russicum), merinana (Moehringia jankae), militeaua dobrogeana (Silene compacta) and, last but not least, bujorul dobrogean (Paeonia peregrina Mill. var. romanica), the one that offers a splendid show in the beginning of the Dobrogean summer.
This National Park has 2 full-protection areas, destined for the study of unaltered ecosystems and restricted to general tourism: Valea Fagilor (The Beech Valley) and Moroianu Peak with its rocky surroundings and deep gorge. These restricted areas are marked with a blue square inside a white frame.
In the area of the Park have been categorised 1436 species of insects, like the great Capricorn beetle, Cerambyx cerdo (ro. croitorul mare), Morimus funereus Mulsant (ro. croitorul cenusiu) – which has its back in the shape and colours of a snake’s head, using this as a self defense mechanism, Osmoderma eremita, the hermit beetle (ro. gandacul sihastru), which comes in this area in colours varying from dark black to very intense green, Lucanus cervus, the stag beetle (ro. radasca), Euphydryas maturna (ro. fluturele maturna), Lycaena dispar, the large copper butterfly (ro. fluturele rosu de mlastina), they tend to settle together creating an image of a large red flower bouquet, Tithorea Harmonia, the tiger butterfly (ro. fluturele tigru) and Bradiphorus Dasiphus (ro. greiele bortos), one of the largest crickets in the world – a very harmless creature, but a noisy one.
Amphibians and reptiles
Moving up the evolutionary chain, there are 7 species of amphibians, like the brown toad, Bufo Bufo – a remnant of the Glacial Age, the forest red frog, Rana dalmatina and the fire-bellied toad, Bombina bombina (ro. buhaiul de balta), an endangered species.
From the ten reptile species that we can meet, 2 are very interesting: the Greek tortoise, Testudo Graeca, which can be found mostly on the western parts of the park and the Dobrogean Dragon – the Blotched snake, Elaphe sauromates, a great nonvenomous snake, that can climb trees and helps keep the rodent population at bay, if it lives near farm houses, but unfortunately, due to its name (dragon) and its length (the largest specimens have more than 2.5 meters) produces panic amongst people. As result, this species becoming endangered due to human violent reaction towards it. One of the most interesting facts about this snake is that it is one of the few snake species that cares for its offspring, protecting the nest and the hatchling area.
On this site there are around 181 species of birds, Macin Mountains are an important link in the migration of these species; the variety of the ecosystem tends to many birds’ needs, like the saker falcon, Falco cherrug, (ro. soimul dunarean) – is one of the most present birds in Romanian mythology and folklore, helping heroes fulfilling their quests, the booted eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus (ro. acvila mica), the Levant sparrowhawk, Accipiter brevipes (ro. uliul cu picioare scurte) and the snake eagle, Circaetus gallicus (ro. serparul), one of the eagles that feed on snakes, hence the name. It is one of the few natural enemies of the common viper, Vipera berus, though it tends to avoid this kind of meals, if given the chance.
During the autumn migration, from the peaks of Macin Mountains a tourist might observe more than ten thousand raptor birds and twenty thousand white storks migrating to Africa – a great place for bird watchers.
From the point of view of mammals, we can meet polecats, hares, boars. This is the last place outside the Carpathians where the Carpathian deer can be found. We can find some carnivores: wild cats, foxes, rock martens and, due to the lack of large carnivores present on site (wolves were eradicated in the area around the end of the Second World War) a large number of jackals and racoon dogs. However, there are signs of the wolf population coming back, naturally and with human help.
Culture and people
The area surrounding Macin Mountains was settled by very old civilizations starting from before the Neolithic era. One of the oldest settlements in the area is Arrubium, modern day Macin city, constructed on an old Celtic village; it has a fortification later used by the many civilizations that occupied the land (Romans, Turks, Tartars).
Even though the majority of the population (around 90%) is Romanian, during the last Millennial many other nations came through the land. Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Turks, Tartars, and after the Independence War (1878), even Italians – great stonemasons – settled here. One of the last unique traditional crafts from the area that still endures is stone carving. This skill was brought by Italians and Greeks for the exploitation of the granite from the many quarries of Macin Mountains. Today few still practice this craft, most of them just for passing it over to younger generations.
The area is filled with many different traditions, stories and legends about haiduks (outlaws) that were hiding in the forest and on the lakesides near Macin. They were robbing the rich and giving, according to the stories, to the poor, but mostly to themselves. Some stories tell us about giants inhabiting the land. Sometimes they were fighting over borders or falling in love (like the story of Popina Blasova or the Girl’s Stone). But most of the stories try to explain rock formations, lakes and streams (like the legend of the Healing Spring), or try to explain the name of a given place.
Exploring the area – tourism
Nowadays, the area is becoming more and more popular for tourists, due to its mixture of nature, culture, wine and history and also due to it’s proximity to the Danube Delta and the Back Sea. More and more NGOs and organisations promote ecotourism, cycling, horseback riding and kayaking in the area and try to keep the aspect of the scenery as little altered as they can.
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