Land of Hațeg – Ancient Dinosaurs and Stone Churches

In the heart of Romania, there is a historical region deeply rooted in the millennial past of this country, a place where history comes alive among the dinosaur fossils and ancient Dacian fortresses. There is a strong presence felt through each village, road or forest of this bewitching land of Hațeg, a feeling that the past comes to life at each step. We can almost see the ancestral footprints marking the way towards the places that bear the soul of a nation! 

Stone Church of Densus Land of Hateg Romania

A trip through the fascinating treasures of the legendary land of Hațeg offers a unique opportunity to travel back in time, discovering Roman and Dacian vestiges, stone churches, authentic villages, bison reserves and paleontological discoveries. Caught between the ridges of the Carpathians, at the crossroads of historical regions, the land of Hațeg has one of the richest cultural and natural heritages in the country.

By looking even further into distant times, the bones of the dinosaurs tell the story of a land teeming with life from many millennia ago. Today, the people of Hațeg Country continue a legacy that spans over thousands of years, being proud descendants of the mighty Dacians. To reach the land of Hațeg, we can search for the town of Hațeg, the most important settlement in the area, surrounded by the towering peaks of the Retezat Mountains to the south, the Șureanu Mountains to the east, the Poiana Ruscă Mountains to the north and Țarcu Mountains to the west.

Land of Hațeg Romania - Retezat Mountains

In Romania, a country (țară) is a small area without an administrative role, but rather a historical and geographical significance. These have particular traditions and unique traits, showing the most authentic side of Romania and its people. The land of Hațeg is one of the best known and preserved historical territories, protected by mountains from all sides. There is no wonder why the Dacians and the Romans chose this area for their ancient capitals.

There are three main ways to arrive in this destination, either from the north along the Strei Valley, from the south through the Jiu Valley and from the west by following the Bistra Valley. These lands have been inhabited from the dawn of time, with human bones and tools from the middle paleolithic discovered in local caves. The Orăștie Mountains located to the east were the center of the Dacian Kingdom around two millennia ago, with a complex of remote but astonishing fortresses, including the capital of Sarmizegetusa Regia.

The decisive battle with the Romans was fought at Tapae or the Iron Gates of Transylvania, as the pass is also known, while the capital of the newly established Roman province was at Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, west of Hațeg. Later into medieval times, this area was one of the roots of Romanian civilization. The land of Hațeg has some of the oldest medieval landmarks in the country, dating as far back as the 12th century, including some astonishing and unique stone churches. 

Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, the legendary capital of the Roman province of Dacia is located along the road between Hațeg and Caransebeș, guarding the entrance into Transylvania as an ageless witness to the development of Romania. Founded after the conquest of Dacia by emperor Trajan, it was an impressive site during its heyday, with strong walls, temples, agoras, workshops, and other civil buildings.

Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana Fortress Romania 2
Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana Fortress Romania 4

It used to house as many as 20.000 people and today’s ruins can still give a sense of its magnificence and importance. The archeological complex is located right by the national road and exploring is extremely easy, as most of the ruins are packed together, while several others are scattered nearby. The fortress was destroyed by the Goths, yet many of its structures are still clearly visible, including the forum, the amphitheater and several temples.

Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana Fortress Romania 3

One of the most fascinating monuments in Romania, the stone church of Densuș is located a few kilometers west of Hațeg. It was built with stone brought from the nearby fortress of Sarmizegetusa and it features a unique architectural style. It is one of the oldest Byzantine churches in Romania, dating back to the 13th century. The St. Nicholas Church of Densuș is an unusual structure, with irregular shapes and volumes, covered by stone slabs and featuring a slender tower. The church also holds impressive mural paintings from the 15th century, being considered among the most beautiful old churches in the country. It is included into the proposal list to enter the UNESCO World Heritage. 

Densus Church Romania Land of Hateg

Practically a ruin today, the spectacular fortress of Colț must have been pretty impressive once to have inspired Jules Verne to write the famous book  “Castle in the Carpathians”. Perched on a rock at the foot of the Retezat Mountains, the fortress was built during the 14th century by the Cândea (Kendeffy) local ruler. It is located in the village of Suseni, about 3 km from the village of Râu de Mori, in the south of the land of Hațeg.

It used to have a square main tower, surrounded by defensive walls and small towers. While quite small and lacking architectural highlights, the Colț Fortress has a picturesque location and the path to reach it passes through a charming forest. We can also visit the nearby Colț Monastery, located in the valley below. The old stone church with its pyramid shaped bell-tower dates from the 15th century.

Colt Monastery Land of Hateg Romania
Colt Fortress Land of Hateg Romania

Driving south from Hațeg towards the mountains, we pass through charming villages that lead to the medieval fortress of Mălăiești. Located on a hill just south of the village and with the towering peaks of the Retezat Mountains behind, it was built during the 14th century by a noble family to defend the area. Completely renovated recently, the Mălăiești Fortress features a central tower surrounded by defensive walls and smaller towers. It makes for a nice trip, with its beautiful natural surroundings and traditional villages discovered along the way.

Malaiesti Fortress Land of Hateg Romania

Located close to the town of Hațeg, inside the enchanting Slivuț Forest, the Hațeg Bison Reserve is the oldest of its kind in Romania. Established back in 1958 with two bison from Poland, it grew in size over  the years and the resulting calves were sent to other parts of the country, establishing new reserves. Spread over a large area and surrounded by woods, this is one of the best places to admire these impressive, yet gentle giants. The male bison can reach up to 900 kg, while the females usually weigh a lot less.

Prislop Monastery Romania Land of Hateg

Among the most important Orthodox monasteries in Transylvania, Prislop Monastery has become a pilgrimage site in Romania. It is famous as the resting place of father Arsenie Boca, considered the saint of Transylvania. The monastery dates back to the 14th century, while its beautiful stone church was built during the 16th century. It is located near the settlement of Silvașu de Sus, surrounded by enchanting wooded hills. Over the centuries, it passed through difficult times, yet now it is visited by thousands of people.

Hateg Bison Reserve Land of Hateg Romania

Rather a complex experience of an entire land than a singular sight, the UNESCO Hațeg Country Geopark is a unique concept that sets out to reveal the distant past of this area, which used to be an island during prehistoric times. Also known as the Island of Dwarf Dinosaurs, with many fossils of multiple species discovered throughout the area, the land of Hațeg is a trove of treasures waiting to be discovered. The geopark includes many centers to learn about the past and present of the region, as well as themed discovery paths and educational activities.

During the past years, there were many small spaces organized in the villages of Hațeg Country as part of the Dinosaur Geopark, the most important ones being the Dwarf Dinosaurs House in the village of Sânpetru and the Geopark House in the town of Hațeg. Other places include the House of Volcanoes, the House of Traditions and more. A newer destination is the huge Dinosaur World Theme Park, located in the idyllic valley between the villages of Sânpetru and Sibișel, known as the Valley of Dinosaurs. It includes an incredibly wide range of attractions and activities, including an american bison enclosure, an animal farm, a relaxations area, a traditional restaurant, a lot of dinosaur exhibits and much more.

Throughout the land of Hațeg, there are many other impressive stone churches besides the ones at Densuș, Prislop Monastery and Colț Monastery. These fascinating structures are scattered around the villages and bear witness to a troubled past. The stone church of Ostrovul Mare features the best preserved medieval bell-tower, with Gothic windows and splendid interior paintings. It is surrounded by an unusual fence made of sculpted stones from the Roman ruins of Sarmizegetusa.

The Cistercian church of Sântămărie-Orlea has impressive dimensions and features some exceptional frescoes that are considered among the best medieval religious paintings in the country. The church of Sânpetru also includes stones from the Roman ruins, with a marble altar piece that used to be part of a temple dedicated to the god Silvanus.

Stone Church Hateg Land Romania - Ostrovul Mare
Stone Church of Santamarie Orlea Hateg Country Romania

The small Pârvești Church is a relatively newer construction, being built in the same medieval style as the other churches. Although not geographically included in Hațeg Country, the stone church of Strei was built during the 13th or 14th century by a local nobleman. It is considered one of the oldest medieval structures in Romania, also including valuable old paintings.

Stone Church of Strei Romania Hateg Country


Hotel Baril 3*

9.6 Rating from 932 Reviews!

This amazing hotel is located in the town of Hațeg, close to the center. It has excellent reviews and features stylish and comfortable rooms, private parking a free Wi-Fi!

Country House Hatagel 3*

9.6 Rating from 215 Reviews!

Located in the beautiful village of Hățăgel, close to Hațeg and Densuș. this traditional house offers one bedroom, bathroom, living room, fully equipped kitchen and a garden!

Retezat Guesthouse 3*

9.4 Rating from 187 Reviews!

This splendid guesthouse is located in the village of Clopotiva, surrounded by the mountains of Retezat. It features excellent rooms with great views, a restaurant and fitness center!

Map of the Land of Hațeg – Silviu-Florin Salomia

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