The many faces of the Danube

Europe has long been a destination where you can appreciate some of the best examples of art, both modern and that of the great masters, but few know that even its rivers display some awe-inspiring and thought provoking examples of artistic expression.

While the icons listed in this guide are not all faces, the many sculptures that line the banks and even creep into the flow of the river itself are truly a great sight to spot on Danube river cruises through Europe, representing the cultures and history of the countries it carves its way through.

Iron Gates

The Iron Gates, a gorge carved by the River Danube, act as a natural boundary between Romania and Serbia and feature the tallest rock sculpture in the whole of Europe. The Statue of Decebalus took 12 sculptors 10 years to complete after the piece was commissioned by Romanian businessman and historian Iosif Constantin Dragan. The impressive 40 metre high statue depicts the face of the Dacian king Decebalus who led his army into battle against the Romans numerous times in his lifetime before he committed suicide when the Roman emperor Trajan conquered Dacia.

This incredible sculpture stands carved into the rock face of the Iron Gates on the Danube and is a popular sight for those who travel on this waterway. Here they can read the Latin inscription underneath the sculpture that reads "DECEBALUS REX—DRAGAN FECIT" meaning, "King Decebal—Made by Dragan".

Chain Bridge Lions

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge of Budapest was the first bridge to connect the two districts of Buda and Pest and is also the location of two of the capital’s most talked about sculptures. The lions that guard each end of the bridge were carved from stone by sculptor, János Marschalkó. Soon after the bridge’s grand opening it was pointed out that the lions, whose mouths lie open in a half-roar, were missing their tongues, leaving Marschalkó subject to a great degree of ridicule. This led to a legend that the mocking became so great that he jumped into the Danube and subsequently drowned, yet in actual fact he lived on for several decades and his only response to the criticism of the lions was “Your wife should have a tongue just as my lions have, and woe will be unto you!”

Budapest’s Bicycle

The Danube Bicycle, created by Zoltan Kecskemeti, is a moving sculpture which takes the form of a stick man riding a bike on the river whose kinetic energy moves the wheels and, in turn, the legs of the rider, making it look as though he is pedalling up the Danube. To see what the sculpture looks like in motion click here to watch a video.

The Little Princess

Situated on the banks of the Danube in the Hungarian capital is the small statue created by sculptor László Marton in 1972. The Little Princess, or the Kiskiralylany Szobor, was said to be modelled on the artist’s daughter with Marton writing in his autobiographical book “My Walk of Life”: “She was playing in a little princess costume in the Tabán playground. When I saw it, I immediately had the subject matter. Titled "Little Princess" I sculpted it as well. It was placed in an elegant location on the Danube promenade. Became a symbol of Budapest”.

Richard the Lionheart

Another notable face lining the banks of the Danube to spot on an escorted river cruise holiday in Europe is that of the statue of Richard the Lionheart and Blondel the Minstrel situated on the river banks of the Wachau Valley near Durnstein in Austria. The statue marks the area nearby where Richard the Lionheart, the famed late King of England, was held captive.

Shoes on the Danube Promenade

While this last sight doesn’t feature the faces of its subject it stands as one of the most emotive statues on the banks of the Danube. The Holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube, was created in memory of the Jews that were killed in Budapest during the Second World War and features a representation of their shoes being left behind on the bank of the river.

Created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer in 2005, it comprises of 60 pairs of metal shoes set in concrete. As unique and iconic site for visitors to Budapest, the sculpture also features cast iron signs with the words ‘To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45’ inscribed.

Image Credit: Espino Family (