The Romanian cave heaven is enlivened by ancient stories and legends which entail great delight upon nowadays hikers. One of the legends is that of Vulcan, Sfarma Piatra’s apprentice (story character who can be translated as “Stone-Breaker”), who is said to have moulded the wonders that can be admired today in Straja mountains.
The Retezat Mountains, a UNESCO protected area, (The Small Massif) is situated south of Lapusnicului Valley, where one can also find the caves of Ursoaicei, Zeicu, Dalma cu Brazi and Cu Cuie. Back in the time of Sfarma Piatra, the apprentice Vulcan was the one who sculpted the shapes that we attribute, today, to nature’s craftsmanship. Some legends claim that Sfarma Piatra locked Straja, a young lad, in a high tower, so that he could guard the whole area. Straja, who lent his name to the present day mountain resort, was cursed by a witch to be one eyed, but since he could see exceptionally far, Sfarma-Piatra used him as a watchman in the area.
Here you will also find the Iorgovan cave, another place filled with magic and legends. The ancient story speaks of the brave Iorgovan, who fought a dragon and slayed it with only his mace. After defeating the beast, Iorgovan dragged the dragon up the mountain, thus creating the Embers Valley. The tourists, those who are fond of old legends, can encounter the Iorgovan stone, at over 2000 m, a rock formation resembling a man with a mace
Another legend, as told by the veterans of Lupeni’s mountain rescue team, speaks of an army battalion during the First World War, vanishing without a trace, in a foggy night, while attempting to cross over the mountain. In spite of the continuous search, they were never found again. Since then, similar events were registered on the mountain, through foggy nights; people would disappear into the unknown. Terrified, the locals decided to build a cross in memory of all the soldiers killed during the First World War, and, subsequently, the idea of a hermitage, bearing the patronage of emperors Constantine and Helen, was born.
Today, the monastery, built at 1445 meters, is composed by a small church and a few monarch cells, and the access is made through a 57-meter long tunnel, all decorated with paintings from the Old and the New Testament.
Each year, on the Good Friday, the locals are following Via Dolorosa up the mountain, from the city of Lupeni to the monastery(a 10-km walk).