The rock sculpture of Decebalus is a 42.9 m in height and 31.6 m in width carving in rock of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which corresponded to modern Romania. The sculpture was made between 1994 and 2004, on a rocky outcrop on the river Danube, at the Iron Gates, which form the border between Romania and Serbia. It is located near the city of Orșova in Romania.
It is the tallest rock relief in Europe.
It was commissioned by Romanian businessman Iosif Constantin Drăgan and it took 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, for twelve sculptors to finish it. According to Drăgan's website, the businessman purchased the rock in 1993, after which the Italian sculptor Mario Galeotti assessed the location and made an initial model. The first six years involved dynamiting the rock into the basic shape, and the remaining four years were devoted to completing the detail.
Under the face of Decebalus there is a Latin inscription which reads "DECEBALUS REX—DRAGAN FECIT" ("King Decebalus—Made by Drăgan"). The carving was placed opposite an ancient memorial plaque, carved in the rock on the Serbian side of the river facing Romania. The plaque, known as the Tabula Traiana, records the completion of Trajan's military road along the Danube and thus commemorates the final defeat of Decebalus by Trajan in 105, and the absorption of the Dacian kingdom into the Roman Empire. Drăgan wanted the Serbs to carve a giant head of a Roman Emperor, as if confronting Decebalus on the opposite side of the river, but the Serbs refused.
Drăgan was a leading figure in the protochronism movement, a nationalist ideology which attempted to portray Romania as the major cradle of civilisation and which identified Romania with an ancient Thracian empire that supposedly dominated central Europe. In this ideology, Dacia, the pre-Roman name of Romania, was the inheritor of this Thracian culture, a view expounded by Drăgan in his book and journal Noì, tracii ("We Thracians").
The Fundatia Europeana Dragan, Drăgan's foundation, states that "Giuseppe Costantino Dragan is a strong supporter of the theory that the original 'flame' of civilization started on the ancient territory of Romania and argues as much in his work". Drăgan saw the sculpture as a signpost to the cradle of civilisation. He is quoted saying, "Anyone travelling towards 'Decebal Rex Dragan Fecit' is also travelling towards the origins of European civilization and will discover that a United Europe represents the natural course of history".
Michael Palin in his 2007 book New Europe described the colossal head:
As we move into the Kazan Gorge, where a small valley enters the Danube from the Romanian shore, an enormous head is carved into the rock together with the Latin inscription 'Decebalus Rex - Dragan Fecit'. It turns out to be less ancient than I thought, in fact it dates from the 1990s. The carved figure, Decebalus, was a Dacian king who took on the armies of Emperor Trajan and is regarded as a great Romanian folk hero. Dragan, more prosaically, is a rich businessman who paid for it to be carved. On this slightly ominous note of resurgent nationalism, we pass into the gorge itself.
Nick Thorpe in The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest writes,
Upstream from the church, the bulbous features of Decebal, moustachioed and wide-eyed, have been carved into the rock face, forty meters high and twenty five wide. The ancient Dacian leader stares across the river at the opposite cliff...The cliff, rising above his head into the wooded slope, provides him with the illusion of a large forehead or a pointed wizard's hat.