Pestera Cetatile Ponorului

Cetățile Ponorului - The Fortress of Ponor

Useful Information

Map of the caves entrances, trails and dolines. Sketch by Tony Oldham.
Location: At Padiş, Apuseni Mountains. Between Pietroasa and Huedin, single lane track.
(22.701545, 46.564475)
Open: no restrictions
Fee: free
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave KarstPonor
Light: no
Guided tours:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1952 declared a nature reserve.


A visit, 13th August 1968 by Tony Oldham

Cetatile Ponorului. Public Domain.

We spent the night at Cabane Padis, a rough bunk house. We were told it was only a 5 hours round trip to the cave and back, but we knew better and decided to make an early start and allow 10 hours. After walking for a couple of hours we found ourselves on a well defined footpath "The Blue Point" route. Tending to do everything backwards we went to doline No 3 first. It was a fantastic sight - sheer walls 200 m deep and just a glimpse of a cave entrance in the depths. We were able to admire the floor of the dolines in safety from the two balconies which had been thoughtfully provided. The three dolines and the cave are probably an even more impressive sight than the better known Skocjanske Jama in Slovenia.

We viewed the No 2 Doline from similar two balconies and marvelled at the tiny figures in the depths. Next came the descent into the bottom of the doline. A steep slippery winding pathway. The impression of depth was even more pronounced at the bottom of the doline, the towers very much resembling a fortress from whence the doline takes its name. I checked out one large entrance portal near the pathway but it did not go, so we went over to the other entrance - the gateway to the depths.

A steep gravel/scree slope led down to the subterranean River Cetatilor. Downstream the way on was barred (at least for us feather bed cavers) by raging rapids, but our colleagues from the Institute at Cluj had penetrated for over 2½ km, only to be stopped by a dam of logs 20 m high. The exploration took 7 days and they were able to light fires underground with the drift wood brought down by the river. The very large size of the enormous chambers meant that they were able to do this without the risk of suffocation. When I asked about the high water, they calmly replied that this was just the job - the boats being safely carried over the sharp rocks by the flood water!

We made our way upstream and here another sight greeted us. Sunlight poured in through a "Karst Fenster" high in the roof of the chamber. One could also see the green pine trees silhouetted against the rich blue sky and in the foreground a white cascading torrent roared down. Truly a remarkable sight. After the usual photographs were taken we made our way back to the surface again in the No 2 Doline. Our next task was to locate the Karst Window and the source of the stream. We followed the path across the doline into No 1 Doline and here another sight awaited us. The huge doorway to the fortress or Cetatile is at least 100 m high, and takes the river of the same name.

We climbed down the rickety steps to find that the lower ones had been washed away. We took to the rocks for a hairy climb down to the river. The slippery remains of a wooden bridge helped us to get across the river dry shod and then we inspected the engulfment - noting a small tributary on one side. A huge passage opened up before us. This lead to No 3 Doline and in fact is the only way of entering this doline. Upon emerging into the open air again another sight awaited us. The sheer walls, 200 m high and the gaping portal of the karst window. We wandered back into the first doline and followed the pathway towards Padis beside the cascading torrent, pausing for just one last look at the rock portals. We made our way up through the woods in ankle deep mud, and down to Poiana Ponor. This is a sink which takes the water which runs into the Cetatile Ponorului. Like most sinks which we had seen in Romania, this one was blocked by mud. We followed the river to its source Izbucal Ponor, a large opening 4 m across and 2 m high but with no airspace. We then made or way back to the Cabane and, yes, it did take us 10 hours.

Text by Tony Oldham (2005). With kind permission.