Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The Torda in Transylvania


All the world has heard of the marvels of Addelsberg and Adderbach, the wizard-haunts of Faust in the Hartz, and the epic “Fatherland” of Tell in Zurich. But in the wilds of Transylvania, scarce trodden by the foot of a stranger, are scenes which reduce the Hartzberg to a simple upland, and legends which would have made the heart of Goethe and Schiller thrill with inspiration.

Among the former there is a place ——, the remnant of an elder world, a shattered fragment of the vast skeleton of creation left naked at the ebbing of Deluge, and which, seen, whether by sunshine or by moonlight, should leave “Der Teufels Tanz-platz,” or the wizard dens of the Brocken, scenes of a common world.

Beyond the right bank of the Manos,[1] in the range of hills which extends to the western Alps, or snowy mountains of Transylvania, is a gigantic and wondrous chasm, called “The Torda-hasadik,” and which gives name to the town of Torda, though it is eight miles distant.

In advancing from this place the effect of the great antediluvian memorial is much heightened by the contrast of the living world through which it is approached. For some distance after leaving the town, a beautiful valley extends before us, interspersed with villages, and bounded by hills covered with forests. Pursuing the course of a small stream which winds through the valley, we arrive at a mill surrounded by meadows, and about three-quarters of a mile farther reach the opening of the chasm.

To the left the face of the hill is bare; on the right still covered with umbrage, though now the foliage is dwindled into copse; but as we advance the stream becomes enclosed between rocks, vegetation disappears, and the cliffs exhibit a more imposing sight at every step, till suddenly we stand in the gorge of the Torda.

It is impossible to render an adequate description of this appalling scene. The ruins of a thousand churches, towers, pillars, and obelisks seem to rise before us in fearful confusion. The mind feels overpowered by the awful devastation; the cliffs are brown, white, and red, giving the appearance of a city destroyed by fire. The bed of the stream is in some places twenty-four feet, in others forty feet wide; but the breadth of the chasm increases with the height, until the summits of the rocks on either side are about a musket-shot apart. The extent of the chasm is something more than half a mile, and the height of the craigs exceeds that of the loftiest tower. After passing the entrance, a gateway seems to rise before us, formed by an arch of rock forty feet in length. Advancing a few hundred paces on the stones of the stream, two caverns are discovered in the precipices on either side of the gulf, their mouths strongly walled up, and provided with loop-holes and windows. Formerly, upon the summit of the hill above, there was a monastery, a small wooden church, and a hermitage, surrounded by centenary oaks, walnuts, and cherry-trees, which, though the buildings are ruined, still enclose the solitary domain. The monastery belonged to the Wallachians, and was burned during the late insurrection, to prevent the house from serving as a place of refuge to the disorderly bands by which various parts of the country were infested.

Torda Gorge Transylvania by Hine.jpg

According to an ancient legend, the chasm was formed by the rending of the hill at the prayer of St. Lászlo, who, being pursued by the Kuns,[2] from a lost battle, as the foremost of the pursuers were coming up, prayed for deliverance, when the hill rent asunder between the king and bis enemies, and formed the gulf of the Torda. Upon one of the rocks the print of his horse’s shoe—like that of the horse of Fingal in the Highlands of Scotland,[3] is shown by the people to this day. Miles, who visited the spot in the seventeenth century, describes this impression as having an octagon form, but was doubtful whether it was a natural feature or, like the figure of the Saxon badge—the “horsa”—in the vale of “White Horse,” it was the work of man.

The origin of the legend may, however, be traced in history. Bonfi relates that the Kuns frequently devastated the frontiers of Transylvania in the eleventh century during the reign of St. Lászlo, and that the king gave them battle more than once, and finally drove them out of his dominions. It is on one of his less fortunate encounters that the miracle of the chasm is founded. The two caverns before mentioned formed holds of refuge for the people from the same or even an earlier period, and in the seventeenth century Töster relates, that during the wars of 1660 the Tátars enticed the refugees from their hiding-place by fraud, and carried them away prisoners. The cave on the right face of the gulf is called Balika, or, in the Transylvanian tongue, “Bajkavár,” from “Var,” a fortress, and the ancient usage of the cave as a place of strength. Besides these principal caverns, there are several smaller ones, which probably have never been explored, and it was long a belief among the inhabitants of the district, that in some were deposited barrels of gold, treasures of the ancient refugees, and still concealed by a magical charm which closed the rock at the approach of an exploring foot. It was probably in the hope of discovering a portion of this hidden wealth, that on the 13th August, 1780, Janos Kis, a chimney sweeper, descended into one of the caves, provided with ropes and iron hooks; but his enterprise was unsuccessful, for he never returned to upper air, and since that time none have been so bold as to repeat his trial.


  1. The Manos, one of the principal rivers of Transylvania, rises at the foot of the Caudalatos Mountains, on the confines of Moldavia, and flows into the Thiess at Szegedin.
  2. Or Cumanians.
  3. In Glen-Etive, in Argyllshire.