Give the same rights to mountains! Contesting the exclusion of the Măcin Mountains, in Romania

By Ioan Surdu, Viorel Gligor, and Alexandru-Sabin Nicula*, researchers at CE-MONT, INCE and the Romanian Academy.

Context of the issue at hand

As mountainologists, we have often had the opportunity to interact with policy- and decision makers on different topics related to sensitive subjects on the correct perception of the mountain area or the mountain demarcation method compared to the geographic contiguity zone. There were also heated debates on the subject of EU regulations and the legislative framework that form the base of mountain policies, sometimes contradicting published specialist research.

Măcin Mountains. Photo credits: ©Cristina Ion
Măcin Mountains. Photo credits: ©Cristina Ion


And still, we feel the actual effects only when we observe that mountain management and development policies are different from geographic reality. This is also the case with our main focus – Măcin Mountains, which unfortunately have not been included in the current demarcation criteria of the mountain areas in Romania due to the fact that they do not meet the slope and altitude conditions of the existing methodology. To sum up the decision making perception on these mountains, we will present a fragment of a discussion held a year ago, with a decision maker (marked in red):

– Măcin Mountains … are they actual mountains?!

Yes, very much so, as you have just pointed out and as they are named in the scientific literature.

– I’ve been in the field many times, and for me they are … hills, lower even than the ones from the area I live in!

(A.N. in the field, what matters most is the expertise of the geologist and/or geomorphologist, the decision maker or the clerk and their expertise are subsequent)

– […] their modest heights, below 500 m, does nothing to change their mountainous nature. We cannot exclude them from the ”mountain table” only because they lack the altitudes  and slopes of the Carpathians, or because they are too ancient and eroded. It is their genetic and morphological right to be considered mountains, and as such, any form of territorial and especially fiscal exclusion is incorrect and scientifically unsound. We cannot obstruct the access of Măcin mountain communities to financial incentives for sustainable development.

– We will try to include Măcin Mountains in the mountain area category

(A.N. it has not happened yet).


Măcin Mountains. Photo credits: ©Cristina Ion
Măcin Mountains. Photo credits: ©Cristina Ion


Study area

Măcin is a mountain range distinct from the Carpathian Mountains, located in south-eastern Romania (Dobrogea), near the Danube River (see fig. 1). With a surface area of 568.8 km2 and altitudes that rarely exceed 450 meters (Țuțuiatu Peak, 467 m), Măcin Mountains are a well individualized tectonic, lithological and morphological geographic subunit (Gavrilă, 2012). As an ensemble, they have a crenelated profile, have a northwest-southeast orientation, and are one of the most prominent residual proofs (inselberg) of the Hercynian orogeny (Late Paleosoic) (Geografia României, 2005). Compared to the younger Carpathians Mountains, formed in the Alpine orogeny (Laramic phase), Măcin is one of the oldest morphological mountain units in Europe, alongside the Central French Massif, the Ardennes, the Rhenish massif, the Vosges, Jura, Black Forest, Thuringian Forest or the Ural mountains.


Geographical position Măcin Mountains Romania
Figure 2 – Geographical position Măcin Mountains Romania


Pro mountain argument

In order to back the argument for the Măcin Mountains, we would like to mention several undeniable characteristics from the Earth science literature (Gavrilă, 2012, pp. 11-12):

  • the genesis of the study area, representing the summed result of the Assyntic, Caledonian, Hercynian, and Neocimmerian (Early alpine) orogenies (Ionesi, 1994; Seghedi, 2007), knowing that orogenetic movements are responsible for the emergence of mountain structures. The Hercynian orogeny is the most important structural-genetic phase of the study area, its tectonic movements being responsible for the area’s transformation (through rising) from a geosyncline-type basin to a mountain system – Măcin Hercynian range.
  • the pleated and fractured geological structure (Mutihac, 1990, 2007; Ionesi, 1994) is yet another proof of the area’s status as mountain “edifice”, taking into account that, during orogenies, the phenomena associated with disjunctive-plicative movements are predominant, and the demarcation of this morphostructure through directional faultlines gives it the characteristic of a typical horst.
  • the lithological diversity, characterised by the existence of all types of rocks (metamorphic, sedimentary, and magmatic) and the predominance of magmatic (granite) and metamorphic (chrystalline schists) rocks is an extra argument for its mountain attribute.
  • morphologically speaking, the attribute of mountain area derives from: predominance of summit – and ridge-like interfluves; high degree of morphological complexity (ridges, summits, cliffs, gorges, erosional-structural elements, residual and ruiniform micromorphology etc.); existence of sectors with high relief energy (more than 250 m/km²), presence of sectors with sudden hypsometric variations; steep slopes (more than 42º), sometimes even vertical ones, as well as deeply fragmented sectors.
  • its configuration, in a lengthwise north-south profile longitudinal (from the western side of the area), is represented by a sharp ridge, high relief energy (compared to the adjacent depressionary areas, Măcin – Greci and Cerna – Mircea Vodă), high degree of morphological fragmentation; all of the above give it the attribute of mountain space. For instance, de Martonne (1924) named the area “The miniature Alps”.
  • as a final, deciding argument, we would like to mention the usage of the term “Măcin Mountains”, in geological literature (Mirăuță & Mirăuță, 1962; Mutihac & Ionesi, 1974; Ionesi, 1994; Mutihac, 1990, 2007; Seghedi, 2007 etc.), as well as in geomorphological literature (de Martonne, 1924; Mihăilescu, 1966; Coteț, 1973; Naum & Grigore, 1974; Posea et al., 1974; Popescu & Ielenicz, 2003; Posea, 2005; Gavrilă, 2012, 2013).


Măcin Mountains
Măcin Mountains. © Bogdan Negrea, 2021


Why aren’t Măcin Mountains included in the mountain area?!

*according to research by Nicula et al. 2018; Gligor et al. 2021, pp. 11-43

Developing analyses in order to demarcate the mountain area of Romania, according to the current legislation, began gaining ground with the implementation of financial policies for rural development, initiated in the EU states by the European Commission.

The implementation of the incentive system for mountain states enabled the application of analytic criteria which will allow the identification of areas eligible for compensatory payments based on the following categories: 1 ‐ mountain areas; 2 ‐ areas (other than mountain areas) confronted with significant natural constraints and 3 ‐ other areas facing specific constraints, according to „Study for demarcating areas facing natural constraints or other specific constraints and area fine‐tuning” (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 2018). Applying the criteria found in Regulation (CE) nr. 1698/2005, art. 36a (EC, 2011) and Regulation (CE) 1257/1999, art. 18 (LAU II located at altitudes ≥ 600 m; LAU II located at altitudes between 400 – 600 m, average slope ≥ 15%, or 6.75°) (EC, 2011) led to a first demarcation of the Romanian settlements located in mountain areas (for PNDR 2007‐2013) (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 2008), resulting in a number of 658 LAU II, with a total surface area of 71381.48 km2 (29.9% of entire country).

The study entitled “Identification of rural disadvantaged areas and support after Romania’s Accession to the EU” (Rusu et al., 2006), compiled by the European Institute of Romania, contains the same criteria for demarcating mountain areas and specific disadvantaged areas, however the severely disadvantaged areas have been demarcated exclusively using natural criteria, as such elements do not change over time.

The analysis developed two demarcation variants, one based on the stipulations of the Law of the mountain nr. 347/2004 (Order nr. 1019/2005) (Government of Romania, 2008a), while the second stems from Eurostat/GISCO‐JRC. By applying a modified SOTER methodology (Rusu et al., 2006) and using the demarcation criteria defined by H.G. nr. 949/2002 (Government of Romania, 2002), administrative-territorial units now fall into  two categories: „fully mountainous area” and „partially mountainous area.”

The process of spatially demarcating the disadvantaged mountain area (70101 km2 or 29.4% of the country) came to an end by aggregating the information obtained after the differentiated application of algorithms within the two methods, implementing several normalization corrections imposed by the Law of the mountain and abiding by the territorial countinuity principle.

The proposals made for disadvantaged areas and the new directions of the Common Agricultural Policy were then introduced in Regulation (CE) nr. 1698/2005 (EC, 2011), which refers to the support for rural development provided through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

After implementation of the different criteria, according to Order MADR nr. 97/2019 and MDRAP nr. 1332/2019, the total mountain area of Romania is 91336.9 km2 (38.31% of the national territory), encompassing 948 ATUs and nine mountain groups (according to the Law of the Mountain nr. 197/2018) (Government of Romania, 2018).

The main criteria that support this demarcation (Fig. 3), developed according to the previously mentioned orders, took into account the following variables: average altitude ≥ 500 m; average altitude between 350 ‐ 500 m and average slope ≥ 15%; altitude below 350 m and average slope ≥ 20% (9°). Furthermore, we also implemented a combined score, based on the following algorithm:

  1. Altitude score: average altitude/500 m (30%);
  2. Slope score: average slope/15% (30%);
  3. Meadow score: pastures+hayfields/total farmland (25%);
  4. Forest score: forest/ATU total surface (15%).

The settlements with a combined score of at least 7 (out of 10) were included in the mountain area. Some units (10), which did not meet the criteria, but were surrounded by  mountain ATUs, thus resulting so-called „non-mountain islands”, were included in the mountain area.


The legislative-normative demarcation of the mountain area, Romania
The legislative-normative demarcation of the mountain area, Romania.



The demarcation of mountain areas does not take into consideration a morpho-structural criterium.

No attempts have been made to morphologically demarcate the mountain area, but to identify administrative-territorial units (LAU 2) which encompass mountain terrain.

Based on the current criteria, there is not clear cut distinction between the morphological mountain units and peri-mountain units that are in geographic contiguity.

An implementation of a multivariate methodology for analysing mountain units is needed, one where morphometric indicators are joined by morphological and geophysical ones as well, accepted and supported by the European Commission; it is recommended that future mountain policies be formulated according to a new universal methodological framework.


Gavrilă, I.G., 2012. Relația Relief-Turism în Munții Măcin. Teză de doctorat, Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai din Cluj-Napoca, Școala Doctorală de Geografie (ed. pdf).

Gavrilă, I.G. and Anghel, T., 2013. Geomorphosites inventory in the Măcin Mountains (south-eastern Romania). GeoJournal of Tourism and Geosites, 11(1), pp.42-53.

Gligor, V., Boțan, C.N., Cociș, E.A. and Nicula, A.S. (2021). Noi paradigme legislativ‐normative ale dezvoltării zonei montane din România. În vol 4. (Coordonator: Oana-Ramona Ilovan): Relieful. Resursă pentru dezvoltare, pp.11-43.

Nicula, A.S., Cociș, E.A., Avădănei, V., Gligor, V., Păcurar, B.N., Surd, V., Surdu, I. (2018). The Carpathians Mountains‐Between Normative Paradigm and Pragmatic Approaches. Journal of Montanology (J‐MONT), IX, 29‐36.

*** Geografia României: Câmpia Română, Dunărea, Podișul Dobrogei, Litoralul românesc al Mării Negre și Platforma Continentală. Vol. V., Edit. Academiei Române, București.