Alba Iulia and Romania
Alba Iulia is a city in Alba County, Transylvania, Romania with a population of 66.747, located on the Mureş River.
Between 1541—1690 it was the capital of Principality of Transylvania.
Located in the heart of Transylvania, at the midway between Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu – two important economic and cultural centres of Transylvania – Alba Iulia has won the privilege of being “the soul capital of the Romanians”, place and seal of a historical moment consecrating the union of Principalities – Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania – as a single state: Romania.
Ancient Roman town and the medieval capital of the Transylvanian Principality, Alba Iulia is also a historic center of Romanian culture and spirituality that produced some of the first printed Romanian books (the New Testament – 1648) and which also hosts one of the famous codices in the world – Codex Aureus (sec. IX), preserved alongside others manuscripts and rare incunabula in the Batthyaneum Library.
Looking for places and facts to enrich his mind and soul, the tireless researcher will not refuse the pleasure to meet history at home in Alba Iulia. The whole city is an open air museum inviting you to a simultaneous excursion in a Roman fortress and a medieval burg, and the three fortifications, recently restored by municipality will provide lasting memories in a setting where nothing is missing in order to make one feel a witness of the past.
The modern city is located near the site of the important Dacian political, economic and social centre named Apulon. After the southern part of Dacia became a province of the Roman Empire, the capital of the Dacia Apulensis district was established here, and the city was known as Apulum. Apulum was one of the largest centers in Roman Dacia and the seat of the XIII Gemina Legion.
In the 9th century, the city was mentioned under the name of Belgrad / Belograd (“White Castle” in Slavic languages). As Gyulafehérvár, Alba Iulia became the capital of the Principality of Transylvania in 1541, a status it was to retain until 1690. The Treaty of Weissenburg was signed in the town in 1551. It was during the reign of Prince Gabriel Bethlen that the city reached a high point in its cultural history, with the establishment of an academy. Further important milestones in the city’s development include the creation of the Batthyanaeum Library in the 18th century, and the arrival of the railway in the 19th century.
In November 1599, Michael the Brave, Voivode of Wallachia, entered Alba Iulia following his victory in the Battle of Şelimbăr and became Voivode of Transylvania. In 1600 Michael gained control of Moldavia, thereby uniting the three principalities under his rule until his murder in 1601 by Giorgio Basta’s agents. Michael’s achievement has historic significance for the Romanians, representing the first unification of the three Romanian-populated principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania for a year and a half.
In 1918, tens of thousands of Romanians and representatives of the Transylvanian Saxons and other minorities of Transylvania, gathered in Alba Iulia on December 1, now commemorated as the National Day in Romania, to hear the proclamation of the Union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania. In 1922, Ferdinand of Romania was symbolically crowned King of Romania in Alba Iulia in an act which mirrored the achievement of Michael the Brave.
The main historical area of Alba Iulia is the upper city, developed extensively by Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire. The Habsburgs renamed the city Karlsburg in honor of Charles. The upper city’s fortress with seven bastions, in a stelar shape, was constructed between 1716–1735 by Giovanni Morando Visconti, using the Vauban system—the largest of this kind in South-eastern Europe.
Inside the fortress is the Roman Catholic Cathedral (the most representative building for the Medieval Gothic style in Transylvania), the Batthyaneum library, the Roman Catholic Bishop’s palace, the Orthodox Cathedral, Babylon Building (National Museum of Unification), Union Hall, Apor Palace, the Princely Palace, and the University Of Alba Iulia.
Built in the 13th century, the Roman Catholic Cathedral is considered to be an important monument of early Transylvanian medieval architecture. The tomb of John Hunyadi is located in here, as is that of the Polish-born Isabella Jagiełło, Queen of Hungary.
The Bathyaneum library is a late church, built in Baroque style. In 1780, Ignác Batthyány, bishop of Transylvania, transform the inside of the establishment to fit for the present use, that of a library. It is famous all over the world for its ample series of manuscripts, incunabula and rare books, such as Codex Aureus (9th century), also known as the Lorsch Gospel, containing the Gospel of Mark and Matthew, David’s Psalms, Codex Burgundus (15th century), Biblia Sacra (13th century) the Pentateuch from Orăştie (1850), Şerban Cantacuzino’s Bible, and the New Testament from Balgrad (1648). The first astronomical observatory in Transylvania was founded here in 1792.
Reunification Cathedral was built between 1921-1923, following plans drawn by the architect D.G. Ştefănescu, executed by the engineer T. Eremia. Constantin Petrescu painted the fresco in traditional iconographic style. The first monarchs of unified Romania, King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie were crowned there on 15 October 1922.
The National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia is located in the Babylon Building. It was originally built for military purposes in 1851-1853 and transformed into a museum in 1887. The museum exhibits over 130,000 pieces of priceless works, starting with a prehistory section, then Dacian-Roman and feudal sections, the great battles with the Turks, the Revolution of 1848, the Unification of the Principalities in 1859, World War I, the Union of Transylvania with Romania, etc. Its two floors and over 100 rooms host the basic exhibition, the warehouse, the library and the restorations laboratories. The Unification Hall, also belonging to the National Museum, was opened in 1895 as Military Casino of the Garrison in Alba Iulia, but its distinctive historical significance is given by the fact that it hosted, on 1 December 1918, the rally of the 1228 Romanian delegates from all Transylvania, who decided the province’s union with Romania.
Apor Palace is situated nearby the Bathyaneum Library. It belonged to the Prince Apor, and was built in the second half of the 17th century. At the beginning of the 18th century it was the residence of the Austrian army leader, Prince Steinville. Apor Palace was renovated in 2007 to host the Rector’s Office of the ’1 Decembrie 1918′ University.
Princely Palace (Palatul Principilor) was Michael the Brave’s residence during the first political unification of Romanians in 1600. Foreign chronicles pictured it as an extremely luxurious building, richly adorned with frescos and marble stairs. However, Ottoman and Tatar invasions destroyed it. During the rule of princes Gábor Bethlen and George II Rákóczi the second palace was restored but not to its previous condition. From 1700 the building was used as a barracks; consequently, the inside was adapted to its new destination.