Towns & Cities

Click one of the icons below to discover more information!



Alba Iulia is an emblematic city for the history of the Romanian people, a place which has become the sacred symbol of this people’s unity and independence. Seen from a height, the old fortress maintains its Vauban shaped contour, a seven-pointed star, but as you walk through it, it is an immense outdoor museum evoking the past. Three distinct fortifications, namely the Apulum Roman castrum, BÓ‘lgrad medieval fortress and Alba Carolina fortress unveil their legends and take you on a genuine journey back in time. Each tunnel and gate, each monument and architectural style revealed between the massive walls shows you a previously unknown page of history and opens an equally generous and fascinating chapter. Surrounded by clear waters, smooth hills and fruitful plains, Alba Iulia, the other capital, carries the testimonies of its more than 2000 years of existence into the future. So learn its secrets and let yourself be carried away in a seductive, archaic experience.

Alba IuliaA Short History of Alba Carolina Fortress

The first page of the story we nowadays call Alba Iulia was written by the Dacians who founded Apoulon fortress, which later became the Apulum Roman castrum, the biggest urban center of Romanized Dacia. The new fortification was used by Legio XIII Gemina to monitor the auriferous land and to ensure the transfer of the gold to Rome. The domination of the Empire ended at the beginning of the second millennium, when the fortress became a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. During this period, it functioned as an important commercial center and became the capital of the Transylvanian principality. When the kingdom disintegrated, Alba Iulia went under the administration of the Bathory family, regaining the glow which turned it into a medieval fortress popular all throughout Europe.

Between 1715 and 1738, the Alba Carolina bastion fortress was built here, at the initiative of Carol VI of Habsburg. 20,000 peasants, Italian masters and Austrian sculptors built the Vauban fortress, and together they created one of the Empire’s most powerful fortifications in Transylvania. The walls had seven imposing bastions, seven gates and two defense ditches, meant to prevent the Turkish-Tartar invasions. It seems the fortress was so resistant that it was never brought to its knees or conquered.

Alba IuliaSome of the most significant events in the history of the Romanian people are related to Alba Iulia. In 1600, the city became the first capital of the three principalities (Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia) united by Michael the Brave. On the 1st of December 1918, the union of Banat, Transylvania, CriÅŸana and MaramureÅŸ with Romania was declared. It is also here that in 1922 the coronation of the kings of Greater Romania took place, namely Ferdinand I’s and Mary’s. On the well taken care of alleys of the fortress you will discover vestiges of all the centuries and historical episodes passed through by Alba Iulia.

The Tour of the Three Fortifications

A complete tour of the three fortifications in Alba Carolina starts by the Mint Gate of the Transylvanian Principality, where the Imperial Mint also used to function.  Next, the Southern gate of the Roman castrum, once framed by two towers still reminds of the old Apulum. Nearby you will find the Military Camp, an ideal place for relaxation reenacting the medieval atmosphere. The landladies, the beautiful horses you can see at the changing of the guard ceremony, the rustic décor and the traditional dishes immediately take you back to the fascinating world of the 18th century. Don’t stay too long though, and instead look for the narrow stairs taking you to the prison of the fortress. Near the Eugeniu de Savoia bastion, the prison was used by the Austrian authorities for torture. The room is set up for the tourists who want to learn what the punishments in the epoch used to be.

Alba IuliaAs you leave the prison behind, don’t hesitate to go into the Saxons’ Bastion, built by the Saxon community in Transylvania during the times of Prince Gabriel Bethlen. You will admire weapons and armors, Roman and medieval vestiges, along with old pieces of furniture grouped in thematic rooms. Don’t miss the artillery platform either, where there are three towers that used to protect the walls of the fortress in the past. Every Saturday, at noon, the artillerymen fire a salute, in an impressive show. A mysterious place on the right side of the defense ditch is Caponiera, a gallery situated between two bastions which shelter the guardrooms. Crossing the bridge in front, you get to the Roman dwelling houses and the torture place where Horea, CloÅŸca and CriÅŸan, the leaders of the 1748 Peasants’ Revolt, were executed. Here, you will find the breaking wheel, the gallows, the handcuffs and hatchet, typical instruments of torture for those times. In honor of the three heroes, an obelisk was erected near the third gate. One final attraction in this tour of the three fortifications is the Anti-mine Tunnel, a series of galleries used as shelter during the sieges.

Medieval fortressAlong the alleys full of flowers and through the niches opening in the walls you will get to different parts of the fortress and experience a novel and surprising visit. This way you will discover numerous monuments dedicated to soldiers who died in battle, the seven bastions decorated with bas-reliefs, the bronze statues, the mobile bridges, the small lake with water lilies and the seven majestic gates. Imposing and richly decorated, the gates are specific for the Vauban-type fortifications and have made Alba Carolina one of the most beautiful baroque edifices in Transylvania. The gates perfectly combine the aesthetic value and the defense role, with bas-reliefs which show scenes from the Greek and Roman mythology. The first gate stands out from the multitude of the statues portraying Greek gods and the third gate was meant to glorify Emperor Carol VI with a monumental equestrian sculpture. The forth gate is decorated with Austria’s imperial emblem surrounded by weapons, flags and musical instruments. The other gates have a simple architecture, functioning as secondary entrances. They were restored and their austere image reminds of the fact that the fortress was not only an architectonic jewel, but also an important defense center.

The Palaces of the Fortress

Princiary CastleThroughout time, Alba Iulia has been the residence for the nobiliary families in Transylvania. The palaces built here are in tone with the simple style of the fortification, integrating elements typical for the Roman castrum and the medieval fortress. One of them is the Princiary Castle, initially destined for the Roman-Catholic Capitol. It later returned to the possession of the princes and during the time of the union in 1600, it was inhabited by Michael the Brave. The old chronicles describe it as a luxurious edifice, with marble stairs and decorated by frescoes. Typical for the Transylvanian area, the building reunites gothic, renaissance and baroque elements. Starting with the 18th century, it was used as a garrison and artillery casern, but the destructions it suffered during the Turkish-Tartar invasions made it lose its greatness once and for all.   

Apor PalaceA more fortunate case is that of Apor Palace, a stately baroque building of military style. It served as the dwelling house for the commander of the imperial troops in Transylvania, being decorated in an Austrian style, with interior portals and trophies on the gates of the fortress. The restorations brought back its glow, so that nowadays Apor Castle houses a few university departments and can be partially visited. Close to the palace, there is the Batthyaneum Library, dating back to the late 18th century, when it was part of a monastic ensemble. The first modern observatory in Romania was founded here, which presently keeps a fragment of the Codex Aureus, a famous scroll manuscript dating back to the 9th century.  In the rooms full of books you will not only encounter passionate readers browsing through the publications, but researchers of the typographic art, since the library houses an inestimable collection of incunabula.

The Museum of the Union

Museum of the UnionIn the memory of the Romanians, Alba Iulia remains the symbol of the Union, evoking fundamental moments in the history of our people. Because of this, a museum dedicated to the event was a dream come true. The façade of the building marks the historical date of December 1st 1918 and the coronation of the sovereigns Ferdinand I and Mary, inviting you to remember two extremely important episodes in the history of Romania. The patrimony of the museum consists of Dacian and Roman artifacts, medieval weapons, tool, ceramic bowls, jewelry and gold, silver and bronze objects, ancient, medieval and modern numismatic collections, ethnography and popular art collections, books and periodicals. In the Union Room, where the Great Union Act was signed, you will find the original documents and photographs describing and portraying the Great National Assembly, the tricolored flags and scarves worn by the participants, marble plaques with the texts of the Proclamation to the country and the camera used in 1918. The Union Room is a testimony of our forerunners’ efforts and bravery, a place which speaks of solidarity, national identity, courage and remembrance.

Coronation CathedralThe Coronation Cathedral

Another emblem of Alba Iulia city is the Coronation Cathedral, situated near the forth gate of the fortress. It was built between 1921 and 1922, with the support of the Royal House, and in the yard of the church the coronation ceremony of Greater Romania’s sovereigns took place. The plan of the cathedral was inspired by another byzantine edifice of great historical significance – The Lordly Church in TârgoviÅŸte. At the exterior, the numerous balconies and arches make you think of a monastery of impressive size. The interior reflects the decorative art specific for the southern region of the country: the open threshold, the furniture decorated in the Brâncovenesc style, the traditional frescoes. At the entrance, four commemorative plaques illustrate a few remarkable events: the printing of the New Testament in 1648, the Union at 1600, the martyrdom of the three heroes Horea, CloÅŸca and CriÅŸan, the Great Union at 1918. The Cathedral invites to more than introspection, that is, to the cherishing of those who have contributed to the reunification of the Romanian people.

Roman-Catholic CathedralClose by, there is another monumental halidom preserving the memory of the great Transylvanian leaders: the Roman-Catholic Cathedral.  Raised in the 13th century, it combines gothic, renaissance and baroque elements, being one of the most beautiful medieval constructions at the heart of the Carpathians.  That is why John Hunyadi, the Hungarian governor, chose it to become the necropolis of his family. The church impresses with its size and simple ornamentation, with bas-reliefs depicting mythological scenes, a few paintings and the organ with over 2,200 tubes.  Although seriously damaged by the Tartar invasions, the cathedral has lasted throughout harsh times, remaining a masterpiece of the Middle Ages.

The atmosphere of Alba Carolina fortress can hardly be described in words; it needs to be discovered and shared. Historical evidences are everywhere and the memory of the Romanian heroes is captured in the stone of the old walls. Furthermore, the city is an ideal destination if you want to relax, a lively place waiting for tourists of all ages. 

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]