A watchman, dressed in an Austrian military costume, holding a bayonet riffle in his right hand, salutes us as we pass through the gate. Old, imposing houses stand on the other side, alleys and signposts lead to museums and monuments and in the shade of each oak tree people are resting on the benches. Where to begin our visit in the Alba Carolina Citadel?
Carol the 6th,, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Hungary, wished to build the most powerful fortification in Transylvania, which would protect the Habsburg Empire from the Ottoman invasions. Therefore, between 1715 and 1735, on the Citadel’s Hill in the medieval city of Alba Iulia, he began developing the Alba Carolina Citadel. What resulted is the most impressive construction of its kind in south-eastern Europe.
The main historic site in Alba Iulia is very much alive today as it was in the past. Behind the walls, most of the buildings have been turned into museums, but some of the houses are still inhabited. People are taking long, relaxing walks just like in a park.
Close to the 4th Gate, standing proud above the rest of the buildings, the St. Michael Roman Catholic Cathedral is just as old as Notre-Dame de Paris, built between 1247 and 1291. Several personalities of the area have been buried inside and there are many old sculptures and decorations kept in their original form, having resisted the wrath of ages. It is the most valuable monument of roman architecture in Transylvania.
The route of the three fortifications
After walking around for a while, admiring all the massive buildings, we reached the famous forts. “The route of the Three Fortifications” is always awaiting visitors. Upon paying a fee, we left the inhabited part of the citadel and descended to the bottom of a 27 m deep ditch, surrounded by brick walls. But the land we were walking on was far older and history filled. Two other fortifications existed on the place where the citadel lies today. Over the ruins of a Roman camp, the Bălgrad Medieval Citadel was built. Later, at the beginning of the 18th century, it was demolished to make way for the Alba Carolina Citadel. This is where the name of the route comes from.
The star shaped fortification was built after Vauban’s models and has seven bastions. It covers 110 hectares, making it the largest in Romania and S-E Europe. The brick walls sum up 12 km in length.
The circuit took us along the forts, sometimes passing through the walls, climbing steep stone steps and visiting various rooms and corridors. Alleys and footbridges make the whole thing feel like a relaxing stroll in the park the green grass covering the bastions makes you want to lie down and take a nap. When we were on the bottom of the ditches it felt like trying to get around a huge labyrinth and I must admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure where I was anymore. At every step we saw watchmen dressed in Austrian military uniforms, patrolling. Each Saturday, at 12 pm, at the end of the ceremony of the changing of the guards, the cannons shoot three salvos.
Although the Alba Carolina Citadel was built for defensive purposes, serving also as a military unit and storing weapons, the attention to detail is amazing. Out of the seven gates of the fortification, six have already been restored. Decorated in fine sculptures, they show scenes from mythology and from the Austrian-Turkish battles, inspired by the heroes in history. No corner has been left without being decorated with some floral motif engraved in stone. This comes to show that, back then, a fortification could be both useful and pleasant to the eye, leaving an important monument for the future generations to walk on.