Alba Iulia

Alba Iulia is the city in Central Romania, in Transylvania, on Mures River, ancient Marisos River, and the seat of Alba County in the west-central part of Romania. The gentle climate and the richness of the soil made the area around Alba Iulia inhabitable since the ancient times and established it as a leading wine growing region since the 1st century AD. Northwest of Alba Iulia are the gorgeous Apuseni Mountains of the auriferous region of Alburnus Maior, and in the east the Transylvanian Plateau with its rolling hills and deep, wide valleys. The Alba Iulia area is set on the line of the imperial road which connected the capital of the province (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Dacica Augusta Sarmizegetusa ) with the other cities from the interior of the Carpathian arch.

Alba Iulia is small historical town which proudly stands as a historic and cultural Capital of Romania, whose history under the Roman rule starts in 106 AD with the invasion of Emperor Trajan and the establishment of the new Roman province, Dacia. This reign lasted until 275 AD – the time until the Romans remained there. Cetate means ‘fortress’ in Romanian and it is the place in present city of Alba Iulia where first a Roman military fortress was built, then a Medieval fortress, and then the Hapsburg Empire built the currently standing fortress of Alba Carolina, designed by architect Giovanni Morando Visconti, on top of the first two.

Alba Iulia has hosted a few crucial events for the history of Romania, specially for the heroic struggle of the Romanians from Transylvania for social and national freedom, as for reunification with the other Romanians from Wallachia and Moldavia. Alba Iulia is a rail junction and distribution center for a wine making region, where grain, poultry, and fruit are grown. The town’s light manufactures include leather goods, furniture, and footwear.

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 the Roman Dacia and the seat of the 13th Gemina Legion. The castrum at Apulum is the largest fortification in Romania, occupying 37,5 ha -750 x 500 sq meters. The Apulum fortress was erected during the reign of Emperor Trajan, while the massive stone walls of 3 meters stone blocks were constructed in the time of Emperor Hadrian. The Apulum fortress served as the main stronghold of Roman Dacia, resisting through the ages until the present day. Some portions of the fortress—one of its gates and the buildings belonging to the Principia—are preserved and can be visited by tourists.

The southern gate of the XIIIth Legion Gemina’s fort – porta principalis dextra – represents the most important archaeological attraction from the Roman period. Apulum I was initially a vicus in the territory of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa and under Marcus Aurelius (after 160 AD) became a Municipium Avrelium Apvlense. During Commodus (180-192) the municipium received the important urban statute of Colonia Aurelia Apvlensis. Around the legionary fort developed the civil settlement – cannabae Legionis XIII Geminae – which will develop into the urbs statute, becoming under Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) a municipim Septimum Apulense. In the 9th century, the city was mentioned under the name of Belgrad or Belograd, actually the Erdely Beograd what is the name in the Serbian language. Alba means white and comes from the time when the Slavs called the settlement Belgrade (“White Castle”). Iulia comes from the name of Romanian Prince Gelu (Iulius in Latin) who ruled over the land around Alba Iulia during the 10th century. The Hapsburg tried to impose the name Alba Carolina (Karlsburg) in honor of the emperor Charles VI. In 1918 the town became once again Alba Iulia. Present day Alba Iulia is located near the Apulon, important Dacian political, economic and social center and the capital of Apuli tribe. As an important city named Apula, it was depicted in the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Following the establishment of the Catholic Transylvanian bishopric after Stephen I of Hungary adopted Catholicism, the first cathedral of Alba Iulia was built in the 11th century. The present Catholic cathedral of the Alba Iulia has been built in the 12th or the 13th century. John Hunyadi, famous Medieval nobleman and appointed Duke of Transylvania, who was successfully defending the southern borderlands of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Ottoman attacks is buried in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Alba Iulia, former Gyulafehérvár next to his younger brother, John. As Gyulafehérvár, Alba Iulia became the capital of the Principality of Transylvania in 1541, a status it was to retain until 1690. 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 Alba Iulia 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 of 1599 Michael the Brave, Voivode of Wallachia, entered Alba Iulia following his victory in the Battle of Şelimbăr and became Voivode /duke – lord/ of Transylvania. In 1600 he gained control of Moldavia, thereby uniting the three principalities under his rule until his murder in 1601 by Giorgio Basta’s agents. This was the first unification of the three Romanian-populated principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania, lasting 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 waving flags in red, yellow and blue in Alba Iulia on 1 December, now commemorated as the National Day in post-communist Romania, to hear the proclamation of the Great Romania – the Union of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina 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, in honor of whom the Hapsburg Dynasty renamed the city Karlsburg. The upper city’s fortress of Alba Iulia, with seven bastions in a stellar shape, was constructed between 1716 and 1735 by Giovanni Morando Visconti, using the Vauban system—the largest of this kind in south-eastern Europe. In building of encircling walls of the Alba Iulia fortress which are 12 km long, there were working 20000 semi free peasants. The Alba Iulia fortress contains seven defending towers  – the Eugen of Savoy, Saint Stephen, Saint Trinity, Saint Michael, Saint Carlo, Saint Kapistran and Saint Elisabeth and make its famous star-shape frame. Inside the impressive Alba Iualia fortress is the Roman Catholic Cathedral, 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. Alba Iulia is a beautiful European city which is worth visiting, thanks to its amazing cultural heritage and tourists spending their time in a pleasant, and memorable way.

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