Out of the cities of Union, Alba Iulia has an old and special history. Inhabited since prehistory, then by the Dacians, it was conquered by the Romans, who built the military castrum of the Legion XIII Gemina. Around the castrum, a settlement called Apulum was founded, becoming a Roman colony and the Capital of Dacia Apulensis during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (121-180).

The Roman history of the city continued during the reign of Emperor Septimius Sever (193-211), when Apulum received the title of a municipium. During that period, the Apulum municipium extended its inhabited area and a new city was founded in the South-East of the castrum – the Municipium Septimium Apulensis. The unification of the two settlements led to the creation of the Nova Apulensis Colony.

The city continued its existence during the Barbarian migrations, when, under the Slavic influence, was renamed Bălgrad (the white city).

In the 10th century, the chronicles mentioned a voivode named Gyla and, in the 11th century, after the migrations, Bălgrad was mentioned as the Capital of the voivodeshipe of another voivode, also called Gyula (Jula), but its name in the chronicles is the Hungarian Gyulafehérvár.

In the 12th century (1177), a large royal shire, led by a shire reeve, was founded around the fortress. In the same century, Bălgrad – Gyulafehérvár became the residence of the Roman-Catholic Episcopacy in Transylvania and a wonderful Romanic church was built here.

The development of the city continued in the 12th and 13th centuries, when it was mentioned as civitas. An unfortunate exception was the great Tatar invasion in 1241, when the city was devastated, the palaces and the church were destroyed and a part of the population was killed. Similar destructions took place in 1434, when the Turks burnt down the citadel and the Hungarian bishop was killed.

Meanwhile, the colonizations of the Transylvanian Saxons and the transfer of the Szekely to the Eastern border of Transylvania started.

In the 15th century, the Turks invaded Transylvania, but John Hunyadi, the voivode of Transylvania and governor of Hungary resisted the invasion. Alba Iulia played a major part in gathering the army that fought alongside John Hunyadi.

Later, in 1469, following the plot organized against him by the Hungarian nobility of the city and the Catholic Bishop of Alba Iulia, Matthias Corvinus decided to demolish the walls of the episcopal citadel in Alba Iulia.

After the battle of Mohács, on 29 August 1526, when the Hungarian Kingdom was defeated by the Ottoman Empire led by Suleiman the Magnificent, Alba Iulia became the throne citadel of John Zápolya, the king of the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom. The central part of Hungary became a Turkish pashalik with the Capital in Buda, whereas the Western and Northern parts were under the rule of the Austrians. The fights between Ferdinand of Habsburg, who had occupied the Western part of Hungary, and the successor of Zápolya, John Sigismund, the ruler of the Northern part, led to the plundering of the city for several times.

Alba Iulia became the residence of the Transylvanian princes during John Sigismund (1541) and preserved this status up to Michael Apafi (1690). Transylvania had become and autonomous principality under Ottoman suzerainty. During this period, the Roman-Catholic episcopacy of Alba Iulia was dissolved by the Protestant princes, who wanted the population to convert to Protestantism.

Alba Iulia developed during the period of the principality, the guilds became more numerous and the trade with Western Europe, as well as with Wallachia and Moldavia, flourished. The Princely Court in Alba Iulia became an important cultural center and a city school, as well as a printing house, led by Rafael Hoffhalter, who published the Old Testament (Palia) of Orăștie and many religious books of deacon Coresi, were founded.

The short epoch of the voivode Michael the Brave remained a landmark in the history of the city.

On 1 November 1599, after the battle of Șelimbăr (28 October 1599), where he defeated Andrew Bathory, Michael the Brave entered Alba Iulia. As the ruler of Wallachia and Transylvania, Michael the Brave settled in the city. After conquering Moldavia in May 1600, the ruler temporarily unified the three Romanian principalities.

Michael the Brave proclaimed himself in Alba Iulia “By the grace of God, I, Michael, the voivode and ruler of the entire Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia”.

“Michael is riding a white horse. Surrounded by brass band sounds, having the banners taken from the Hungarian army inclined in front of him, accompanied by many people, Michael enters the citadel and settles in the prince’s residence. John, the metropolitan bishop brought by Michael, utters the prayers of thanks addressed to God”. Nicolae Bălcescu, The Romanians under Michael the Brave, 1878

During the few months of union, the voivode tried to rule over the three principalities, to take measures for their unification, according to the administrative model of Transylvania. The elimination of customs and borders was among the first unifying measures, which led to the reaction of the Court in Vienna, of the Transylvanian nobility and of the Sublime Porte. The Wallachian and Moldavian boyars also had their part in the dissolution of this temporary union.

His reign and union were short lived. On 19 August 1601, Michael the Brave was assassinated by the soldiers of the imperial general Basta. It was the end of both his reign and the first attempt to unify the three Romanian principalities.

After Michael the Brave’s death in 1601, the city was plundered and set on fire by general Basta’s troops. Troubled times followed; in 1603, the city was besieged, set on fire and plundered for several times during the fights for the throne disputed by Gabriel Bethlen and Moise Székely. The population was decimated, and the princely residence was moved to Sibiu.

Alba Iulia became the symbol of the Romanians’ unity during the reign of Michael the Brave and, between his time and 1918, it was a landmark of the Romanians’ history in the three principalities.

The city was rebuilt only during prince Gabriel Bethlen’s reign (1613-1629). The princely palace and the square citadel were restored and the trade and culture developed. Academicum Collegium or Gimnasium illustre was founded, the city becoming a prosperous commercial and cultural center.

Nonetheless, destructions did not end. During Gheorghe Rákóczi, in 1658, the Turks and Tartars entered Transylvania and burnt down the city and the citadel of Alba Iulia, the Romanian church founded by Michael the Brave being partially destroyed. The Orthodox metropolitan bishop Sava raised funds for rebuilding it, even from Russia, but the church was not restored. Sava was arrested during the anti-Orthodox persecution and a part of the Romanian priests were forced to convert to Calvinism.

“Alba Iulia is located on the right bank of the Mureș River, on the plain at the bottom of the Metal Mountains, which belong to the Apuseni Mountains. Geographically speaking, it has a Northern latitude, 47 and 3 degrees, and an Eastern longitude, 21 and 15 degrees. To the South, it is bordered by the Mureș River. On the left bank of the river, towards the South-East and the South-West, there is a plain that extends towards Vînțul de Jos and Sebeș. In the East, it is bordered by the Mureș and the Ampoi Rivers. The latter crosses the border of the city and flows into the Mureș River, towards the South-East, near Alba Iulia” (Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the city’s past and present. It includes 65 pictures and a city map, 1929. Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia, pp. 5-6)

The union with Rome was negotiated in Alba Iulia and this led to the emergence of a new religion – the Greek-Catholic one. The Orthodox Romanians were persecuted and had no rights in the entire Transylvania, so the Catholic priests (Catholicism was in a worrying decline due to Protestantism) proposed the union to the Orthodox priests.

On 7 October 1698, the Synod for the union with the Church of Rome took place in Alba Iulia. 38 Romanian Orthodox bishops, led by Bishop Atanasie Anghel, converted to Catholicism1 and this is how a new religion, the Greek-Catholic one, emerged. The Uniatism represented a political act, meant to draw the Romanian Orthodox population towards Catholicism, offering them the rights of “the true sons of the country, not just as some tolerated people, as they had previously been”2. The Uniate Transylvanian Romanians received citizen rights, the right to found schools, the “same rights and exemptions that the Catholics had”, starting to have a word to say in the principality.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the imperial authorities built a citadel in Alba Iulia, according to the plans of the architect Giovanni Moranto Visconti, who demolished both houses and the remains of the church founded by Michael the Brave between 1596 and 1597, which was severely damaged during the last Turkish-Tatar invasion in the 17th century. After the demolition, the Greek-Catholic Romanians were given a plot of land in Alba Iulia – Maieri3, where the Unite church in Maieri3 was built by Bishop Atanasie Anghel, between 1713 and 1715.

As the citadel was built during the reign of Emperor Charles VI (1711-1740), the city was named Karlsburg – Karlstadt or Karolyfehérvár. The city had 3 gates and 7 bastions, the walls being 4-5 m thick and surrounded by 2-3 rows of moats. The most beautiful gate of the citadel has remained Charles’ Gate – with bas-reliefs and sculptures that depict the victories against the Turks.

“Near the Mureş River, Alba Iulia is famous for its citadel, the princely residence, as well as its secondary school. The whole citadel is full of the ruins of ancient palaces and Roman remains, most of which have been, however, taken to the prince’s house and to the Bathory House, where the printing house and the mint had been previously located and which serves nowadays as a residence for teachers. Romulus and Remus, suckling milk from the she-wolf, are carved in stone into the gate of the city. The bigger church (the former Catholic cathedral, where Isabella and John Sigismund Zapolya were buried) is embellished with the monuments of many kings and princes. The ruins in the suburbs are certain proofs of its past majesty, since it was once the capital of the Dacian kings. Today it is a town surrounded by stone walls, inhabited by Hungarians”. David Frolich (1595-1648), About Transylvania (1629-1639), in Foreign Travelers in the Romanian Principalities, vol. V,  p. 52.

In the citadel of Alba Iulia, Horea, Cloșca and Crișan were detained, after they were arrested in December 1784. Horea’s prison was even Charles VI’s second gate, built near the ancient gate of Saint George, through which Michael the Brave entered the city. Inside it, there was a small room, where Horea spent his last days. On 28 February 1785, Horia and Cloșca were executed on the plateau above Maieri-Alba Iulia (Crișan had committed suicide, but, nevertheless, on 16 February 1785, he was beheaded and his head was impaled and carried around the villages in Transylvania).

Alba Iulia was one of the cultural centers of Transylvania. The Batthyaneum Library was founded in 1798 at the initiative of the Roman-Catholic bishop of Transylvania, Batthyány Ignác (1741-1798). It had numerous old books from the bishopric’s library and some from the library of Bishop Count Migazzi from Vienna or from the high priests’ donations. When it was founded, the library was located in an edifice from the beginning of the 18th century, which had previously housed a Trinitarian monastery, dissolved during the reign of Joseph II.

The city of Alba Iulia has constantly developed. In 1848, the garrison of the city, mostly made up of Romanians, supported the national cause and Avram Iancu, who was fighting in the Apuseni Mountains for the acknowledgement of the Romanian nation and the rights of the Romanians in Transylvania.

“In those troubled times of the Revolution in 1918, when the servicemen from all the battlefields were hurrying home, fed up with the war and its miseries, the national party organized the Romanians in national guards, in order to stop the Hungarian attacks and the German troops, which were withdrawing from the Romanian troops. All the nations formed their guards, but the necessary funds were given only to the Hungarian guards. Going to Budapest, dr. I. Pop extorted the money that was necessary for the beginning. The organizer and commander of the guards in the county and around it is Mr. Florian Medrea, active major in the army, who, helped by the Romanian guards, took possession of the others”. (Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the city’s past and present. It includes 65 pictures and a city map. Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia, 1930, p.62)

The assembly on 1 December 1918 in Alba Iulia turned the city into a synonym of Union. The 1228 delegates met in the Hall of the Military Casino, renamed since then the “Union Hall”, whereas the crowd made up of approximately 100000 people gathered on the plateau in front of the citadel.

The Military Casino was built in 1898 and had a large hall of events, as well as other rooms. This hall housed the Assembly of the delegates on 1 December 1918, when the Union was decided. The edifice was renovated after the Union, in 1921, and Pierre Bellet (a Romanian painter of French origin, 1865-1924) painted various characters from the Romanian history on the walls of the hall.

The resolution of Union, voted on 1 December 1918, contained 9 articles and a delegation made up of Bishop Miron Cristea, Bishop Iuliu Hossu, dr. Alexandru Vaida-Voevod and Vasile Goldiș presented it to King Ferdinand in Bucharest.

After the Union, the Governing Council organized the entire public administration, opened an elementary school named “Avram Iancu”, took charge of the secondary school for boys and, on 1 February 1919 opened the “Michael the Brave” high-school.

The first Romanian mayor of Alba Iulia, appointed on 5 December 1918, was dr. Camil Velican4, who had the mission to introduce the Romanian administration into the city and to preserve the order. He had previously negotiated with Marshal Mackensen for the withdrawing German troops to avoid the city, in order not to impede the events on 1 December 1918.

On 15 October 1922, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie’s coronation ceremony took place in Alba Iulia, as a symbolic moment of Reunited Romania, organized by the prefect of Alba Iulia, the lawyer Camil Velican.

The Coronation Church was built between 1921 and 1923, in the Western part of the citadel, according to the plans of the architect V.S. Ștefănescu, inspired by the royal church in Târgoviște5, and it was painted by Costin Petrescu6.

“When we enter the church, we notice its full splendor. At the entrance, Michael the Brave, Lady Stanca, King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie are painted. The walls of the church inside are covered with red marble and decorated with sculptures. Above, all around it, there are paintings inspired by Jesus Christ’s life and the dome is supported by four columns of red marble.

The dome is supported by four columns of red marble. […]. The thrones of the King and Queen and mainly the iconostasis are of a rare artistic beauty”. (Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the city’s past and present. It includes 65 pictures and a city map. Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia, 1930, p. 92)

In the interwar period, Alba Iulia flourished and expanded, the number of inhabitants increased and the city became an important cultural center, the residence of the military Orthodox bishop and the Roman-Catholic bishop, the headquarters of the Regiment 91 of Infantry, VI Pioneers and VI Heavy Artillery.

Throughout its tumultuous history, Alba Iulia was a Roman castrum, the capital city of the Alba shire (the Middle Ages – 1876) and of the Alba County (1919-1925, 1925-1950, 1968-present), as well as a municipality since 1968.

1  On 4 September 1700, when the third Synod was summoned, 54 archpriests that represented 1582 priests and approximately 200000 worshippers signed the document. This compromise led to gaining rights “not only for the Unite priests, but also for the laymen and peasants who are to be regarded as the true sons of the country, not just as some tolerated people, as they had previously been” in I. Georgescu, The History of the Universal Church, apud. Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the city’s past and present. It includes 65 pictures and a city map, Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia, p. 49.
2 Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the city’s past and present. It includes 65 pictures and a city map, 1929. Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia, p.49.
3 Maieri, today a neighborhood of Alba Iulia, used to be a small village near the city, but, when the city expanded, it became one of its neighborhoods.
4 Camil Velican (1878 -) graduated the Law School in Cluj and Budapest, where he was a member of the “Petru Maior” Society. When he returned to Alba Iulia, he enrolled at the Bar in 1903 and worked as a lawyer. He was an active member of the National Romanian Party and fought in the Austro-Hungarian army on the Italian battlefield. On his return, in Vienna, he met Iuliu Maniu, who sent him to Arad, where the headquarters of the National Romanian Council had been moved. He negotiated with Marshal Mackensen and obtained his agreement that the withdrawing German troops would not pass through Alba Iulia for not impeding the National Assembly in Alba Iulia on 1 December 1918. He was a mayor of Alba Iulia since 5 December 1918 and then the prefect who prepared the Coronation in Alba Iulia.
5  The church has a length of 43 m, a width of 18 m and a height of 45m; the stained windows are in the Byzantine style, it has two towers, a dome supported on four columns of red marble and two thrones, the King’s and the Queen’s.
6  Costin Petrescu ( 1872-1954), painter, the president of the Arts’ Trade Union, he also painted the monumental fresco inside the Romanian Athenaeum.

dr. Cristina Păiușan-Nuică


Romanian Academy, History of Romanians, vol. VII, tom 2, From independence to Great Union, 1878-1918, Encyclopaedic Publishing House, Bucharest, 2015

Nicolae Bălcescu, Romanians under Mihai-Voevod Brave, 1878

Virgil Cucuiu, Alba Iulia. From the past and present of the city. It includes 65 photographs and a city plan, Sabin Solomon Printing House, Alba Iulia,

David Frolich (1595-1648), About Transylvania (1629-1639), Foreign Travelers in Romanian Countries, vol. V, p. 52

Adrian Andrei Rusu, Alba Iulia between the founding of the diocese and the capital of Transylvania, Ghimbav, Haco International Publishing House, 2009