The first time I visited Alba Iulia was when I was in 4th grade. It was part of a summer field trip, organized by the school. Because I was young, I don’t really remember much, but one thing’s for certain; the Alba Carolina fortress was not what it is today. I only remember the Obelisc of Horea Closca and Crisan, the statue of Mihai the Great, and the church. That’s about it.
Fast forward to 2015-2016. This time I was so impressed by what I saw; it was like everything was new for me, all over again. I felt like that 4th grader many years ago, excited about traveling to a new place, eager to explore and discover.
I am going to tell you about the Alba Carolina fortress, this being the main attraction in the city of Alba Iulia. And about the Apulum Festival, a yearly tradition in the area.
As soon as I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the grand entrance to the Orthodox Cathedral, the place where King Ferdinand was crowned, in 1922; this was one of the biggest events of that time. Now, because I am a romantic at heart, and a very sensitive person, I started getting goose bumps when I heard a choir singing in the church courtyard. It’s a wonderful place that can be admired by anyone. A place where you can find yourself.
The citadel itself is a fortress, built in the 18th century in Alba Iulia, used as a defence mechanism against the Ottomans.
Before I arrived here, I did my research and I noticed the shape of the fortress; it’s a shape you see in shows like Game of Thrones. Its star shaped, because of its 7 bastions. Curious about the names? Well, we have Trinity, St. Stefan, Eugeniu de Savoy, St. Mihail, St. Carol, St. Capistrano & St. Elizabeth.
Remember when I said that this is about the Apulum Festival? Well, let’s get to it Being a morning person, I arrived at 8AM sharp and got to see the preparations at hand, with the people already in costumes (Romans, Dacians) and the boutiques/stalls were just opening.
The child within me could not resist but to take pictures everywhere, with the bronze statues, with the drummer from the Drummer Market, just about anything you could think of.
The Roman-Catholic Church is as I remember it from when I was young; big, with a gothic feel to it. Inside it you can find the final resting place of Iancu de Hunedoara. It’s located across the way from the Christian/Orthodox Cathedral. I think that on a Sunday, people attend both of them, the Christians and the Catholics.
I grew a bit hungry, from all the walking around and decided to go for pancakes. Ardeal region pancakes that is. And because they’re so good, I had to wait in line for a few minutes. During this time, a gentleman approached me; he was a historian and a teacher from the local University. He started telling me about what he used to do back in the day, in the communism period; he was hiding from the authorities, attending prestigious events with influential people so he can get a taste of that kind of life, real secret agent stuff if you ask me. And he came back to Alba Iulia all the way from Timisoara to attend this wonderful festival that faithfully reproduces the battles between the Dacians and the Romans, and also their traditions, habits, their way of life.
After my delicious pancake, I returned to the statue of Mihai the Brave. I still remember from my school days, when I learned that on the 6th of July 1600, he united the 3 main regions of Romania: Tara Romaneasca, Moldova and Ardeal.
Now for the area that really impressed me. The Union Hall; I am not much of an art or history freak, but I have to tell you that walking into this room I was overwhelmed by its historical significance; the room where the Act of Unification was signed, between Romania and Transylvania in 1918. So now, Transylvania was officially part of Romania.
In the same room, we also have 2 paintings belonging to Pierre-Bellet, on each side of the room, with important historical figures of that time, such as Stefan the Great, Vlad the Impaler, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Mihai de Brave, Mihai Eminescu. And here’s one fun fact for you guys: in this room, there’s also a human skull, and it is said that this person went through a very complicated surgical procedure that would even make today’s doctors scratch their heads in wondering how that was accomplished.
Remember that I mentioned the Obelisc of Horea Closca and Crisan, in front of Gate III. A historical monument, an homage brought to the three leaders of the 1907 Peasant’s Rebellion. This is the place where they were executed. In fact, this monument is a dungeon where, when I was young I though it’s the place where they were buried. Oh, and one more thing, behind the monument you can sit back and enjoy a breath-taking panoramic view of the city.
When I got back to the fortress, the show already started. The Austrian Guards March. They used real cannons as well. I was there, happy as ever, in the middle of it all. And right there, as I was standing in the middle of the fortress, I remembered about the path of the three fortifications; a special attraction that takes you through a history of 3 different eras: the Roman Castle (106 BC), Medieval Citadel (16th century), and the Alba Carolina Vauban-type fortification.
But coming back to the festival, I did manage to stay in front just like when you go to a concert or a game and you’ve got front row seats. And right in front of me were marching the Dacian and Roman troops, even from outside the country, from Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria. The costumes were spot on, and all people attending were eager for the battles to commence. At the end of the march, all of them started praying; this was to bring them good luck on the battle field.
But just when I was getting ready to be transported into battle, it started pouring, the storm covered the entire city. And that’s when I took shelter in one of the nearby restaurant where I had one of the most amazing orange lemonades EVER!
Just 30 minutes later, the rain stopped, and so I went to check out the boutiques and craftsmanship workshops. You could also see children dressed in the traditional outfits, fighting with wooden swords; aside from the swords, you could also admire some of our ancestors’ weaponry.
Another interesting moment was when you could actually be part of the Slave trade; now before you judge, hear me out. Almost 2000 years ago, people used to sell other people; imagine a merchant would sell you a gladiator. And that’s exactly what happened; you could buy your very own gladiator in an organized auction. You could “own” him for 30 minutes or one hour, time which he used to showcase some of his abilities to you, his new “master”.
At the end of the day, the night show was about to start. And I mean, a fight between gladiators surrounded by torch lights. A real spectacle, where history books and movies did not matter anymore. I could see everything just before my eyes, an amazing experience.
This was my past experience, and it’s interesting to note that the festival this year starts today, April 28th, all through the weekend. If you get a chance to be there, trust me you won’t regret it. Or maybe you want to attend next year, or maybe just book a tour through the city. Up to you really.
I hope that my little story inspired you to check out the wonderful city of Alba Iulia. If you’re still not convinced, have a look at the video below: