Alba Iulia, history at the heart of Romania

By Corina Chirileasa

Alba Iulia is a tourist destination many may have never heard much of, but this up and coming tourist spot will definitely see in- creasing interest in the future. It’s time to plan a trip there before it gets too crowded. Most travel- ers go there with low expectations, but end up in awe and decide to revisit.

What the majority know about Alba Iulia relates to its rich history – this is the place where the great 1918 Union took place, which makes the city commonly referred to as the other capital city. But only a few people know about the Alba Carolina citadel, which now, after the restoration with EU and private money, looks stunning. The citadel and the relaxed feel of the city will definitely turn Alba Iulia into a tourist magnet.

alba iulia

It’s the heritage that makes this city a must-include-in-my-holiday destination, but it’s not only hat. The main attraction is the Vauban fortress called Alba Carolina, and a trip around the citadel – which should be guided, otherwise you’ll miss a lot of stuff – is a trip through Romania’s history, back to the Dacian and Roman settlements, to the Habsburg citadel in the star-shaped configuration designed by the French engineer Marshal Vau- ban. Should you need a guided tour, the place to ask for one is the Museum of History (where the Union Hall is also located), where they can orga- nize tailored tours, depending on how much time you have. They’re talented story tellers too – the museum director Gabriel Rustoiu is one of them.

The Vauban fortress was built between 1715- 1738 after the Habsburg conquest of Transylvania, and it looks great restored. The seven gates of the star–shaped fortress are a tour in themselves, and what sets them apart from other Vauban–type for- tresses are the decorations that are still present on the majority of them.

But the history of the place goes further back in time: this was the place where King Michael the Brave unified the three Romanian provinces for the first time (and for a short time) in 1600. Later on, in the 20th century, this was the reason the city was chosen for the Great Union of 1918. To this end, the Union Hall within the Union Muse- um is a must see. Later on in 1922, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria were crowned in Alba Iulia, at the Orthodox Cathedral, which was built for this occasion. A rarity to see an Orthodox Cathedral so close to a Catholic one, which had been on the site since the year 1000 – and yet they ‘live’ together in the Alba Iulia fortress.

There are several palaces that need to be vis- ited – so book at least a day for your tour of the fortress. You will be impressed by the attention to detail and by the local authorities’ under- standing of the need for entertainment. If you visited other citadels in Romania and found it a bit boring, it might not be the case here. From the guards dressed in historic costumes who perform a change of guard ritual every day and fire the can- nons on Saturdays at noon, to the photo magnet statues located here and there in the fortress, ev- erything creates a positive experience.

The fortress is a lively place, especially if you happen to visit while they organize one of their frequent cultural events. But even apart from that, a lot people from down the city spend time there, a lot of them biking and mixing with tourists. The change of the guard is also very popular among tourists and locals alike, and so is the new Roman guard the Museum of History has put together – people dressed in Roman army costumes, per- forming their ritual during the evening.

The city itself is very quiet and perfect for de- stressing, as it is not on the main transport route, like the nearby Sebeș is, so chances are high you will enjoy a stress–free weekend. There’s plenty accommodation available – check below for our recommendations.

While in Alba Iulia, there are several other destinations apart from the citadel. One is the Râmetului Gorge, which was an adventure in it- self and a must try for those who like adrenaline and a bit of climbing – it’s good for beginners as well.

Once the highway being built to reach Sebeș is finished, it will be even easier to get to Alba Iulia from Bucharest, but even so, on the Bucha- rest – Pitești – Râmnicu Vâlcea and then the Olt Valley route, it takes about five hours to travel the 350 kilometers before reaching Alba Iulia. The road there is good, although in some areas only just acceptable, but scenery on the Olt Val- ley is so beautiful that you’ll ignore some bumps in the road. If you have time, stop at the Cozia monastery in Căciulata, just at the entry to the Olt Valley.

On your way back to Bucharest you can take a slightly longer route via the Jiului Valley and make a stop at the famous Sarmizegetusa Regia Dacian site in Hunedoara county. Then head back to Hunedoara and Petroșani to enter the beautiful Jiului Valley. In 2013, the road was closed for re- pairs three days a week, on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, so better check before planning the route.

ACCOMODATION

Cetate Hotel

3 Unirii St.

+40258 811 780

www.imparatulromanilor.ro

The hotel has 100 rooms and is located close to thencitadel.

La Maison de Caroline

11 Primăverii St. +40723 530 165

www.lamaisondecaroline.ro

Located within walking distance from the citadel, this hotel is located in a residential area, in an 120-year old building that was recently renovated.

Medieval Hotel

13 Militari St. +40754 880 704

www.hotel-medieval.ro

This is the closest accommodation you could get to the citadel, as this hotel is just inside the citadel. It only has 28 rooms but it is luxurious – and a bit more expensive – but rooms have a view of the citadel. It has a beautiful interiour courtyard and a restaurant – but we would not recommend the restaurant.

Parc Hotel

4 Primăverii St. +40258 811 723

www.hotelparc.ro

This is the former main hotel of the city back from the communist period, but it has been revamped and the rooms are up to modern standards now. It is also close to the citadel, and offers larger apartments, for those who travel with kids.

Vila Elisabeta

158 Calea Moților +40371 367 379

www.vilaelisabeta.ro

This villa only has 8 rooms but is nice and cozy.

Vila Preciosa 

10 Lucian Blaga St. +40731 303 657

www.preciosa.ro

This villa is within walking distance from the citadel. The rooms are nice and the staff is friendly and attentive. The restaurant is more than worth it – they have an amazing chef, and a good cellar. Try the papanași!

 

RESTAURANTS

 

Preciosa

10 Lucian Blaga St. +40731 303 657

www.preciosa.ro

This is a must try restaurant while in Alba Iulia. It seems to be very popular among the locals as well, as it gets crowded during the evenings.

Pub 13

1 Sf. Capistrano alley (the citadel’s moat)

+40 728 444 415 www.pub13.ro

This is a medieval restaurant on one side of the citadel, somehow incorporated into its design. Worth a visit.