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Alba Carolina Fortress Through the Seasons

Text & photos Copyright © Estrella Azul

The 18th-century Alba Carolina Fortress (also known as Alba Iulia Fortress) has over time slowly but surely become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Romania.

Arrowed signs guiding you through the fortress

With a fascinating “change of the guard” show, two gorgeous historical churches, several indoor and outdoor museums and lively establishments functioning inside the fortress walls, Alba Carolina Fortress is the perfect destination for a weekend trip.

The two gorgeous churches

The city of Alba Iulia sits on the Mureş River in Alba County, Transylvania, Romania, and it’s only about an hour-and-a-half drive from my home city of Cluj-Napoca.

Because it takes visitors on a trip of over two thousand years of history, I have visited the fortress in every season—sometimes twice over the span of five years.

Seasonal colors

Situated on Citadel Hill in Alba Iulia, the fortress was built over and around the ruins of two other fortifications: the Roman Castrum of the Legion XIII Geamina, and the Medieval Fortress of Bălgrad.

Roman ruins with the Hotel Medieval as backdrop

Alba Carolina Fortress is the largest citadel in Romania. It houses the Union Hall with the National Honour Gallery, The National History Museum of Unification, the Princely Palace (Voivodal Palace), the Orthodox cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the Batthyaneum Library, the Roman Catholic bishop’s palace, the Apor Palace, and the University of Alba Iulia (Wikipedia).

Buildings to visit in the fortress

Union (Unirii) Hall is one of the most visited places in the fortress, this being the place where the Union of Transylvania with Romania was voted and the act of the union signed.

The Union Hall

The Union Museum is home to collections of archaeological discoveries, Dacian and Roman artifacts, art, ceramics and medieval jewelry, as well as documents, objects and photographs related to the Revolution of 1848 and the Union of 1 December. The museum also houses a beautiful collection of folk art, ethnography and numismatics.

Archaeological discoveries on display in the Unification Museum

The Batthyaneum Library, housed in the building of a former church, hosts over 50,000 books and manuscripts. The oldest volumes in the library date back to the end of the 15th century. It’s an ideal attraction for those who want to spend moments of tranquility admiring some of the oldest volumes in Romania.

I didn’t know this before my latest visit, but the library even hosts an astronomical observatory founded by Bishop Batthyani.

The view of old town Alba Iulia from the fortress

St. Michael’s Cathedral is one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Romania. It is the oldest place of worship and longest cathedral in our country. It hosts the sarcophagus of Iancu of Hunedoara, his son Ladislau, Queen Izabella, and Ioan Sigismund, the first prince of Transylvania.

St. Michael’s Cathedral

The gorgeous Cathedral of Coronation was built with the support of the Royal House of Romania and is the place where the King Carol Ferdinand and Queen Mary’s Coronation Ceremony as sovereigns of Great Romania took place in 1922.

Cathedral of Coronation

The fortress has seven gates (the seventh being discovered in recent years during renovations), and its star-shaped layout can be traced around the axes of the gates. Each gate is beautifully decorated with statues and bas reliefs.

Alba Carolina Fortress plan

One can follow what is known as the “Three Fortifications Route,” a tour that lasts about two hours. It starts at the Gate of the Transylvanian Mint, passes by the South Gate of the Roman Castles, the Military Camp, the Artillery Platform, the Belvedere Place—where you can admire the Old Town part of Alba Iulia in all its splendor—then you visit the “retreat tunnel” of the St. Eugene Bastio and the Medieval Fortress Guard Room. The tour ends back at the Fortress.

The III Gate

One of the most fascinating aspects of the fortress is undoubtedly the “changing of the guard.” There are several variations, and sometimes even Roman parades, but any show you choose is an incredible experience with lots of people dressed in vintage costumes. The guards parade on beautiful horses, carrying weapons and other artifacts of that time.

(See the changing of the guard on YouTube.)

Change of the guard, and a Roman parade (bottom right)

It’s a true pleasure to walk through the paved alleyways of the fortress, among statues rendered in the natural size of some of the characters of the glory age of the city.

It’s equally enchanting to take a long walk or bike through the fortress and its moat. During warm weather, they even have fish in tiny ponds along the moat paths.

Statues through the seasons

Gypsy selling flowers

A large hotel, cafes, restaurants and pubs can be found throughout the Fortress. I especially love that they’re investing in renovating/restoring the fortress chambers that were used for storing weapons, etc. back in the day. It’s a nice idea and, as far as I understand it, their rent money goes toward the upkeep of the whole Fortress.

Cafes, pubs and restaurants inside the fortress walls

Carriages serve street food, beverages and fresh fruit all year long

To restore it to what it looks like today took years of work, million of Euros invested, the study of the original plans of the fortress and the purchase of building materials similar to those used for building the fortifications—and the result is fabulous.

Walking through the moat

I highly recommend spending a weekend at Alba Carolina Fortress. You’ll not only be enchanted by its historical monuments and unrivaled architecture but also by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.


Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins, Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, she currently serves as the photo editor here at Milliver’s Travels, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.

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