We missed the city of Alba Iulia during our first visit to Transylvania. From Sibiu we headed straight to Timișoara. I really wanted to visit the city. I am very happy that I managed to „squeeze“ it into this year’s itinerary.
How to get to Alba Iulia?
Alba Iulia is located in the Alba county, a historical region of Transylvania in central Romania, 355 km / 4.5 hours northwest of Bucharest.
The city of Alba Iulia is crossed by 3 national roads DN1, DN14B and DN74, while part of DN1 is part of the E81 European road.
- DN1 leads through Bucureşti – Ploiești – Brașov – Făgăraș – Sibiu – Alba Iulia – Turda – Cluj-Napoca – Oradea – Borș to Hungary. In the city, it identifies with the E81 European road, which connects Transcarpathian Ukraine with the Romanian Black Sea coast (Mukachevo – Halmeu – Satu Mare – Cluj-Napoca – Turda – Sibiu – Piteşti – Bucureşti – Constanţa),
- DN14B leads from Alba Iulia via Blaj to Copșa Mică,
- DN74 leads from Brad via Abrud – Zlatna to Alba Iulia.
There are 5 bus stations or stops around the fortress:
- Autogara Autotrans STP Alba – 260 m / 3 minutes walk north of the train station and 2 km / 22 minutes walk south of the fortress,
- Autogara Livio Dario SRL – 170 m / 2 minutes walk north of the train station and 2 km / 25 minutes walk southeast of the fortress (at Autogara Autotrans STP Alba),
- Benzinaria Petrom – Gara – 230 m / 3 minutes walk west of the train station and 1.7 km / 21 minutes walk south of the fortress,
- Statie Intersectie Magazin Spar – 1.5 km / 20 minutes walk northwest of the fortress and 3 km / 40 minutes walk northwest of the railway station,
- Statie Intersectia Autogarii – 2 km / 22 minutes walk northeast of the fortress and 2.5 km / 30 minutes walk north of the railway station.
The bus journey from Râmnicu Vâlcea (174 km) took 3 hours and 49 minutes and the ticket cost 39 lei / 8.06 eur / person. You can buy a ticket for this long-distance bus directly at the bus station and just show it to the driver when entering the bus.
The railway station (Gara Alba Iulia) is located 1.8 km / 22 minutes walk south of the fortress. From the station we traveled back to Slovakia. Before the trip, we bought train seats. Behind the window was a nice English-speaking cashier. We did not get to Poprad (of course) directly from Alba Iulia. Fortunately, it was necessary to change train only 3 times – in Vințu de Jos, Budapest, Hungary and finally in Košice, Slovakia.
The journey took (incredible) 15 hours and 46 minutes. A return ticket from Poprad to Alba Iulia cost 73.50 eur / person. The ticket was valid for 1 month. Price did not include seats. To Vințu de Jos we took a regional train. A seat from Vințu de Jos to Budapest cost 3 eur / person. A seat from Budapest to Košice also cost 3 eur / person. A seat from Košice to Poprad cost 1 eur / person.
Before the trip, stock up on food very well. The station in Vințu de Jos was a bit strange. There was an overpass, which was not used at all. The waiting room was heated, but if you only have a hole instead of a window, it is probably not very effective. And you won’t find a vending machine for drinks or food at the whole station.
Where to get information in Alba Iulia?
The National Center for Tourism Information and Promotion (Centrul Național de Informare și Promovare Turistică; 500 m / 6 minutes walk west of the fortress center) is literally hiding among the western bastions. We managed to visit the center in 5 minutes 12 (in fact it was 4.55 p.m.). The employee of the center was already about to lock up when we „robbed“ her and asked for promotional materials about the city at the last minute. She „put“ maps and brochures in our hands and respectfully sent us away.
What to do, see and visit in Alba Iulia?
Alba Iulia has been the capital since ancient times. At that time, however, it was called Apulum and was the most important center of the Roman province of Dacia. The first fortress was a Roman military camp. In the years 1542-1690 it was the capital of Transylvania. The citadel of Alba Iulia is the largest fortress in Romania. Although the medieval fortress (2nd in a row) was built in the 13th century (on the foundations of a Roman military camp), its current appearance is slightly younger and dates back to the 18th century.
This, 3rd fortress, the Citadel of Alba Carolina (Cetatea Alba Carolina; in German Karlsburg, named after Emperor Charles VI, who initiated its construction), was built for more than 20 years (1715-1738). The fortress was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Morando Visconti using the Vauban military architectural system. Albu Iulia has been considered the symbolic capital of Romania for more than a century. Admission to the fortress is free.
You can enter the citadel through three entrances – from the east, from the west and north and through 7 gates. On the east and west sides of the fortress there are, on each three gates, on the north side one gate.
The 1st fortress gate (Poarta I-a a Cetății) at the eastern entrance has the form of a triumphal arch and is decorated with rich sculptural decoration inspired by Greek mythology. From the gate, a 130 m long paved sloping road leads to the 2nd fortress gate (Poarta a II-a a Cetății), which was partially destroyed in 1937 due to the construction of the obelisk and later rebuilt.
From the 2nd gate you can see the 3rd fortress gate (Poarta a III-a a Cetății), I dare say the most beautiful. It has the shape of a double triumphal arch. It is dominated by the equestrian statue of the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. In the area between the gates, the 22.5 m high stone obelisk (Obeliscul lui Horea, Cloșca şi Crișan) will certainly not escape your view. The obelisk was erected on 14 October 1937 (on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the peasant uprising) to commemorate the three martyrs (Horea, Cloșca and Crișan), leaders of the peasant uprising, which took place in the years 1784-1785. At night, all sights are impressively lit.
The reason for the uprising was the poor level of feudal servitude in Transylvania. Orthodox Romanians were also not politically equal to Catholics, represented mainly by the Saxon, Hungarian and Székelys nobility. Leaders Horea and Cloșca were tortured by breaking in the wheel. Crișan hung himself in his cell to avoid torture. It is assumed that Horea’s death cell was in the 3rd gate under the statue of the king. The uprising ended with the servitude abolition in Transylvania in 1785.
From the obelisk to 3rd gate you walk around a bronze model of medieval citadel marked with attractiveness. Looking south you can see the wooden Michael the Brave church (Biserica Mihai Viteazul), built in 1988 in the „Maramureș“ style. The church stands on the site of the former metropolitan cathedral, which was built here by Michael the Brave in 1597 and which was destroyed by the Habsburgs in 1714.
When you pass the 3rd gate, you get on the so-called The Via Principalis, which led through the entire Roman military camp from north to south. On your left hand you will see The path of the three fortresses (Traseul Celor Trei Fortificații), which is open to visitors during the summer tourist season. Three fortresses because the first fortress was a Roman military camp, the second a medieval fortress and the third the Citadel of Alba Carolina from the 18th century. Every fortress they built here included the previous one.
In the center of the citadel is the Fortress Square (Piața Cetății). In the northern part of the square is the University December 1, 1918 (Universitatea 1 Decembrie 1918) and the Principia Museum (Muzeul Principia). Archaeologists have found the most important part of the Roman military camp in these places – the seat of the 13th Legion of Gemina, the only legion that remained in the province of Dacia during the entire period of Roman rule. In the museum you can admire, among other things, the old walls and the ingenious in situ heating system.
The western side of the square is bordered by one of the most important buildings not only of the city, but of the whole Romania – The Union Hall (Sala Unirii). It was in this hall on December 1, 1918 that the representatives of Transylvania and Romania signed the Treaty of Unification. Why did they meet in this room? The answer is simple. Because it was the largest room in the whole city, which could accommodate up to 1,228 Romanian delegates. Admission to The Union Hall is free. You will receive a zero ticket at the entrance.
South of the hall is the equestrian statue of Michael the Brave (Statuia Ecvestră a lui Mihai Viteazul), a Wallachian prince who united Wallachia with Transylvania and Moldova in the 16th century. Alba Iulia is one of the few places that Michael the Brave personally visited. It happened on November 1, 1599 and he stayed in the city for 10 months. However, after his execution in 1601, this union disintegrated. The statue was ceremoniously unveiled on November 28, 1968, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of unification.
In the middle of the square, two monuments rise in height – Custozza and Lossenau. The Custozza Monument (Monumentul Custozza), in the shape of an obelisk, was erected in 1906 to commemorate the soldiers and officers of the 50th Infantry Regiment who fought alongside the Habsburg army against the Italians at the Battle of Custozza in 1866.
The Lossenau Monument (Monumentul Lossenau) was erected in memory of Austrian Colonel Ludwig Losy von Losenau, the leader of the Habsburg troops, who fell in the battle of Simeria in 1849 during the revolution in Transylvania. The neo-Gothic monument was built in the 1950s. Although there is no one in the square, it is „enlivened“ by statues of figures typical of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
To the west of The Union Hall stands the National Museum of Unification (Muzeul Național al Unirii). The museum is comparable to other county museums in Romania. On three floors, it offers a walk through history from prehistory to the 19th century, which covers an entire floor of the museum. The tour ends with an exhibition of sculptures in the lapidary. The ticket cost 5 lei / 1.03 eur / person.
If we continue further west, we will suddenly find ourselves in the shadow of two monumental churches. To the left is the St. Michael’s Cathedral and on the right the Coronation Cathedral.
Roman Catholic St. Michael Cathedral (Catedrala Romano-Catolică Sfântul Mihail) was built in the 13th century. It thus became the oldest cathedral in Transylvania. The cathedral is a kind of royal tomb. John Hunyadi (Iancu de Hunedoara), the Duke of Transylvania and the Governor of Hungary, Isabela Jagiellon, Queen of Hungary and finally her son John II Sigismund Zápolya, the first prince of Transylvania, all found eternal rest in it.
Coronation Cathedral, Unification Cathedral or also the Orthodox Church of St. Michael (Catedrala Încoronării) was founded only in the first quarter of the 20th century in the years 1921-1922. The first religious building to be built in Transylvania after the great unification. For Romanians, it is a real monument of national unity. Coronation because on October 15, 1922, they crowned King Ferdinand I and Queen Mary. Opposite the main entrance to the cathedral rises a 52 m high bell tower.
The 4th fortress gate (Poarta a IV-a a Cetății) is located on the west side of the citadel and is decorated with several Baroque sculptural elements. We also know it as the „New Gate“ or „Bishop’s Gate“. It is the only ornate gate on the west side of the citadel. The 5th fortress gate (Poarta a V-a a Cetății) has a simple architecture without decorative elements and the shape of an arched corridor. The gates were once connected by a drawbridge over the moat. The 6th fortress gate (Poarta a VI-a a Cetății) freely connects to the 5th gate. It is a simple gate with two massive pillars, on which are placed two stone cannonballs at the moment of firing.
Museikon (240 m / 3 minutes walk northwest of Fortress square) focuses mainly on sacred art. It contains a valuable collection of Transylvanian icons, historical prints and other religious objects. It is exhibiting medical items in the basement, as the building housed the first military hospital in Romania in the 18th century.
The last, northern, 7th fortress gate (Poarta a VII-a a Cetății) was discovered by chance during reconstruction works. It is believed that it did not serve its purpose and was bricked up before the completion of the fortress. Again, it has the simple form of an arched corridor without statues.
Where to stay in Alba Iulia?
Villa Matia Resort is located (850 m / 10 minutes walk east of the fortress; 1.2 km / 16 minutes walk north of the railway station and bus station Autogara Autotrans STP Alba) directly at the eastern side of the fortress. The property does not have a 24-hour reception. There was a telephone number on the front door that we called, and a very nice English-speaking receptionist arrived in about half an hour.
The lady accommodated us in a double room overlooking the road in front of the facility with a private bathroom with shower. But if we had a room on the opposite side of the facility, we would have a direct view of the fortress. Very nice, elegantly furnished and spacious room, which consisted of an entrance hall, the room itself and a private bathroom. There was an electric kettle in the room. It is not necessary to reserve a space in the free private car park, which is available on site. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property.
For one double room for 2 people for one night we paid 124 lei / 25.63 eur. The price included a room and 5% value added tax. The price did not include breakfast (5 eur / person / night), which is served only during the summer season. We paid at the property with a credit card in local currency.
Villa Matia Resort is the 2nd best accommodation during our last visit to Romania and one of the best in all of Transylvania.
Where to eat in Alba Iulia?
Hotel Vila Preciosa (1 km / 11 minutes walk east of the fortress) is a modern hotel in the wider city center. The hotel has a clean and elegant restaurant where we stopped for lunch. I tasted Caramelized chicken breasts with cherry sauce and curry rice. After the main course, we ordered the Papanași dessert, which they prepare here a little differently than in other parts of the country. It looked more like Slovak potato gnocchi with breadcrumbs than fried doughnuts with jam. Still, dessert was excellent. We were served by a very nice, English-speaking waitress. We paid 117 lei / 24.18 eur for lunch for 2 people. One of the best restaurants during our last visit to Romania.
The medieval restaurant PUB 13 – Restaurantul Cetății (550 m / 6 minutes walk east of the fortress center) is located directly in the citadel wall. The medieval atmosphere is enhanced by stone vaults, massive wooden furniture, weapons, flags and coats of arms on the walls. English speaking staff. I tasted chicken breasts with onions and mamaliga, which are served on a hot decorated earthenware dish. The food was really great. We paid 150.50 lei / 31.11 eur for dinner for 2 people.
I finally managed to visit the city of Alba Iulia after a few years. I have corrected old rests from the past and I have no choice but to recommend a visit. The attractive and interesting city abounds in a rich offer of cultural monuments, accommodates you in a cozy hotel and satiates with selected dishes in attractive restaurants. In addition, the bonus is nice people who welcomes every visitor.
Prices were converted according to the current exchange rate of the National Bank of Slovakia valid as of 15 April 2020 (EUR 1 = 4.8378 lei).
I did not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage of the services provided by tourism businesses, institutions and organizations.
© Ing. Adam Vanečko