Cetatea Alba Carolina - Sculptura


Date of construction:


The citadel of Alba Iulia represents quite a special accomplishment in the military architecture of the 18th century. Due to the volume and the extent of the construction works, the citadel turned into one of the strongest fortifications in Southeastern Europe, but by the richness and the variety of the decorations, the citadel became unique amongst its gender. Such a strange association between sobriety, the massiveness of the brick walls and the ornamental qualities of stone is nowhere else to be found in Eastern Europe.

It was highly unsuitable for a fortification with a defense role, bound to show strength in front of the enemy, to display the frailty of stone-sculpted adornments, especially under the conditions in which these were mainly placed on the access gates which are considered to be the most vulnerable points, or on the crests and flanks of the elements of a defense complex (the bastions, the ravelins, the counterguard). But it is precisely this unusual association of fortification and decorative which makes the citadel of Alba Iulia a unique example of military construction art.

In order to honor those who initiated or built the fortified ensemble in Alba Iulia, teams of stonemasons led by sculptors Johann Konig, Giuseppe Tencalla and Johann Vischer had the mission of adorning the main gates and the basic components of the defense precinct (the bastions, the ravelins, the counterguard) with embossments and statues inspired from the legendary actions of ancient heroes, personifications of virtues, the weapons of those times, episodes from the Austrian-Turk wars, war trophies, etc.- these motifs being treated with the exuberance characteristic for the central European Baroque style.

The fact that the sculptural decorations adorning the citadel of Alba Iulia were entrusted to sculptor teams and stonemasons brought from Austria, influenced the entire iconographic program of choosing the theme and the type of representation, the models being creations of the Viennese construction sites which were widely spread in central and Western Europe. The Atlas figures decorate the facades of the Lichtenstein, Eugene of Savoy, Kinsky and Trautson palaces; we meet the war trophies in the Hotel of Invalids in Buda or the War Arsenal in Berlin; the statue of Carol VI has analogies with the great Elector in Berlin, the King of Spain or the Emperor of Austria, Joseph I, etc.

However, the exaggerated traits of the Austrian Baroque (the tendency towards the monumental, the theatrical attitude, the grotesque and even the monstrous) manifest with a certain reserve, being attenuated by the local characteristics and the destination of the construction. In the case of the Alba Iulia citadel, we are dealing with a military baroque, with military decorative sculptures, serving an architecture with a defense role.

In order to render the image of force, of absolute power and the glorification of emperor Carol VI, everything serving that purpose was included in the decorations, from the equestrian statue of the sovereign in the position of conqueror of Turks and the obsessive and repetitive presence of the symbols of his state powers (the Austrian coat of arms) or his imperial powers (the monogram of Carol VI), to the bas-relief illustrating fight scenes, actions of ancient and contemporary heroes, arms and war trophies.

The decorative repertoire of the gates


Gate I

Discreetly rich, moderate in stylistic displays, the decorations of the first gate fits the architectural concept of the gate. The facades of the gate were adorned with embossments and statues inspired from ancient mythology, with the imperial coat of arms or with ancient weapons.

Mythological representations of heroes and divinities:

Aeneas, the mythical founder of Rome and the Julian dynasty, is carrying his father Anchise on his back, after saving him from Troy, which had been set on fire by the Greeks (embossment, the exterior façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, left).

Hercules fighting Antheus, the giant torn from Earth, which was making him invulnerable (embossment, the exterior façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, right).

Hercules, accomplishing one of his twelve labors: slaying the Nemean lion (embossment, the interior façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, left).

Perseus, holding the sword and the severed head of Medusa, one of the Gorgonites (embossment, the interior façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, right).

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, glancing in the mirror – one of the attributes she was endowed with (statue, on the gate framework, above the median pilaster, left).

Mars, the god of war and death, dressed in a Roman-type tunic and armed with a spear (statue, on the gate framework, above the median pilaster, right).

Heraldic motif:

The Austrian coat of arms, with the crowned, bicephalous royal eagle, carrying in its claws the major signs of power: the scepter and the sword. The order of the "Golden Flea" and the monogram of Emperor Carol VI are represented on the eagle’s chest, in a medallion (on the gate framework, above the central entrance).


Howitzer with a massive carriage and a short barrel, in a shooting position (on the gate framework, above the lateral pilasters).


Gate II

Rebuilt based on old images, the second gate of the citadel reproduces the formal aspects of the first gate at a smaller scale and with more moderate decorations. The gate is composed of four pilasters. The superior part of the lateral pilasters is decorated with floral festoons and an image of a canon ball exploding. A statue of an Atlas is supported by each of the central pillars. A rampant lion adorns the superior part of the pillars, presenting the monogram of Emperor Carol VI.


Gate III

The embossments or the sculptures in the round on the third citadel gate are part of a triumphant program dedicated to Emperor Carol VI, whose equestrian statue is placed on the edifice cornice, where it represents the central motif. Inspired by the model of Roman equestrian statues, the Emperor’s representation as a winner against the Turks remains the only example known in the Transylvanian baroque culture. The embossments situated on the gate’s façade, above the pedestrian entrances, have the same evocative – commemorative role. Scattered everywhere, fight scenes and war trophies are associated on the gate’s interior façade with a series of mythological representations (Atlases) or personifications of classical virtues.

Historical-commemorative representations:

The equestrian statue of Emperor Carol VI, in the position of defeater of the Turks. Captive in chains, knocked to the ground or crushed under the horses’ hooves, the captive Turks glance terrified, asking for mercy (a sculptural group found on the gate’s cornice, above the pyramid-shaped pedestal).

Emperor Carol VI hands in the symbols of investiture to General Eugene of Savoy, before he leaves for battle against the Turks: the sword of the supreme commander of the anti-Ottoman expedition and the war flag with a scarf bearing a symbolic, mobilizing inscription: IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (embossment, the exterior facade, above the lateral entrance, right).

The victorious return from the war against the Turks of marshal Eugene of Savoy in a chariot pulled by two lions and his triumphal welcome from a woman personifying Victory, offering him the citadel mock-up (embossment, the exterior facade, above the lateral entrance, left).

A heraldic motif:

The Transylvanian coat of arms (seven fortress towers, the sun and the moon framing the head of the eagle) inscribed in a shield placed on the chest of the bicephalous, crowned eagle, (the exterior façade of the gate, in the center).


War trophies and weapons of different types (helmets, swords, spears, battle axes, canons, drums, flags), presented in a baroque fashion, spread over both facades of the gate.

Personifications of virtues:

Abundance (Peace), with the horn of plenty; Glory (Wisdom), holding a lantern; Justice (Moderation), holding the scales; Fortitude (War), holding a sword. The fantastic animals accompanying the virtues may be associated with the representations of defeated vices (statues, interior façade of the gate, above the entablement, from left to right).

War scenes with an evocative role:

An episode inspired by a charge of the Austrian cavalry against the Turkish infantry, attacking the citadel gates (embossment, the interior façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, left).

An episode inspired by an attack of the Austrian infantry against a Turkish artillery troops (embossment, above the lateral entrance, right).

Mythological representations:

Four Atlases with the appearance of different-aged men, with strong bodies bending with the weight sustained on the head (statues, in front of the pilasters bordering the openings of the gates).

Heraldic motifs:

Count Steinville’s coat of arms under the form of an oval shield, cut in a ribbon by a fasces decorated with three stars. The rims of the herb are framed by volutes and vegetal spindles. (embossments, the inside façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, right).

The coat of arms of the Sforza family, under the shape of an oval shield which includes on its field a crowned snake ingurgitating an anthropomorphic figure (embossment, the inside façade of the gate, above the lateral entrance, left).


Gate IV

Partially adorned, the fourth gate displays on the Eastern interior façade the same decorative motifs we meet in the ornamental repertoire of the previous gates.

Mythological representations:

Atlases with strong bodies, partially covered with an ample cloak, are holding on their head a composite column head above which the entire gate entablement unwinds (statues, on each side of the semi-circular opening).


A symbolic representation of Wrath (Furor), as a mask with exaggeratedly highlighted and deformed physiognomic traits, with the intent of accentuating the fury grimace (the median voussoir key of the gate framework).


Cold and fire weapons, musical instruments, flags and pennons with the insignia of Emperor Carol VI (embossment on the doorway glass).

Heraldic motifs:

The coat of arms of Austria – the crowned bicephalous eagle, carrying in its claws the major insignia of power: the scepter and the sword. On the eagle’s chest there is an oval shield crossed out by a ribbon into two unornamented areas (embossment, under the accolade cornice)

Decorations of the fortification elements (bastions, ravelins, counterguard)


The Eugene of Savoy Bastion (Saint Eugene)

Heraldic motif:

The coat of arms of prince Eugene of Savoy, between two mermaids. The Princely crown with a superposed lion head is situated above the oval shield, with an open field. A frontlet with involuted extremities, spreading in the inferior part of the emblem, presents the honorific inscription: In honoreM heroICI prinCIpis / eVgenii De SabaVDIa / (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).


Count Steinville Bastion (Saint Stephan)

Heraldic motif:

Count Steinville’s crest, between two anthropomorphic beings with a hybrid aspect, of human and animal. The cross of Lorena is represented in the middle of the medallion (equal arms, split and rounded at the extremities – anchor-shaped). The Count’s crown and a grotesque figure were initially placed above the crest. A frontlet unwinds alongside the exterior volutes at the base of the shield, spelling: OPVS ab InDVstria / CoMItis a`SteinVILL / (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).


The Trinitarians Bastion (Saint Trinity)

The heraldic motif:

A shield with a central nameplate and multiple, divided fields. Here are some other insignia represented here: a gate tower, a rampant lion and several types of crosses. A crowned anthropomorphic figure is placed above the emblem, and the lateral parts are adorned with vegetal – geometric motifs, composed of triple volutes connected with bell garlands (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).


The Saint Michael Bastion

Heraldic motif:

The coat of arms of Austria, an imperial eagle carrying on its chest an unornamented field shield, crossed by a ribbon. The fantastic animals framing the emblem are hybrid representations of volutes and reptile heads with rich manes, which cover the torso of a man with strong arms ending in claws (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).

The statue of Archangel Michael placed above the stone platform is the only testimony of this kind, being placed on the crown of the fortification elements and the only example giving us an image of what figurative plastics might have presented like in the case of the decoration of bastions.


Carol VI Bastion (Saint Carlo Borromeo)

Heraldic motif:

The monogram of Emperor Carol VI inscribed in the field of a medallion sustained by the overly dimensioned arms of a man’s torso. Two bizarre animals are placed on each side of the emblem, with rich-mane heads coming out of volutes (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).

Empress Elisabeth Cristina Bastion (Saint Elisabeth)

Heraldic motif:

A medallion in the field of which there is a representation of a rampant lion (pranced on his back legs), without any attribute in its claws. The imperial crown is placed above the emblem, at the base of which there is a mask (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).

The Transylvania Bastion (Saint Capistrano)

Heraldic motif:

The coat of arms of Transylvania (the seven suspended towers) and that of Hungary (the double cross coming out of a crown placed on a mound) are associated in the field of a shield, with a superposed imperial crown and framed by the bodies of two mermaids (sculptural group, at the top of the bastion).

Anthropomorphic (human heads), mythological (satyr heas) and animal (lion and horse heads) representations decorate the consoles of the bastions’ flanks.

The Saint Francisc of Paula, Saint Carol Borromeo, Saint Elisabeth and the Saint Capistrano ravelins as well as the counterguard in front of them have consoles decorated with grotesque masks and monsters with a hybrid constitution.