Cetatea Medievală

COD LMI: AB-II-a-A-00088

Date of construction: sec. XVI-XVII

Historical facts

The name of Bălgrad is of Bulgarian origin in the context in which, around the year 830, the Bulgarian tsardom extended to Mid-Mureș with the purpose of controlling salt and the circulation of this mineral. It probably derives from the aspect of the white walls of the Roman castrum.

The name of Alba is of Hungarian origin, a vision of the new owner who already had an ”Alba” in Hungary (Szekesfehervar - Alba Regia, meaning Alba of the Royal Seat) and thus Bălgrad becomes the Alba of Gyla (Gyulafehervar). ”Iulia” was added later, at the end of the Middle Ages.

Consolidated and adapted to the new defensive requests, the old Roman castrum was transformed in a royal fortress during the Arpad dynasty, preserving at first the antic terminology of the fortification, to which the medieval name of the dwelling was later associated (castrum Albense).

By the 14th century, no administrative structure succeeded in taking over the entire area of the former Roman castrum and defend it.

Whereas King Carol Robert of Anjóu visited the city untrammeled in 1310, in 1349 King Louis I was denied access at the fortress gates.

John Hunyadi found refuge between the walls of the fortress after losing the battle of Sântimbru against the Turks (1442). He later reinforced the citadel, contributing at the same time to the rehabilitation of the catholic cathedral, a location he chose to become the family’s necropolis.

In 1516, King Vladislav II answers favorably to the prelates of Alba Iulia who were personally dedicated to the reconstruction of the citadel, sending them a sum of 2000 gold florins to this purpose.

In 1525, King Louis II also makes a donation of salt amounting to 2000 gold florins for the consolidation of the citadel walls. After the battle of Móhacs (1526) which led to the occupation of Buda (1540) by the Turks, Transylvania becomes an autonomous principality under Ottoman suzerainty, and the city of Alba Iulia became the capital of the province and the seat of princes. Having chosen the citadel of Alba Iulia and implicitly the most important building in the precinct – the Episcopal palace – as the seat of Transylvanian princes starting with John Sigismund Zapólya, will soon (1550) run against the interest of a strong philo-Habsburg group seeking to surrender Transylvania to Ferdinand I, King of Austria.

In the same context, Cardinal Gheorghe Martinuzzi himself, the legal guardian of minor prince John Sigismund, attacked the citadel with the help of Austrian troops, banished the prince and his mother, Queen Isabella and surrendered the city to General Giovanni Castaldó, governor of Transylvania (1551-1556). In order to consolidate the citadel, which he found in an inadequate condition, Castalodó turned to new means of defense, using polygonal-shaped bastions filled with earth instead of the round or square towers empty at the interior.

After the short, but significant domination over Transylvania and the city of Alba Iulia by Mihai Viteazul, the voivode of Romanians, the citadel was destroyed and set on fire by the mercenary troops led by generals Gheorghe Basta and Moise Secuiul (1602-1603).

The era of the principality (1541-1699) was characterized, among others, by an ample constructive progress, the citadel benefiting from special regulations which allowed the ensuring of funds and work force necessary to carry out the defense works in accordance with the most modern defensive means used during that time: the "new type" of Italian bastionary system.

At the end of the 17th century, in the context of the victorious raid against the Turks and the take-over of the newly conquered territories under the administration of the Habsburg Empire, the city of Alba Iulia was surrendered to the Austrian army, which settled its troops in the citadel (1687).

The cooperation of local authorities with the movement of the "kurucs", the detachments of which occupied the citadel after 1703, results in the discontent of general Antonio Craffa, at the order of whom, as retaliation, a part of the citadel walls were demolished (October 27 – November 31, 1704).

The definitive incorporation of Transylvania into the Habsburg Empire as an autonomous principality after the peace at Satu Mare (1711) is accompanied by the decision of the Court of Vienna to organize an extended program of military constructions meant to prevent the Ottoman danger. Consequently, after a long time during which the fortifications existing in the two eras (antic and medieval) endured in a rarely encountered symbiosis which made particular characteristics hard to reconstitute, almost everything was destroyed and the terrain was cleared to make room for the most powerful, complex and grand Vauban-type bastionary fortification in Transylvania, in the 18th century – the Alba Carolina citadel.


Evolution characteristics – components – aspect


The walls

Adopting the shape and the dimensions of the Roman castrum, the medieval fortification will shape its new precinct only in the first stage by consolidating and super elevating the stone walls (5m-6m high, 2.50 m thick) by a brick parapet (1,50m high, 0.50m thick), including pinnacles and a guard road or by a refashioning of the perimetral ditches (approximately 5m deep; 16m wide), following the exact trajectory of the old Roman structures.

The superposing of a series of representative medieval buildings on the foundations or the surface walls of the Roman castrum proves interesting, especially in the case of those situated on the Southern wing of the citadel (the Episcopal Palace, the money printing house, the cereal storage) as well as those on the Northern wing (civilian dwellings), all these buildings becoming in their turn part of the curtain and consequently, they became fortification elements.


The gates

Besides the wall segments in ruin or spoliated to the ground, the existence and the reusing of the Eastern Gate (porta praetoria) and the Western Gate (porta decumana) of the Roman castrum can be proven with certainty, these being transformed and renamed Saint George’s Gate, respectively Saint Michael’s Gate.

The actual aspect of the two gates bearing the names of military saints is hard to reconstitute, the descriptions being summary, the existence of possible iconographic representations unknown.

It is known about the Eastern Gate (Saint George) that around the year 1500, it was in the administration of the bishop’s canonical body, being known under the name of porta capituli.

Starting with the second half of the 16th century, the gate adopts the name of patron Saint George and it is frequently mentioned in the stories of foreign travelers who were impressed by the existence on its façade of an embossment picturing Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, breastfeeding from the she-wolf. Mihai Viteazul, the voivode of Romanians, made his triumphal entrance in Ardeal through this very same gate, on November 1, 1599. The fact that the Western gate of the citadel adopted Saint Michael as patron may be explained by its location near the Roman-Catholic Cathedral, which has the same patron saint and by the fact that it was in the responsibility of the Episcopacy. The suite accompanying Athanasie Anghel in the ceremony of his enthronement as the first Bishop of Romanians who passed to Greek-Catholicism exited through this Western gate in 1701. Belonging to the old citadel, Saint George’s Gate and Saint Michael’s Gate were preserved in the initial phase of construction of the bastionary citadel, but they disappeared along with the erection of the new defense curtain (1736).

Besides the two main gates of the castrum, which were preserved and adapted to the defense needs of the medieval fortress, secondary entrances were also used, with access limited to certain categories of staff.

A secondary gate was built on the Southwestern side of the citadel with a bridge over the ditch. Its purpose was that of facilitating communication between the Episcopal Palace, the outside gardens and the roads between Sebeş and Vinţul de Jos. Initially displaying a wider opening (2.40 x 3m), the gate was reduced at its pedestrian access at a later date, which could be associated with the danger of the Turkish-Ottoman invasion in 1658, 1661-1662. Referring to the construction activities unwinding during the time of Prince G. Bethlen, chronicler I. Szalardi also mentions the carriageable princely gate opening towards Măieriştea Hostatului (I. Şerban 1981, page192).

A wider opening (4x5m), but with the same secondary role, is marked by a gothic framework, on the opposite side of the precinct wall, integrated in the structure of the Apor palace. The fact that this gate was located in the medieval part of the Northern wall and at the end of a road connected to the central area may indicate that at least in the first phase, it was a citadel gate, which subsequently became an access path to the courtyard of a nobiliary residence.


The towers

As elements flanking the gates or as defense elements of the curtain, the towers are supposed to have originated from the same first phase of use as a medieval fortress by the religious authorities of the Roman castrum, due to their location on the route of the walls or in the four corners of the square.

Regardless of their location, the towers of the old medieval citadel may display their origin by their location or even in the foundations of the Roman guard towers, the superior parts of the levels, being built at the time when the Ottoman danger occurred, in accordance with the model of the early European fortifications (12th – 13th century).

Besides the paired towers which symmetrically framed the openings of the main gates, the existence of three defense towers, all placed outside the curtain, were documented with the help of cartographic representations (the plan of 1687).

One of these towers was built at the middle of the Northern wall and for this reason it was associated with a gate tower; the second was situated obliquely, in the Northwestern corner, left of the gate. With the exception of the semi round tower (or bastion) located at the Southern Saint Michael’s Gate, the others had rectangular but different shapes, the reduced dimensions of the towers flanking the gates being a curiosity.


The barbicans

Meant to defend the vulnerable openings of the gates from the force of the direct hits of the artillery, the barbicans were built at different dates and under different circumstances. The fact that Saint George’s Gate was built in a circular plan is due to the Bishop’s canonical body (approximately 1504) who was responsible for the defense of that entrance (porta capituli), while the M-shaped barbican in front of Saint Michael’s Gate was built at a later date, possibly at the middle of the 17th century, when the citadel was under the rule of the Transylvanian princes. The barbican by the Eastern Gate displaying these representations is included in the plan dating from 1687, whereas the Western barbican is mentioned by Visconti in 1711, noting that in the last plan barbicans and gates are identified with the same graphic shapes – letter U, respectively letter M.


The bastions

Starting with the second half of the 16th century and until the beginning of the 18th century, the citadel of Alba (maybe Iulia?) is under the rule of the Transylvanian princes, the Roman-Catholic Episcopacy having been dissolved and the catholic prelates banished. New and efficient methods of defense were experimented during this interval, by adopting the Italian bastionary system.

In the first stage (1551-1556), under the temporary occupation of the Austrian troops led by General Giovanni Castaldo, four small bastions in the old Italian style were added to the citadel of Alba Iulia, being built out of tree trunks and earth filling and placed in the four corners of the fortification. Given the lack of interior casemates, the heavy firearms were placed on the platforms situated above.

The construction works meant to add new defense elements to the citadel were performed under the command of architects brought from Italy, the place of origin of the bastionary system. Antonio da Bufallo, Andreea de Traviso, Francesco del Pazzo, Sforzza Palavicini, are but a few names of contractors who performed works in Alba Iulia during that time, thus becoming well-known.

The second stage of the assimilation of the "new type" Italian system corresponds to the reign of Prince Gabriel Bethlen (1613 – 1629). The fortification program initiated by the Prince for this citadel proved to be only partially accomplishable, only two of the four planned bastions being built by the end of his reign.

The prince financed the building of the bastion situated in the Southwestern corner of the citadel, this being the largest. Its earth structure consolidated with brick walls included large interior spaces meant to host the casemates. Laid out in oblique angles, the bastion facades (119m long) have rounded extremities towards the curtain (ears), the flanks displays straight-lined extremities (the neck), allowing the artillery to shoot from the whole length of the ditch.

Situated in the Southeastern corner, the bastion belonging to the Saxon seat associations is smaller in size (85m long facades), its ears adopting semi-oval shapes and obvious indentations of the wall, from base to top. At the exterior, in front of the walls and bastions, the old defense ditch best preserved its shape in the Southern part. The explanation lies in the fact that the Southeastern area of the citadel was more intensely used as location for storage halls and princely workshops, the dry and deep ditch offering the space and the protection needed to unwind activities.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Austrian military authorities give special attention to the old bastions, marshal Eugene of Savoy mentioning their existence and use while choosing an appropriate location for the bastionary citadel. Moreover, the bastions built during the time of Bethlen, were preserved and integrated in the new, Vauban-type fortification built by the Austrian military architects (I. K. Weiss) as additional works.