Alba Iulia Citadel: Millenary History in the Heart of Romania

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

Alba Iulia Citadel is included in many of our tours in Transylvania.

Alba Iulia Citadel is one of Romania’s top attractions, a place where history goes back 2,000 years to the time when the Roman Empire conquered the Dacian Kingdom. A Roman castrum, a medieval fortification, and a large citadel under the authority of the Habsburg Empire, Alba Iulia was also the scene of the first and brief Romanian unification from 1600.

But this impressive citadel is most famous for the day of December 1st, 1918 when Transylvania decided its unification with Romania, celebrated today as the National Day of the country.

From the Roman to the Habsburg Empire

Immediately after the final war against the Dacian Kingdom (105-106 AD), the Romans began the construction of a castrum on the territory of today’s citadel. The headquarters of the Gemina Legion XIII that participated in both wars against the Dacians, the castrum, known as Apulum, occupied a surface of 21 hectares.

One thousand years later, Alba Iulia was the center of the Catholic Diocese of Transylvania and a royal fortress starting with 1177. From this point, its history overlapped with the faith of the entire region that became a principality of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the 17th century. For a brief moment, Alba Iulia was the symbolical capital of the first Romanian unification realized by Michael the Brave in 1599.

Alba Iulia Citadel

Alba Iulia Citadel

Alba Iulia increased its military importance once the Austrians decided to build here a large citadel that could resist Ottoman invasions. The construction works started in 1715 and lasted until 1738, supervised by three different architects, using an impressive workforce of 10,000 serfs from the villages of Transylvania.

Essentially a military fortress built in the Vauban style, the 140 hectares citadel had three fortifications layers, six gates, numerous bastions, its own sewage system, food deposits, wells, and all the necessary to maintain a garrison of up to 10,000 soldiers. The citadel was decorated with splendid sculptures and bas-relief scenes from ancient times and the wars against the Ottomans.

Alba Iulia Citadel

The Catholic Cathedral

Ironically, the citadel was used for its military purposes only once but not against the Ottoman Empire. The Hungarian army attacked and bombed the citadel for four months in 1849 as it was one of the two Transylvanian fortresses still controlled by the Habsburg Empire in the region.

Nevertheless, the citadel from Aba Iulia lived its greatest moments during WW1, on December 1st, 1918 when over 100,000 Romanians gathered to celebrate the long-awaited unification with Romania.

Travel attractions

Wonderfully restored a few years back, the citadel is a must-see attraction if you’re traveling to Transylvania. You can choose from or combine the Gates’, the Bastions’, or the Fortifications’ itineraries.

Alba Iulia Citadel

The Orthodox Cathedral

The impressive Baroque gates connect most of the landmarks from the citadel: the Orthodox Cathedral from 1921, the 12th-century Roman-Catholic Cathedral, one of the most important in Transylvania, the Princely Palace, the Museum of the Union, the Union Hall, and the Batthyaneum Library that has some of the rarest books in Europe.

Be sure to stop for a visit to the National Museum of the Unification, hosted in the 19th century Babylon building. More than 130,000 pieces are exhibited in over 100 rooms, starting from the prehistoric era, continuing to the Dacian-Roman and medieval periods up until the battles with the Ottoman Empire, and WW1.

Alba Iulia Citadel

Change of the guards

Alba Iulia Citadel is one of Romania’s top historical and cultural attractions. Take at least one full day to explore it, and be sure not to miss the guards’ parade that starts daily at 12 pm. It’s a unique experience in Romania, the perfect add-on for a destination with millenary history.

Read also our guide to the best things to do in Alba Iulia and around.

Where to stay in Alba Iulia

Book in time your stay in Alba Iulia as this small town has fewer accommodation options than bigger cities from Transylvania. We warmly recommend Pension Marylou.

Travel tips

To find out more about all the great things you can do in Alba Iulia, check or download the app ‘Visit Alba Iulia’, on Google Play and App Store.

Alba Iulia is a great base for day trips to Sibiu or Rosia Montana. Sarmizegetusa Regia, Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, Corvin Castle,and Densus Church are also a short drive away.

Alba Iulia Citadel is included in many of our tours in Transylvania


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