An open air museum of Jewish history

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If in the 15th and 16th centuries the Jews in Transylvania were banished and persecuted, their situation radically changed under the prince Gabriel Bethlen who issued a privilege to legally permit the settlement of the Jews in the principality on June 18, 1623 . Afterward, this right will be limited to the city of Alba Iulia.

For that reason between 1653 and 1848 here we have the only legally constituted community and the largest Jewish community in Transylvania. Practically this makes the city of Alba Iulia the center place from where Jewish life started to flourish in Transylvania.

The Jewish community left its mark on the city, the first businesses in the locality being built by the Jews at the end of the 19th century: a mill, a distillery, a slaughterhouse, and the power plant. But, as we all know, building a cemetery is one of the first priorities for a new Jewish community.

Established in the 18th century and still used by the town’s tiny Jewish community, the cemetery is believed to be the oldest in Transylvania and one of the oldest in Romania. It has over 21,000 square meters and over 2000 graves. In the cemetery you can see four family tombs with an opulent architectural aspect. They belonged to some very wealthy Jewish families and were build in the early 20th century. This aspect combined with the presence of portraits of the people buried inside the burial vault are unusual in the Jewish culture. But the situation is easy to explain due to the natural tendency towards integration into the host community.

The cemetery lost its visibility and importance during and after World War II when most of the Jewish citizens of Alba Iulia left the country. And bit by bit the monuments, just as people, fell prey to forgetfulness. Today, because they have been exposed for centuries in the open air, the funeral monuments have suffered degradations, but the municipality is trying to support the local Jewish Community in order to help the conservation and preservation of the local Jewish heritage.

As mentioned before, the site is unique in terms of monuments diversity and relevance because the Jewish Cemetery is not only one of the oldest in Transylvania but also contains a lot of architectural monuments unique in Romania and even in Europe. That is why the Jewish Cemetery in Alba Iulia represents not only the identity of the Jewish community, but also one of the many identities of the city.

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