Back in the XVIII century, when the Marquis de Vauban designed and implemented a revolutionary system of fortifications and defenses, little did he know that his designs would earn him international recognition throughout the centuries, as today there are tens of citadels built by the system that bears his name. One of the most spectacular such fortresses is Alba Carolina – the largest citadel in Romania, located in the city of Alba Iulia.
Such is the complexity of this ample landmark that, for the sake of convenience, visits to the citadel have been organized into six separate tours, each with a theme of its own. One of these tours is dedicated to the heroic figures of Horea, Closca, and Crisan, leaders of a major peasant revolt of the XVIII century. It includes the prison cell that Horea was detained in, embedded in the pedestal of the grand statue representing the Austrian emperor Carol VI – erected at Gate III of the Alba Carolina citadel – as well as the gaols, located on the south-eastern flank of the Eugene of Savoy bastion, complete with the scaffold where Horea and Closca were executed on a breaking wheel.
Another tour walks visitors through the seven gates of the Vaubam citadel, as well as the various constructions of historical importance located nearby. Each of the gates has something worthy of note: Gate I, for instance, is beautifully shaped as a triumphal arch; Gate II has three entries, open in the upper half; Gate III, the largest and most impressive of them, is decorated with intricate carvings on both facades; Gate IV is the only one of the west side gates that was honored with Baroque style decorations; Gate V, built in a deceptively simple style, is completed by a bridge that connects the Saint Michael ravelin to the counterguard; Gate VI has earned its fame as the King’s Gate since it served as entry to king Ferdinand and queen Mary on their coronation day; finally, Gate VII, which was only recently uncovered, is a massive tunnel that was used both for procurement purposes and to allow the cavalry to exit the citadel in large numbers when urgent action was required.
A third and fourth tour focus on the southern and northern sides of the defense moat surrounding the fortress, which constitutes a genuine dendrological park thanks to the over 70 species of plants and shrubs growing here. The northern tour has the added attraction of two superbly landscaped gardens, a Roman one and a Japanese one, as well as a statue of a XVIII century drummer. However, by far the most spectacular of all the sights is the star-shaped citadel itself, a monumental construction that may be visited in its entire splendor in the tour of the three fortifications.
To go on this tour is to enjoy a live lesson in history and military engineering. The three fortifications in the name refer to the fact that, as it stands today, the Alba Carolina citadel is a series of three successive constructions, each of them incorporating fragments from the previous one. The oldest is the Roman castrum, followed by the medieval stronghold, further expanded in the XVIII century into a Vauban citadel. The mastermind of this latter project was prince Eugene of Savoy, who, however, failed to complete the construction, choosing to redirect funds towards other fortifications before having erected the fourth line of defense. Further works were carried out towards the end of the XVIII century under the supervision of general Bohn, but these too were interrupted before reaching their full completion.