Saint Michael’s Cathedral of Alba Iulia was built between 1247 and 1291, which makes it contemporary to the famous Notre Dame of Paris. Furthermore, it appears that a great French architect, Villard de Honnecourt, contributed to its design. In addition to being the oldest and the longest cathedral in Romania (at 89.16 m measured along its axis), it is also considered the most important monument or Romanesque architecture in Transylvania.
In the XVI century it was completed with a chapel on its northern side – a fine example of Italian Renaissance style – and frescoes were painted inside. Between 1718 and 1738 a vault was erected for the western entrance, complete with a gable surrounded by four statues, all of them representing saints, and three bas-reliefs. Inside, the church proudly displays an 1877 organ made of 2209 pipes. Even though it includes architectonical elements of various influences (namely Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque), the cathedral is widely regarded as a spectacular work of art pertaining to the late Romanesque current.
The cathedral contains the tombs of several royal figures from the history of Transylvania. Thus, the southern lateral nave hosts the sarcophagi of John Hunyadi, his first son Ladislaus Hunyadi, as well as those of the princes Kendi Ferenc and Kendi Antal. The northern lateral nave serves as place of rest for queen Isabella Jagiellon and for her son, John Sigismund, the first prince of Transylvania
The Laszai chapel, located in the northern part of the cathedral, is the oldest example of Renaissance architecture in Transylvania, built in 1512 by archpriest Laszai Janos to host the altar of Christian Souls. It is richly decorated with bas-reliefs that illustrate coats of arms, characters from classic mythology and from the Bible, as well as figures of Hungarian monarchs.
The main sanctuary of Saint Michael’s cathedral has been subject to several changes and additions, which is why today it looks quite different from its original form. At the beginning of the XIII century, it was a square structure terminating in a semi-circular apse, but that was demolished by the end of the century to allow for the sanctuary to be extended in early Gothic style. Its lateral walls are decorated with two Romanesque bas-reliefs representing Saint Michael the Archangel. The sanctuary also includes the altar and the pews of the clergy, both of them decorated in Baroque style. The backs of these pews are painted with scenes from the lives of the prophets and the history of Salvation, as well as the portal of today’s Baroque sacristy.
Recently, the cathedral has been included in Transromanica network, that represents the common Romanesque heritage of eight countries in Europe between the Baltic and the Mediterranean Sea. It is the only landmark in Romania to join the network.