Have you heard of Alba Iulia Citadel in Romania?
I didn’t talk much about my home country until now. So, I’m starting this Transylvania destinations series.
The first destination on my list is Alba Iulia, a very significant place for all Romanians. However, it’s also a tourist destination with its Alba Carolina Citadel as its primary attraction.
About Alba Iulia
Alba Iulia has more than 2000 years of history to discover. When the Romans conquered Apoulon, the Dacian settlement, it became the largest city in Roman Dacia, Apulum. They built the largest Roman castrum (a Roman Fort) on the Romanian territory in Apulum. A Roman legion, the XIII Gemina was stationed here.
During the Medieval Age, Alba Iulia had many rulers, but the existing fortress was built under Emperor Charles VI of Habsburg, thus taking the name Alba Carolina.
In 1918, at the end of World War I, the Union between Transylvania and the rest of Romania was voted in Alba Iulia. That’s also the reason why Alba Iulia’s nickname is ‘the other capital’.
The city is located in central Romania. It’s close enough for a day trip from Sibiu (76 km), Cluj-Napoca (97km), or even Timisoara (218 km).
Alba Iulia Citadel
Construction of the new citadel began in 1715 on the site of the ancient Roman Castrum and also medieval fortifications. The architects designed a star-shaped citadel, Vauban-style, with seven bastions and seven access gates.
Things to do in Alba Carolina Citadel
There are enough things to do or discover in Alba Iulia Citadel to keep you occupied for a full day. The citadel is free to enter and open at all times. So, I’ll talk about some of the things you should see below:
The city gates
Three of the original city gates were restored as close to the originals as possible. The most striking is the Baroque Third Gate on the east side of the citadel.
The walls of the citadel are 6 meters high and 2.5 meters wide. Passing through the tunnel behind the gate is quite impressive. Also, make sure to stop and study the wheel mechanism. They used the giant wheels to lift the bridge in front of the gates.
Just outside the Third Gate, there’s an obelisk to commemorate the leaders of the peasant uprising. In 1785, Horea, Closca, and Crisan met their deaths here. This is also a great belvedere spot to view the city from an elevated point.
Watch the Guard Change
Every day at noon (May to September) a change of guard ceremony takes place close to the Third Gate. Find a place close to the obelisk and watch the show.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the ceremony also takes place at 9:00 PM.
The Union Museum and Union Hall
The Union Hall was initially a military casino. They chose this place to host the delegates on December 1st, 1918 because it was the only building large enough in Alba Iulia to host everybody.
The access to the Union Hall is free to visit. The opening hours for the Union Hall are Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
The Union Museum, on the other hand, has over 200000 objects. The Babylon building displays collections going back to Dacian Apoulon, then Roman Apulum, through the Middle Ages and to the moment of the Romanians Union.
The ticket to the Union Museum costs 10 lei (about 2€). The museum is open every day except Mondays from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral
More than 1000 years old, St. Michael’s is the oldest cathedral in Romania. It was destroyed during the Mongol invasion in the 13th century but rebuilt on the old foundation.
The cathedral is free to visit every day from 8:00 Am to 6:00 PM.
The Coronation Cathedral
The Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Alba Iulia Citadel was built soon after the union in 1918. In 1922, it hosted the coronation ceremony of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary as monarchs of Romania.
The cathedral is free to visit every day from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. It is also an active church and religious service and ceremonies are held there often.
Meet the permanent bronze-residents of Alba Carolina Citadel. The 25 statues are scattered all over Alba Iulia Citadel. Get close to see who they are and imagine their stories. Speaking of which, they’re also perfect for your Instagram story.
The statues could be ordinary people going about their business in the 18th-century citadel. Meet the soldiers, the florist, the gentlemen, or the old woman selling eggs from her basket.
The Roman Castrum
Close to the citadel’s heart, you can visit the Principia Museum. A bronze praetorian will meet you at the entrance. The museum is dedicated to the Roman Castrum that was unearthed here. To clarify, Principia was the commandment in a Roman fort. Part of the building is still under the street and the University building close by. Still, you can see part of the original walls and floors, as well as the Roman heating system, called a hypocaust.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 AM to 6 PM. The entrance costs 10 lei (that’s roughly 2€) for an adult and 5 lei for children.
Have a coffee break
Stop for a coffee in one of the many terraces that line the central area of the citadel. You can rest for a while and watch the world go by right in the middle of everything.
Outside the walls
The city trenches area outside the city walls is very popular with the locals for their evening strolls for example. You can also rent a bike and cycle around the citadel a few times before dinner.
The trenches are open daily from 9:00 AM to 10 PM and free to enter.
Try the ice cream
As you descent to the city from the Third Gate of the citadel, there’s a small ice-cream place on your right-hand side, Terasa Lazar. Try a couple of their natural flavors. My absolute favorite was the elderberry with lime and mint, so refreshing on a hot day!
Where to stay in the city
My recommendation is Hotel Transilvania, a modern and also comfortable hotel just a short walk from Alba Carolina Citadel.
However, if you want to fully experience the citadel, you can also stay at Hotel Medieval, right at the heart of the citadel.
Disclosure: Some of the above may be affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. However, I only recommend companies, activities, or products that I use myself.
Did you visit Transylvania? Tell me all about it in the comments below!