Among all monuments to survive the Middle Ages and the pre-modern era, the most important has always been the fortification. It was also anterior to all others, due to its Antique legacy. Its builders selected the site due to the characteristics of the natural plateau delimited to the east by the meadow of river Ampoi and to the south by that of the Mureş. The fortification was conceived on the base of and left to decay from the shape it was given at the time when the Romans built most military troop camps and when the empire reached its peak of expansion and glory. It consisted of a rectangular perimeter, with the sides slightly longer than 400 meters, with four monumental gates, irregularly placed, and a large number of towers surmounting the perimeter walls and the corners. We only have limited information on the buildings erected inside the Roman castrum. The main buildings of the military administration, built at the junction of access ways, were probably made entirely of stone. There might have stood some temples as well, but most buildings, such as barracks, ammunition and provisions deposits, and the treasury were made of wooden walls erected on stone foundations. The two Roman cities that surrounded the castrum must have had several stone buildings that triggered admiration and were suited for re-building investments. As in other cases, the only disadvantage of the Roman ruins in the eyes of the medieval people was the reduced height of their walls.
The Roman fortification and cities in Alba were left to decay naturally for approximately seven centuries. There came a long era of villages, which were small, built on unstable grounds, put together just as fast as they could be destroyed. Anyone intending to rebuild the castrum would have had to face first the problem of its size. Not everyone could mobilize so many people to rebuild the walls to a height at which they could not be climbed easily, to defend them, and then to occupy the inner space.
Interest in the fortification arose again in the second half of the eighth and in the ninth century. It is hard to tell which and how long were the political arrangements that reset focus on the monument effective. The strange situation was that there existed a now active center but an inconsistent periphery. Beyond the belt around the fortification lay a rural area so primitive that one can hardly attempt any ethnic identification about its inhabitants. It is certain though that the peasants inhabiting these villages were pagan and it is only logic to suspect that they were Slavs and maybe Romanian-speaking people.
In Transylvania, the control of the Avar Khanate was restricted to the exploitation and transportation of salt. After its dissolution due to its own decadence and under the blows of the Franks, the First Bulgarian Tsarate extended its authority until the Middle Mureş (probably around 830). The still pagan Bulgarians were already accustomed to respecting the values borrowed from the Byzantines, which included the familiarity with Roman-Byzantine fortifications and buildings. Even Apulum’s first name, „Bălgrad”, seems to have been taken over by the Romanians from the Bulgarians. The latter left an unmistakable mark on the city. Numerous archaeological finds attest to it, but in the absence of exceptional discoveries of objects belonging to certain chieftains or members of the elite, one can hardly set a strict chronology or reconstruct specific historical moments. Several strictly western-type weapons offer suggestions on the contacts and treatises among the Bulgarians and the Franks.
Even if certain sources imply that the Pecsenegs or a mixture of tribes, which included some pagan Hungarians in the middle of the tenth century, played an important role in the rebuilding of the fortification, neither would have been capable to understand or to restore it. If the Bulgarian or Pecseneg and the pagan Magyar domination over Bălgrad lead to any construction activity, such erections cannot be related to the walls of the ancient castrum. The best proof consists of the human burials with horse parts, typical especially for the pagan Hungarians and the Turanian populations in general; such burials were being made in the tenth century around the Roman Catholic cathedral in Alba.
The power center that substituted the Bulgarian one had components of the Magyar tribe union centered on the Pannonian Plain. Despite not much is known about it, the Transylvanian center, considering its peripheral and strongly individualized geographic position, aspired to autonomy and had contacts with the Byzantine Empire. The main imports, especially jewelry items, and the first Christian missions came from Byzantium.
The establishment of the medieval city has the aura of any foundation legend from the history of civilizations: a certain “strong and magnificent” prince reached the place while walking or hunting and found a field of ruins so impressive that they looked as if they were abandoned just one day earlier by the Romans! The place was so beautiful and promising that the prince never left! What is certain is that in the middle of the fourteenth century the inhabitants strongly believed in the Roman origins of the place and were grateful to the Romans for the exceptional characteristics of the settlement.
A major turning point was the Hungarian conquest. Probably in 1003, the power center from Bălgrad, led by the Gylas dynasty, was crushed in battle. As a first consequence, with echoes preserved until nowadays, the place was renamed from the perspective of the new political master. A city called “Alba” already existed in Central Hungary, taking its name, in a similar fashion, from the white Roman ruins on which it was erected. The eastern Alba, whose name was also already in use, became “Gyula’s Alba”, while the other city was more often mentioned as “the Seat’s Alba” (Székesfehérvár) or “Royal Alba” (Alba Regia). The denomination “white” prevailed in all the languages spoken in Transylvania (in Hungarian Fehérvár, in German Weissenburg, in Romanian Alba Iulia). The addition “Iulia”, also of ancient origin and attested from the end of the Middle Ages, entered common consciousness in the modern era. It is not certain if the latter name comes from the pagan Gyula or from other, later characters, who became county-leaders (comitis).
The new royal administration, conceived according to German models, needed control centers in the conquered territory; these were established in fortifications, in their primitive shape also called castra or, according to the terminology used by specialists everywhere across Eastern Europe, “moat fortifications” (in German Burgwälle). Royal “comitis” were appointed to rule them and the surrounding territories. Alba Iulia was similar to the fortifications in Biharea, Cluj(-Mănăştur), Dăbâca, Turda (Moldoveneşti), Moreşti, Şona (= the old “Fortification of Târnava”?), Hunedoara, Arad, and Timişoara. Several “lands of the castrum” belonged to it, inhabited by “people of the castrum” (castrum serfs or castrensi). The memory of the latter was only lost in the second half of the thirteenth century.
In those times, building a fortification (called in the beginning castrum) was an act of foundation with a symbolism surpassing its strictly military connotations. The fortification was not only an exceptional construction but also an institutional symbol. It concentrated most of the public life of an extensive hinterland which it protected and administered. Interacting with it equated with asking for commands, justice, and protection and with paying taxes, ensuring the commercial flow, and providing craftsmen.
The royal representatives residing in Alba were always selected with great care. The eastern and southern territories, towards the Carpathians, were still unsafe due to the presence and successive military interventions of the Pecsenegs, Byzantines, and Cumans. The comes of Alba therefore had the heavy duty of defending the longest borders. For that purpose he was responsible for the repartition, settling, supporting, and putting to good use the potential of the colonists arriving in massive waves. These were the ethnically heterogeneous groups (Cazars, Hungarians, Pecsenegs, etc.) from which the Szeklers were born and the German or Latin speaking groups who were the ancestors of the Saxons. All arrived in and resettled from the county of Alba. Its comes therefore had more responsibilities than any other county leader from the northern territories. Written sources indicate that he was the first to cumulate appointments, serving also as voivode (1201 – Yula voivoda et comes Albe Transiluane). This led some historians to believe that this is how the institution of the voivode of the entire territory bordered by the Carpathians was created, a development of utmost importance for the subsequent centuries. Yula/Jula was probably the one after whom the settlement was named. Only after 1263 did the voivodes of Transylvania change residence and ceased being comitis of Alba in the favor of the title of comes of Solnoc.
During the long interval between the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, no royal comes of Alba, even if also voivode of Transylvania was able to use the entire area of the Roman castrum. European analogies, even some from Transylvania (such as that in Cluj built over the Roman Napoca) and some elements of late medieval topography suggest that only a small part of the castrum was reused. The cathedral was erected in the end of the eleventh century in its south-western corner, employing one or maximum to of the main gates. A rigorous reconstruction of the Roman walls shows that the southern and northern gates were not rigorously located in the middle of the sides but more towards the east. Castrum Alba was certainly defended, but none of the preserved elements testify to the manner in which the first medieval fortification was delimited in the generous area of the Roman legionary camp. We only know that in 1083 its defenses played their role during the war against the Pecsenegs. One can only presume that they consisted of the generally-used building techniques: earth mounds and wooden palisades. It was too early for stone walls. Only fortunate future discoveries will be able to shed more light on this essential aspect of Alba’s beginnings.
The enclosed castrum, no matter how it looked like, only survived for two centuries. In this period it must have required repairs, rebuilding, and defensive works. The majority of the population of the royal county worked there and depended on it. In the first period, the habitation inside the fortification flourished. Most serf houses were aligned on the rim of the earthen moat, on the spot where the stone wall of the Roman castrum once stood. They were built on the surface, on foundations of stone without mortar and walls made of timber and clay. The stones were taken from the Roman ruins. The inventory of one of these houses included a remarkable quantity of pottery, but also jewelry and coins. Other such houses were erected randomly, probably avoiding the sites where the Roman ruins were to difficult to adapt.
The castrum was prosperous as long as the people around it were rich and active. Signs of decadence are recorded in the end of the twelfth century. The society became polarized; the Catholic Church and the newly-made nobles requested new laws. The population serving the castrum decreased or was of lower military and social quality, so the monument was abandoned and became vulnerable. It so happened that in 1241, during the Great Mongol Invasion, a tribal military society, equally cruel as it was efficient, benefited from the fortification’s vulnerability. In the mid April of the above mentioned year, the Tatars obeying Bediak destroyed local resistance without any difficulty. No combat was recording on that occasion, rather the simple annihilation of a center already important only through the presence of the bishopric.
In the same period, just as in many other places, the royal comitis became inefficient and were often absent. The castra which were county seats were not repaired and the king began to donate them. Some passed under the administration of ecclesiastical institutions. As in many other bishopric centers such as Oradea and Cenad or in monastic centers such as Cluj and Arad, the former royal territorial residences were donated to the Church. In 1246 the king renounced all the juridical rights he exercised through the voivode, the county comitis, and all other royal judges. Around that time the fortification in Alba Iulia ceased to belong to the king and passed to the bishopric. It was more than an admission of weakness on the part of the central authority, in parallel to the dissolution of the Arpadian patrimonial regime. The Church was then the only institution with European experience for which administration meant also building and managing things better than in a prehistoric fashion. Besides these advantages, the restorations benefited from protective privileges and guaranteed resources.
Events of 1277 and 1308 testify to how chronologically hindered some of the phenomena in Alba Iulia were. In both cases, the enemies of the bishops entered the fortification without problems, once looting and killing the people hiding inside the cathedral “with a devilish fury”, the second time ending their aggression in front of the altar. This indicates that the place was not yet properly fortified. Feeling unprotected, the chapter, Alba’s main ecclesiastical institution, largely counted on the protection offered by the fortification in Tăuţi. The latter, named after the dedication of the cathedral church “St. Michael’s Stone”, was located 15 km upstream, on the Ampoi Valley. In their turn, the bishops owned two fortifications built near Cluj, one in Floreşti and another in Gilău.
In the context of the Hungarian Kingdom, the bishopric always faced the dilemmas of authority crisis, both towards the chapter colleges and the king. Locally, the bishop’s “advice group” or “council” was composed first of all of priests with authority in their territory. The archdeacons, each responsible for a county, established their residences near the bishop’s seat starting from the second half of the thirteenth century. Some of them, assuming the function of provost, became responsible for the religious notarial office of Alba Iulia. In order to distance itself from the sometimes unwanted bishops, the chapter college strictly separated its properties. In this context, in the Late Middle Ages even the surface of the fortification was separated in areas belonging to the bishop and those of the chapter. St. Michael’s gate, for example, belonged to the bishop and St. George’s gate to the “chapter”. Beyond the apparent disagreement, the two institutions understood well that they had to cooperate in order to be able to defend efficiently the buildings they erected to the glory of God but also their properties and their lives.
Right after the beginning of the fourteenth century the bishopric was freed from the burdening pressures of the rebel voivode Ladislas Kan. Profiting from royal protection, it started to strengthen the fortification after the example of similar constructions erected in the area. An unusual historical episode reflects its functional development. In the beginning of the autumn of 1349, “to the great dishonor of the royal honor and dignity” bishop Andrew closed the gates in front of the proud king Louis of Anjou. The measure, no matter of the reasons, was very rare and resembled lese majesty. The parties were reconciled and the bishop remained in his seat until his death. It is important for us to note that the fortification could be closed in such a fashion that even a king could not enter it without a siege.
In order to establish Alba’s historical value, we have to start by turning around medieval hierarchy, referring to the voivodeship of Transylvania as to a lay power structure and taking it as reference element. It is well known that the province never had a lay capital city. Like the kings, the voivodes were on the move, residing in smaller fortifications (such as Cetatea de Baltă, Lita, and Deva) or near the same kings. Especially since the fourteenth century, Alba Iulia was the only place in Transylvania where a generally accepted authority resided. Without ever competing on an economical basis with the great Saxon cities of Sibiu, Braşov, or Bistriţa, Alba achieved a status of provincial center through its function and appearance. There were authors considering it a capital and nobody could contradict them. Alba’s medieval position was developed and transmitted in the pre-modern era when the city also became a political capital.
Only the southern side of the fortification can be seen today. It is over 340 meters long, but among them only 150 meters are visible; the rest are incorporated in various basements. Even if the wall did not benefit from serious restorations, it still displays its original curtain divided in two horizontal registers. Close to the ground the wall is made of large stone blocks, well cut and arranged in rows, testifying to its Roman origin. The stones are not equal in size since this part of the wall was the result of third-century Roman reconstructions when sculptures and inscriptions slabs were also used. In the upper part, just like in its core, the wall became chaotically built with a mixture of brick and stones of various types. The building materials testify to major renovation works which attempted to restore the wall’s original height, affected by the unwise exploitation of the original stones. They also envisaged the development of the curtain wall so that it could adapt to the new war techniques which were more destructive than the Roman ones. At a height of ca. 8 meters, on its crest, from the original thickness of two meters, the wall retains only half a meter. This upper parapet was 1.5 meters high. Traces of narrow crenels alternated with wide merlons are barely visible. The covered wall passages, today completely destroyed, were labeled by the Italian Gromo as following the “old system”. It means that they consisted at most of a wooden floor, a parapet, and maybe a roof. The rectangular pilaster strips creating a rhythmic decoration on the outside of the wall are also Roman. There is a significant difference between the ground level inside and that outside of the fortification. The inner level was raised by depositions of soil and debris. One could also “blame” the ancient earth moat of the first legionary castrum since the stone curtain was built on its outer slope.
Approximately 60 meters of the wall have been preserved in the buildings from the northern side of the fortification as well. Their traces are all hidden in basements or covered under modern or contemporary whitewash, but one can hypothetically reconstruct the fortification’s northern side.
The western side benefits from the most numerous “archaeological” investigations. It was recorded during excavations for utilities performed there between 1966 and 1968. A fragment of the foundation was archaeologically discovered under the street separating the two cathedrals. Research in the area of the present-day Roman-Catholic archbishopric palace has revealed the Roman base of the medieval wall, but it could not provide substantial details for the history of the fortification. More wall fragments can be seen in the basements of the archbishopric.
In the absence of clear elements, one could only guess that the Roman gates were re-used, at least reduced to a smaller scale. The representations on the chapter’s seal and the first Habsburg map seem to suggest a gate flanked by two towers, which has intentionally received the same name as that of the bishopric’s patron saint, St. Michael. According to the 1687 map, St. George’s gate once had similar flanking towers guarding the entrance gateway. Farkas Betheln, a chronicler writing during the same period, mentioned that after several restoration and repair works, the gates were “twin gates”. At least in their foundations and first floors, the flanking towers are Roman. All other additions intended to make them taller, stronger, more resistant against fire weapons, and easier to close, were created in the late Middle Ages.
The names of two gates probably remained unchanged from the full entering into use of the stone fortification until the disaster of the mid seventeenth century. St. Michael’s gate is mentioned in the end of the sixteenth century with a second name as well, that of “the Prison’s Gate” which refers to its actual or previous secondary function. Either a mobile bridge or a portcullis, made of solid timber and elevated with chains, was used to fortify its doors. A long wooden bridge ensured the access to St. Michael’s gate. It must have passed over the wide dry ditch. A similar bridge must have functioned in front of the opposite gate.
The western gate allowed for a perpendicular access. After crossing the opposite, St. George’s, gate, the road forked in two directions, one leading northward and the other southward. The gate had several defensive elements. The 1687 Habsburg military map revealed several very important such details: a corridor, probably also cut but a mobile bridge, leading to a circular ground-plan barbican. The latter was shorter than the towers of the old gate, so these were visible behind it. The 1711 map only shows an approximate U-shaped building, indicating that the walls were largely destroyed shortly after the gate’s first drawing. Surprisingly, the barbican was cleared of ruins and preserved inside the new bastion of the Vauban fortification (St. John of Capistrano’s). The intervention cleared a stone construction with a diameter of 20 meters resulted after the walling in of its openings. Vaults and air holes were added and the construction was used first as a gun powder deposit and then as a mill. In this new architectural clothing the late medieval barbican of St. George’s gate is still visible today.
Another issue has been, for too long, left outside scientific discussion: something must have justified the names given to these medieval gates. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, a single chronicler explicitly says that St. George’s gate was related to a chapel dedicated to the same saint. It is very likely that the chapel was created in the gate itself, on one its levels. The same can be presumed about the opposite gate, bearing the name of St. Michael. In order to prove that the towers were of Roman origin, their contemporaries clearly distinguished on St. George’s tower a relief depicting the Luppa capitolina. We are not sure whether it was an original decoration of the gateway’s arch in the Roman castrum or it was placed there by a Renaissance man with strong Antique nostalgias. Depictions or symbols of saints probably did not lack on the exterior facades. There might have been inscriptions and coats or arms, placed there by bishops or prefects proud of their investment and patronage. The absence of such markings would contradict all logic and all evidence from other, better preserved, medieval fortifications. Trying to elude a too idyllic picture, beside the prison one could mention some episodes which would be today part of a horror movie: in 1514, at the closing of the peasant war, its Szekler leader George Doja was cut into pieces, one of them being sent to Alba Iulia to be nailed to a gate. I am ready to bet that it was St. Michael’s gate and that the exhibition of a public enemy’s body parts was not at its first occurrence in Alba.
The information is scarce on the other two gates of the former Roman castrum. One could note that unlike the above mentioned gates, the names of the latter two remain unknown. A relatively wide framing of a Gothic portal has been preserved on the northern side, in the wall of the Apor Palace occupied today by the Rector’s Office of the “1 decembrie 1918” University. It can be generally dated to the fifteenth century, but it is unclear if it belonged to one of the gates of the fortification or to a palace or a courtyard located near one of the inner buildings. Despite the fact that it was archaeologically researched in the past years, the southern gate of the ancient castrum did not reveal any important data. What seems relevant for the minor destiny of the northern and southern gates is the manner in which the map from the end of the seventeenth century depicts the outer habitation without indicating any connection between the layout of the settlement and the traffic through any gate remembering the Roman ones.
Still, there is data supporting a discussion on a supplementary number of functional gates. A 1603 piece of information nominates a carriageable gate on the south. One cannot tell if it was placed according to the topography of the castrum or somewhere else. If my interpretation is correct, the southern gate can be identified according to the argument stating that the military system of the ecclesiastical institutions was too restricted to permit the control of four large gates. If one also takes into consideration the fact that during the principality this situation did not improve, but probably the system was restricted to the situation recorded by maps, one reaches the same conclusion.
As in any fortification, there were also smaller gates, even some “secret” ones. The 1687 ground plan indicates a narrow and parallel bridge south of the western main gate. It must have served a gate with restricted access, leading directly to the main residential area of the fortification. Another gate, in fact the only one preserved until today in a manner reminding its extensive use, also led to the residential complex. It was cut in the southern curtain wall (3 x 3.5 meters) behind the bishop’s/princely palace. Originally the gate had a door frame ending in a pointed arch, which was probably replaced during the sixteenth century with a narrower pedestrian frame surmounted by a Renaissance semicircular arch decorated with acanthus leaves. It is relevant that on the most ancient reliable ground plan of the fortification the southern area was also accessed on a bridge crossing the ditch. This bridge was located at the meeting point between the former bishopric palace and the large wing erected by the Rákóci princes. In dimensions, the bridge was depicted smaller than the one in front of St. Michael gate. If the bridge was carriageable, the same is not true for the corresponding curtain walls. One can therefore suspect that if heavy transports crossed the bridge, none entered the precinct through the zwinger in that area.
Most Roman curtain towers have been abandoned. Some might have been reused, even enlarged, in order to allow a more efficient flanking of the sides and especially the defense of the corners. Among the towers featuring on maps, the one with most particular characteristics is the tower rising over the north-west corner of the fortification. It had the shape of a rectangle placed obliquely on the corner; its short sides were woven with the curtain walls they met in right angles. An early seventeenth century chronicler mentions the fact that these towers were open to the inside of the fortification. On the ground plan, towards the west, between St. Michael gate and the south-west corner of the fortification, a building interrupts the curtain wall and extends towards the outside like a tower with unclear ground plan but open to the precinct. The chronicler’s record is thus confirmed. A 1576 graffito found on the northern apse wall of the cathedral indicates the fact that the towers were covered with four-sided roofs. If we were to trust the accuracy of the incised representation, then one of the towers seems to have had an upper floor erected in stone and wood.
The plans from the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also depict an edifice connected on the outside to the northern curtain wall, approximately in its middle. The building looks strange for a simple tower due to its rectangular ground plan. Still, it might be that the drawing failed to suggest its function. It is possible that the fights of 1603, recorded to have taken place by a ruined tower, can be located near this building. The tower was not easily defendable from the sides, but it was very resistant against all attempts to ruin it during sieges. This strength makes one suspect that it was, at least partially, built using Roman stones and mortar. On June 22nd 1580, during a summer storm, a lightning hit one of the fortification’s corner towers which served as deposit for gun powder. The tower burnt down and part of the neighboring curtain wall fell. The wooden houses in that area were also affected and 14 dead and 60 wounded were recorded in documents on that occasion. A five-sided tower was also located close by. During the 1603 siege a “new” bastion was mentioned in the north-eastern corner of the fortification.
Continuous rehabilitation, restoration, and enhancement works were needed at the ditches and curtain walls. The latter were added covered wall passages. The fortification required ditches at least on the west, where the terrain was relatively flat. In 1469 a royal order to cover the ditches and demolish the precinct walls was mentioned as still valid. The determination of having the command obeyed, generated by the consequences of the Transylvanian rebellion of 1467, testifies to the degree in which the representatives of the Church in Alba Iulia took part in the events and the uninspired political choice they made.
One has to wait for the fifteenth century to understand some of the mechanisms through which the fortification was administered. In 1467, the bishopric had two castellani, Petru Wethesy and Michael. A third, Emeric Zolyomi, was mentioned soon after, in 1471. The importance of the position became apparent in 1508, when we know that John Barlabássy of Cisteiu was related to the vicevoivode of Transylvania while his son, also called John, was promoted to the rank of Alba’s archdeacon. The latter castellanus had his coat of arms placed near those of the most important political men of that era. In 1520 there was only one castellanus in Alba and he received a salary of approximately 50 florins and had his own cook.
Anyone picturing these castellani as simple employees with military habits and a continuous desire to use the sword and the saber is wrong. Their military qualities were only put to the test on exceptional occasions, since they were in fact the administrators of the monument under discussion. It is very possible that in Alba, as elsewhere, the castellani were in the same time vice-comitis of the county, talking over other lay attributions of the bishops.
From the same fifteenth century, there is an accumulation of evidence indicating that the defense technique of the bishopric’s fortification was morally outdated. The power of the siege cannons became frightening; they had bigger and more numerous calibers and the stone projectiles were more frequently made of metal. Arms firing over the walls have been invented and the flamethrowers have been applied to individual weapons as well. Certain data makes us suspect that bishop Ladislau Gereb of Vingard had the initiative of restoring the fortification. He reoriented some of the income towards “the restoration of the fortification’s towers, walls, and ditch”. 1504 documents claim that the bastion in front of St. George gate was restored but the construction known from ground plans or its eighteenth century shape seems to have been erected only at that time. It was then that bastions were built everywhere in military architecture. They were massive and short constructions which looked like towers but where in fact forts without roofs or with roofs only covering the wall-walks. These bastions were useful for the employment of small and medium caliber fire weapons in the defense of gate accesses ways or the more vulnerable parts of the fortifications.
In 1516 King Vladislas II directly appealed to the chapter to have the ruined and too short precincts rebuilt, claiming that stone, not wooden bastions, covered with tiles were needed. During the subsequent years important sums were mentioned for the various construction works in the fortification. In the same period, certain data has been preserved, indicating how much and in which manner the surrounding villages provisioned the military apparatus of the fortification in Alba Iulia. In the end, it is proven that beyond the routine life inside the fortification, the interventions were only small repairs which tried to clam down public anxiety towards the implacable Turkish war machine.
The panic following the Mohács disaster during which the royal Hungarian army was destroyed reached Alba Iulia. Its main victim was the bishop himself who fell on the altar of the civil war between the “nationals” grouped around John I Sigismund (in ancient spelling Zapolya) and the partisans of the Habsburgs. There were no conditions for the fortification to survive a serious attack.
The garrison continued to be divided among the bishop’s men, now paid by those who had taken advantage of the bishopric’s income after the institution was left without a leader, and the chapter. The latter institution encountered serious problems in adapting to its new military obligations. The 1554 Diet reinforced the dean’s obligation to take over the leading role of the military apparatus which he had to recruit from the chapter’s domains. The dean even had to participate in field operations. The ecclesiastical fortification passed without great turmoil in the hands of the future princes.
Three enlargements must be dated to the time of the principality. First, the dry defensive ditch was enlarged. It surrounded at least two sides of the fortification but it had various size and depth. An archaeological clue, discovered in the western sector, revealed that the ditch was impressively large, measuring 16 meters in width and almost six meters in depth. If there were indeed no intervention to make its slopes steeper, the fact can only be explained by the fact that the ditch was dry, containing no water that might pose a risk to the unequal slopes: the one near the wall was abrupt and close by the wall while the opposite slope was tilted at ca. 300. The second intervention affected the two bastions located over the south-western and south-eastern corners. Their position was already decided at the middle of the sixteenth century when during the fight between the partisans of the Szapolyas and those of the Habsburgs, the Italian military technicians have built artillery platforms on the most exposed corners. These fittings, only vaguely mentioned in the written sources, must have had specific shapes. They had to be well connected to the existing fortification elements, had to be consolidated with timber and protected at least with palisades. As if confirming these deductions, a chronicle explicitly mentioned that in the beginning of the seventeenth century a pentagonal bastion existed on the south-west corner. The experience of the early eighteenth-century sieges was needed in order for massive building interventions to be decided. Indeed, they were the most extensive additions and the most diverging from those which had adapted the Roman inheritance.
The bastions about which we can discuss today the most have been preserved to a remarkable degree. Their sight is obstructed by the labyrinth-like eighteenth-century fortification. The situation prevents the contemporary observer to have wide general views of the bastions, partly also due to the chaotic urban development of the last decades. When they were designed, the bastions were not architectural novelties, but belonged to the so-called “new Italian style” which had entered general use almost a century before. One of the bastions is preserved entirely, but was aesthetically much neglected, while the second presents a partial coverage of the area in which it was connected to the eastern wall of the fortification.
Bastions were intended in all four corners, as indicated by the project’s approval in the Diet held in Cluj in the autumn of the year 1615. Only half of the bastions have been built and the project was put on hold in 1627. The years in between these points in time were full of accomplishments. Construction works required large contributions in free or paid, qualified and unqualified labor, besides numerous efforts of transporting the required building materials. Alba was soon to become an impressive working site, with constructions going on both in the fortification and the palace. The inhabitants of Sibiu were delighted to support the renewals, just so that the prince would cease to reside permanently in their city. One can imagine the importance of the constructive effort, despite the fact that there is no general sum preserved to testify to the amount of the expenses. During a single year, 14 carts and 60 people were sent to Alba from Cluj. During the 16 years when Bethlen was prince, over 300 carts loaded with sculpted stones for the fortification and its inner buildings reached Alba. Each cart was pulled by six to eight pairs of oxen. The nearest quarry was located ten kilometers away. The core of the walls was thus made of bricks and we have limited knowledge on the local history of these items. Massive quantities of lime were created from stones in Cricău. Numerous masons were mentioned leaving for the latter location.
In theory, the building project was divided according to sectors which were assigned to the prince, the Saxons, the Seklers, and the different counties. The prince himself proved to be the most efficient. In 1626 he already placed a commemorative plaque on the south-western bastion. Soon after, the Saxons finished their sector, the south-eastern bastion, under the threat of a law permitting other ethnic groups to settle in their beloved and hermetically closed cities. Senator Valentine Pfaff was in charge of the works. He, together with the royal judge Michael Lutsch and the Saxon comes Koloman Gotzmeister, displayed their coat of arms in visible locations. Later on, it became apparent that those responsible for the erection of the other two bastions did nothing. Prince Betheln’s death put an end to the grand project of surrounding the fortification with modern bastions. Even some of the components of these constructions were only finished by some of his successors.
The ground plan of these bastions is commonly termed as “spade-shaped”, or “with ears”. The front part of the southern side of the fortification was in the end enlarged to 435 meters. The south-western bastion’s southern side measures 109.5 meters. The part where it connects to the corner of the ancient fortification is 21 meters wide. Pill boxes are located under ground on the northern side, today partially demolished. The south-eastern bastion was shortened compared to the original plan to a side of 76 meters. Both constructions are made of massive stone blocks which dominate the inferior parts, carefully cut blocks which mark the exterior, and a half circular, purely decorative cornice, included in the elevation. The wall’s crest, short and with rare crenels, protected heavy cannons. Hundreds of thousands of bricks complete the construction. Over the pill boxes built on the inside, a large quantity of soil was placed, probably excavated from the ditches, in order to create a massive fortification impossible to shaken with any cannon in use at the time or by any mine tunnel. The “counter-cannons” were intended to protect the base of the bastions and prevent surprise attacks. They communicated through pile boxes with the areas outside the ditches. Through their dimensions and up-to-date character, the bastions in Alba can be compared to those in Oradea. In time, these bastions were elevated, with four meters added to the initial eight or nine in the first half of the eighteenth century. During the 1848-1849 revolution when the fortification managed to maintain its position as “counter-revolutionary base”, they were only slightly elevated or not at all.
The bastions, comparable in dimensions, also resemble through the way in which their semicircular curves were connected to the curtain wall, creating a false impression of buildings or towers. A wall parallel to the curtain, which doubled the entire southern side of the fortification, started from the base of the two bastions’ “necks”. In the specialized terminology, this type of wall is called a zwinger. One can only hypothesize that it was in this late period that the old access ways through the major southern and northern gates were finally eliminated.
Other aspects are only revealed by stray pieces of information. A 1628 document tells the story of a “small tower”, made of timber, started by a master from Vienna called Zimermann and continued by carpenters from Sighişoara. A locksmith from the latter city was called in to work on the door and window locks in Alba.
The way in which the princely fortification was defended did not change much. In 1568 the fortification continued to have a castellanus but it also had a vice-castellanus and this seems to have been a novelty. The maintenance issues were similar to those of the entire court. If the titles of those responsible changed, their role remained the same. A judge of the fortification’s court was mentioned in 1569. An administrator is mentioned beside the castellanus, in the subsequent century. One does not know if there were two administrators, one responsible for the fortification and the other just for the city, but it is possible that they shared certain capacities, in a very timid attempt of a modern bureaucracy.
In the times of the principality, the fortification fully played its military role. It became subject and object of war. The mid sixteenth-century episodes repeated in the beginning of the next century. Their protagonists were the same: partisans or adversaries of the Habsburg kings. The equilibrium factor was also the same, consisting of armed people ready if not to intervene decisively, then at least to allow several contingents of “volunteers”, allied Tatars, Moldavians, or Walachians, to intervene. Numerous details are known on the mid spring siege in the year 1603. There were signs and omens: an owl with a sinister voice settled in the cathedral bell tower and an unseen before invasion of May cock chaffers hit Alba. Moses Székely’s Transylvanian “nationalists”, including mostly Tatar soldiers, but also some Turks and Serbs, attacked the fortification defended in the name of the king by a non-German (Peter Spinoza) and his, mostly German, soldiers. The inhabitants of Alba were facing the biggest “fidelity” dilemma, especially since women and children had been refused the right to take refuge inside the walls of the fortification. In response, the inhabitants surrounded the parish church with carts, blocked the main streets, and reached a settlement with the enemy. Their attempt of breaching St. Michael’s gate by surprise failed, so another tactic was used. The attackers raised a moat in front of the gate, strengthened it with wine barrels full of pebble, and started firing their cannons, which could only throw projectiles “the size of a goose’s egg”. The “Germans” inside the fortification tried to demolish the city houses located too close to the walls and which were used as firing bases by the attackers. Some of these houses were burnt down. But the wind favored the aggressors and carried burning shingles inside the fortification. The first fell on the palace, which caught fire, then on the cathedral and on most of the inner houses. In an incredible short time, half of the fortification burnt down. The garrison was completely taken by surprise and did not know how to react. Equally surprised, the attackers wasted the favorable moment by watching the spectacle of the fire. Afterwards, it became apparent that none of the cannons was able to breach the walls. On April 29th, at dawn, after the arrival of leader Moses Székely and more troops, the bell of the church in the city gave the signal of the attack: the “Serbs and Hungarians” launched the offensive in three different points, using 28 siege ladders. The first attacked the western side and the latter, the northern one. The fissure created on the northern tower was enlarged using hammers and metal bars, under an improvised wooden cover. A third attack was organized against the new “bastion” on the north-eastern corner as a diversion. The two main gates and the small, southern one, in front of the palace, were also under attack. The defense responded vigorously, throwing everything they could find, from bullets and stones to boiling tar. Moses Székely’s mantle was torn by three bullets. A flag raised too soon on the curtain wall fell together with its bearer. The main gates were blocked on the inside with large earth mounds. The most valuable soldiers were placed in the fortification’s square, ready to run wherever they were needed. Spinoza proved to be a very good captain. Women also took part in the conflict: some threw stones, others loaded guns behind the shooters, and yet others kept up the soldiers’ morale. After four hours, the aggressors gave up. And to complete a “glorious” day, taking advantage of the change in the wind’s direction, the Germans put fire to the city. After a few days, following the negotiations, Spinoza’s soldiers left the fortification.
Another bellicose episode soon followed. At the news of Moses Székely’s death near Braşov, on July 17th 1603, the garrison and citizens left Alba. They knew they were fully guilty of being the partisans of the wrong political figure. A small troop of Saxons and another composed of Poles and even Hungarians arrived almost in the same time to take over the fortification. The fighting took place inside it. The Germans transformed the palace into a fortress. The Poles tried to enter it from the cathedral, using the windows and the benches as siege bridges and ladders. The palace was conquered after its main gate was burnt down; all its defenders were butchered. No moment of triumph followed. After victory, Alba was abandoned and the corpses were left unburied. For two months, animals ate the remains of people spread on the streets and inside buildings.
Gabriel Bethlen’s constructions and those of his successors were neither completed, nor able to keep up with the rapid development of siege techniques. According to all signs, the military experts soon realized that in a new crisis, Alba would be impossible to defend. The conclusion was confirmed by the continuous investments in the fortification in Făgăraş and the arrangements for the princes to have a place to hide inside the walls of Sibiu. It remains unclear if the deal was reached or not. What is known is that the assessment of Alba’s value as a fortification was correct. When it was indeed under attack, its defenses proved completely inefficient. The fortification died only to be reborn, in new clothes, more as a symbolic and political ambition of the country’s new master.
The conclusion is simple: the fortification never had a glorious history but, in compensation, it was Alba’s component which determined the writing of the most numerous history pages.