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Alba Iulia (Romania, Alba)

Municipiul Alba Iulia

Last modified: 2022-03-12 by rob raeside
Keywords: alba | iulia | balgrad | karlsburg | gyulafehervar | alba | feher |
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[flag of Alba Iulia] image by Arnaud Leroy

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The city of Alba Iulia (71,168 inhabitants) is located in Transylvania, 380 km from Bucharest, 100 km from Cluj and 240 km from Arad, on the first terrace of the river Mures. The city, known for its vineyards, is often considered as the cultural and spiritual capital city of Romania. Alba Iulia is today mostly inhabited by Orthodox (86%) but 35 other religions are practised in the city.

Remains of Dacian hovels dated c. 100 BC were found in Alba Iulia. The Dacians were a people of Thracian origin, called "Dakoi" by the Greeks and "Daci" by the Romans. The Dacian civilisation was highly elaborate: they believed in the immortality of the soul and formed a society divided into two classes, the aristocrats ("pilleati", wearing a hat) and the proletarians ("capillati", bearing long hair). The Dacians knew how to harness horses, build roads and exploit mines of gold, silver, iron and salt in Transylvania. A powerful Dacian kingdom was constituted in the IInd century BC. The wealth of Dacia and its increasing military power incited the Romans to attack the Dacians. After two victorious campaigns, Emperor Domitian (81-96) "submitted" King of the Dacians Decebalus; in fact, Dacia remained independent and the Romans had to pay a fee for the use of the Dacian roads. Emperor Trajan (98-117) definitively subdued the Dacians after two wars (101-102 and 105-107) commemorated by the famous Trajan's column erected in 113 on the forum in Rome. Dacia became a Roman province, ruled by a praetorian governor, an occupation army called "legio XIII Gemina") and auxiliary troops. The Roman colonials built fortresses, roads and cities: Ulpia Trajana and Apulum. In 129, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), Dacia was divided into two provinces, Upper- and Lower-Dacia. Under Antonin (138-161), there were three provinces, Dacia Apulensis, Dacia Porolissensis and Dacia Malvensis. In 256, the Goths crossed the Carpathian Mountains and occupied Dacia. The Romans kept only two fortresses, which were abandoned in 275, when Emperor Aurelian (270-275) relocated the Roman colons to Mesia, in the south of Danube. The Romanians claim that the Romanized Dacians are their direct ancestors. This theory is a matter of controversy with the Hungarian historians, who claim that the ancestors of the Romanians are Vlaks who settled the country at the end of the Middle Ages.

The Dacians had a fortress named Apoulon, located some 20 km north of Alba Iulia. After the conquest, the Romans built a fortified camp for the "legio XIII Gemina" on the crossroads of the trade roads of gold and salt, and named it Apulum. The Greek geographer Ptolemaus (c. 100-c. 170) gives in his Geographical Guide the coordinates of Apulum as 49°15 E (longitude) and 46°41 N (latitude). Two Roman cities, a "municipia" and a "colonia" developed near the camps and became one of the most wealthy places in Dacia, known in the IIIrd century as Chrysopolis (the City of Gold).

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Catholic Principality of Bălgrad (the White City) developed on the site of Apulum. A County was mentioned there in 1171, then a "civitas", along with Brasov, Sibiu and Rodna. The Latinized name of Alba Iulia appeared in 1279 and was translated as Bălgrad and Gyulafehervar (Hungarian). The Roman Catholic cathedral was built in the XIIIth century, combining Gothic and Romanic styles.

From 1542 to 1690, Alba Iulia was the capital city of the independent Principality of Transylvania and became an important political, military and religious center, with a Roman Catholic Bishop and an Eastern Orthodox Metropolite. Bishops Ladislau Gereb and Francis Varday, as well as Prince Gabriel Bethlen, encouraged the cultural development of the city. The "Collegium Academicum", founded in 1622, hired as professors famous European humanists, such as the German poet Martin Opitz (1597-1639, reformer of metrics), Alstedius, Biserfeldius and Piscator. The printing house of Balgrăd published from 1577 to 1702 masterpieces of Romanian culture, such as "Tetraevangheliarul slavon" (1579), "Evanghelia de invatatura" (1641), "Noul Testament de la Balgrad" (1648), "Psaltirea" (1651), "Bucoavna" (1699) and "Chiriacodromionul" (1699).

Voivod Michael the Brave entered Alba Iulia on 1 November 1599 and Alba Iulia became, for a short period, the capital city of the first political union of all Romanians, with the union of the Principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia. The Austrian suzereignty was established in 1701; Alba Iulia was completely revamped in Baroque style. The citadel was built from 1714 to 1738 by the Italian military architect Giovanni Morando Visconti following Vauban's principles. The building site was managed by General Stefan de Steinville and later by General Weiss. The perimeter of the walls is about 12 km, with seven bulkwards making a star and six monumental gates. The walls were made of bricks and stones from quarries and Roman ruins; their width is 3 m at the base and 1.20 m at the top. The decorations were made by Baroque sculptors, such as Johann Koning, Johan Vischer and Guiseppe Tencalla. On 28 February 1785, a serf's revolt led by Horea, Closca and Crisan, tragically ended on the Pitchfork Hill. The Batthyaneum Library, set up in 1794 has the oldest astronomy observatory in Romania and a collection of 60,000 rare books and incunabula, such as "Codex Aureus".

On 1 December 1918, 100,000 Romanians and 1,228 delegate from all Transylvania met in Alba Iulia and decided the unification of Transylvania with Romania. The delegates rallied in the Casino built for the garrison in 1906 and known today as the Unification Hall. The Hall constitutes the National Museum of Unification, along with the Babilon building, built in 1851-1853. The flags carried by the delegates are shown in the museum. On 15 December 1922, King Ferdinand I the Unificator (1865-1927, king in 1914) and Queen Mary were crowned in the People's Reunification cathedral. The cathedral was built between 1921 and 1923 by the architect D.G. Stefanescu and the engineer T. Eremia, and decorated by Constantin Petrescu. In 1944, the Romanian Parliament conferred to Alba Iulia the title of "Great Unification Citadel".

Municipal website (Alba Iulia Online):
Ivan Sache, 16 May 2005

It was a Roman colony, named Apulum; before that it was a Dacian city named Apoulon, described by Ptolemy. In the 9th century A.D. its name was Balgrad, the 'White City', which was Latinized into Alba Julia.
Jarig Bakker, 10 February 2001

Description of the Flag

The municipal flag of Alba Iulia, as shown on the municipal website and confirmed to Arnaud Leroy by the municipal administration of Alba Iulia, is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle and a blue field made of two merged triangles along the fly. The municipal coat of arms of Alba Iulia has a chief ermine with a Royal crown and the main field divided into three triangles recalling the national flag of Romania (blue, yellow and red) and the national arms. The blue triangle charged with the eagle and the red triangle charged with the aurochs recall the first two quarters of the escutcheon shown on the national arms, standing for Wallachia and Moldavia, respectively.

Below we show a similar coat of arms for Alba Iulia, but with an escutcheon quartered argent and sable. The escutcheon seems to have been dropped from the current arms.
Ivan Sache, 16 May 2005

Coat of Arms

[coat of arms] image located by Valentin Poposki, 13 February 2022

The inescutcheon shown on the former arms of the city (quartered argent and sable) is the Hohenzollern coat of arms. Its presence on the coat of arms of Alba Iulia is probably related with the coronation of King Ferdinand I in Alba Iulia. The current arms have dropped the inescutcheon but kept the crown; the chief of ermine might recall a coronation coat. The elder son of the King of Romania bore the title of Great Voivode of Alba Iulia.
Marin Montagnon, 4 July 2005

Earlier versions


[coat of arms] image located by Valentin Poposki, 13 February 2022


[coat of arms] image located by Valentin Poposki, 13 February 2022

Historical flag of Gyulafehérvár (Kingdom of Hungary)

[flag of Gyulafehérvár, Alsó-Fehér county, Hungary -1918] by Dov Gutterman

Red, yellow, red vertical triband
António Martins, 27 February 2001

This flag appears at Dr. Széll Sándor: Városaink neve, címere és lobogója (1941) as "Gyulafehérvár, Alsó-Fehér Co.".
István Molnár, 2 December 2000

This flag couldn't used 1918-1920 - I think. 1918-1920 Alba Iulia was under Romanian occupation and de facto Romania annexed the territory. The flag could be used before 1918, till Alba Iulia (originaly Bălgrad, in official Hungarian Gyulafehérvár) was in Hungary.
István Molnár, 2 December 2000

University 11 December 1918

The University '11 December 1918' in Alba Iulia/Universitatea '11 Decembrie 1918' in Alba Iulia is a relatively new institution established in 1991 in the city of the same name. The seal of the university, as seen at, seems to have several flag elements. First of all, the Romanian flag is an integral part of the seal, being placed in full color at the bottom of the external ring of the seal. Secondly, the seal itself appears to be suspended from a black and white vertically striped banner. The central black stripe being formed into a stylized numeral '1', and the date '1918' written in very small black numerals below it. I am not clear whether this is an actual flag, or perhaps we are dealing with a medal of some type (i e, the university seal proper) attached to a ribbon of some sort.
Ron Lahav, 9 December 2005