In the seventeenth century, Alba Iulia was admired as a city of palaces and churches. The façade of Gabriel Bethlen Street maintains the charm and aura of bygone times. At the western end of the street is the library and institution founded by the Roman Catholic Bishop Ignatius Batthyány in 1798, in an endowed Trinitarian church built in 1719. Founded in the spirit of the European Enlightenment, this cultural establishment included a scientific society, an astronomical institute furnished with the first astronomical observatory in Transylvania, the old printing press of the Jesuits in Cluj, several collections of historical objects and a library containing 18,000 books and manuscripts. The Baroque-style former Trinitarian church underwent several changes over time and served various purposes, having been turned into military hospital in 1786, and finally into a library. The building consists of a ground floor and two upper stories. It is decorated in a mixture of Rococo and Neoclassical styles and has spiral stairs, an Aula Magna, and a gallery and sanctuary arranged in the former central nave of the church.
The Batthyány Library building was renovated in the time of the Roman Catholic Bishop Gusztáv Károly Majláth (1864-1940). As we can see from Adalbert Cserni’s photos, the armoured room (treasury) was constructed in 1912. The building was repaired and the façade was renovated. The same prelate established a museum of medieval archaeology and sacred art. Since 1962, the Batthyáneum Library has been a subsidiary of the National Library of Romania. The institution preserves invaluable treasures of Western European and Transylvanian culture such as illuminated manuscripts (from the ninth and tenth centuries), incunabula, European printed books (in Latin, Hungarian, German, French, Spanish, etc.), early Romanian books, the charters of the archives of the Chapter of Alba Iulia (documents from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century) and Cluj-Mănăștur Abbey.
Next to Batthyány Library is the Roman Catholic Theological Seminary building. The school was established in 1753 and functioned from various locations until Bishop Batthyány (1780-1792) transferred it to the cloister of the old Trinitarian monastery, which had been handed over to the army under Emperor Joseph II’s 1786 reforms abolishing the monastic orders. The army subsequently endowed these edifices to the bishop, who divided them, modifying the former Trinitarian church in order to accommodate his library and the astronomical observatory and giving the monastery building to the seminary.
The Roman Catholic Theological Institute (Seminarium Incarnatae Sapientiae) housed a school and another library, providing the students of Alba Carolina with access to two scholarly resources: the valuable works held in what was to become known as the Batthyáneum Library and the Incarnata Sapientia’s own library, which possessed materials for the everyday instruction of students.
The seminary building was renovated when Bishop Mihály Fogarassy (1800-1882) and Bishop Áron Márton (1896-1980) held office. The building’s height was raised and a corridor was added on its southern side, adjacent to Bethlen Hall. The seminary and the Catholic institute functioned in connection with Batthyáneum Library. Until 1960s, there was a passage between the seminary library, located on the ground floor, and Batthyáneum Library.
The oldest building on Gabriel Bethlen Street is Apor Palace. This edifice was built on top of one side of the Roman fortification. Its nucleus was a medieval house, from which a few late Gothic and Renaissance features dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries remain. In the seventeenth century, the house was purchased and renovated by Stephen Apor of Turia (1638-1704), treasurer of the Transylvanian Principality. When Austrian troops were quartered in the fortress of Alba Iulia, this building became the residence of the commander of the imperial army. Changes made under the direction of General Stephen Steinville gave the building the appearance of a palace. The eastern side of Nicholas Bethlen’s house was incorporated into the renovated building, a new façade was built on the southern side, and its walls were raised higher. By 1720, the master masons who erected the gates of Vauban fortress had rendered the former Apor house more comfortable and sumptuous. The palace gained a monumental stairway with two ramps, flanked by two lateral corridors, as well as Baroque portals and windows, decorations sculpted in relief and columns with capitals. The monogram of Emperor Charles VI on a coat of arms with the double-headed eagle held by two rampant lions was placed on the façade.
The Baroque transformation gave us the first building of this style in Transylvania. Nowadays the building hosts the Rectorate of “1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia. (L.S.)