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The People of Alba Iulia

Generally, after visiting a city we remember images of monuments, buildings, squares, parks and perhaps museums. However, real city life vibrates in the inhabitants of that city. They can be perceived as a population and, in that case, might be defined using the dry instruments of statistics. Nevertheless, being truly acquainted with the inhabitants of a city, in this case those of Alba Iulia, will transform them from a gloomy and faceless mass into persons with names, nationalities, expressions, ages, garments and professions. In reality, it is they who perhaps best represent the city.

Statistics has its role, since a census is a political action that the authority organising it may well employ in order to gain favourable results. The census held in Hungary in 1850 was the last one whose basic criteria were religion and nationality. Its results indicate for Alba Iulia a total population of 5408, in which Romanians represented 2530, Magyars 1009, Germans 748, Jews 735, Gypsies 269, Armenians 36, and some other smaller ethnic groups of less significant weight.

The censuses of 1900 and 1910 used maternal language and religion of subjects as criteria, a detail creating a confusion that played out in favour of the institutional power. In 1910, for example, out of a total 11,616 individuals, speakers of Hungarian represented the majority with 5226, followed by speakers of the Romanian language, with 5170. The Jewish inhabitants thus disappeared from the figures as an ethnic community, but there were 1586 Israelites recorded. The complete absence of Gypsies is partially explained by the fact that the increased numbers of Orthodox and Greek Catholics outnumbered the speakers of the Romanian language. The first census organised by Romanian authorities, in 1930, introduced “nation” as a criterion. Of the 12,282 inhabitants, 7862 were Romanians and 2034 Hungarians. The Jews resurfaced, 1480 of them, but the low number of Gipsies, 35 only, might explain the growth of those who declared themselves to be of Romanian descent. These ethno-linguistic charades had very little impact on the everyday life of citizens during peacetime. It is certain that Alba Iulia, being until 1970 part of the small cities category, has always had a majority of Romanians, followed by Magyars, Jews (until the Holocaust and the subsequent massive emigration of survivors)

and a few Germans.

Turning from statistical data to people, let us note that there was no significant difference between the people of the fortress and those in the lower city. It would have been no surprise to see the black habits of the Catholic priests or the blue colour of the military uniforms on the streets, squares and parks within the walls of the fortification. The life of churchmen took place strictly within the closed precincts of the Roman Catholic Bishopric and the Theological Institute. In reality, or according to the preference of the photographer, the soldiers were more visible, but only within the limits of the military schedule. Such situations could have occurred on a daily basis, such as at the changing of the guard at the Officers Pavilion. Some of these occasions were more solemn affairs, such as that of the inauguration of the Custozza memorial, probably in 1906, in the presence of officers of the von Taxis first Infantry Battalion.

In the quiet times of the early 1900s, when the future seemed predictable and benevolent, the living of the majority of middle class families of small provincial cities took place in the courtyards of their homes. The shadows of trees protected the people from the heat of the summer and fitting furniture provided them with comforts in their gardens. This was the vogue of photo portraits and group photos shot with archaic cameras – wooden boxes with a lens, photographic plates and a wooden tripod.

These photos allow us to glimpse into the living of people, to know, albeit superficially, their leanings, garments and mentalities.

Of course, Alba Iulia was not a trendsetter of fashion at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, its well-off inhabitants tried at least to keep up with the evolution of fashionable garments in the great metropolises. Using corsets, young women strove to model hourglass silhouettes, which could emphasise their slim waists and generous busts, and the shapes hidden by long, pastel coloured skirts, embellished with lace. There were stylish accessories as well: handbags, umbrellas and fans. The matrons, whose age had bestowed on them the status of ladies of their houses, offset the loss of more youthful silhouettes with the monumentality of their statures, reflected in the shape and colours of garments. However, they did not give up the attributes of elegance: lace, hats, fans. The archaeologist and passionate photographer Adalbert Cserni illustrated these aspects with photos of his own family.

Much simpler, the male fashion offered grave colours, namely black and shades of grey. Suit with waistcoat was widespread at that time too, and for special occasions the frock coat. The moustache, beard and hat – whether simple, bowler or silk – symbolised omnipresent attributes of masculinity.

In Alba Iulia, as in other cities and at other times, the streets and squares offered a richer display of garments. Elegance was not absent, but appeared less frequently by comparison to within private quarters. The photographic record, revealing social realities, presents several worn out clothes dresses, hybrid outfits consisting of urban and rural garments, and more standard Romanian dress. A group photo, taken around the year 1900, displays the curators of the Orthodox church of Lipoveni. In the centre is Nicolae Ivan, visiting Alba Iulia, where he functioned as archpriest for several years. In 1921, he became the first Orthodox bishop of Cluj. The farmers show the dignity that wealth bestows on people. They emphasised their elevated social condition wearing hybrid attire with white trousers and boots, and over the waistcoat a dark coloured coat combining peasant and urban cuts. Living at that time in Alba Iulia, as in any other Transylvanian city, did not necessarily make one a townsman.

However, at that time existed a relatively slow but definite increase in the proportion of Romanians among the urban economic and intellectual circles. In 1901 there were sufficient Romanian artisans in Alba Iulia to create an Association of reading and singing of the farmers and artisans.

At a higher level on the social scale were ten or so Romanian lawyers, all of them owning large homes in the centre of the city. We also have photographic documentation of Ioan Pop and Camil Velican. The garments of Camil Velican and of his wife, and the quality of the furniture in the photo show us a member of the high society of Alba Iulia. The same estimation could be made of Ioan Pop.

The unification of Transylvania with Romania caused a visible change as concerns the public life of Alba Iulia. It is perhaps unsurprising that Romanian statehood rendered Romanian politicians and dignitaries more visible. A photo taken in December 1918 shows, among others, the lawyer Camil Velican and the two archpriests – the Orthodox Ioan Teculescu and Greek Catholic Vasile Urzică – welcoming the vanguard of the Romanian army in front of the third gate of the fortress.

Another series of photos shows a group of citizens, of roughly the same variety but supplemented by Romanian officers of the Alba Iulia garrison, welcoming Alexandru Comănescu, Liberal minister of Agriculture and Estates in 1922. In the meantime, lawyer Ioan Pop had become president of the Alba county organisation of the Romanian National Party, later the National Peasant Party. Camil Velican, his former fighting companion during the previous regime, was president of the county organisation of the National Liberal Party. Given the prestige that Velican earned in the local community, it is significant that on 5 December 1918 he became the first Romanian mayor of Alba Iulia. (V.M.)