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The changing of the guard at the fortress of Alba Iulia

In the modern age, the fortress of Alba Iulia has been distinguished among other cities of Transylvania by its numerous parades and military ceremonies. This is the result of the fact that the Habsburg (1687-1918) and, after 1918, the Romanian army settled in the fortress. The ceremony of the changing of the guard took place in various spots. In the eighteenth century, it was held in front of the Arsenal (the former Princes Palace) or in front of Apor Palace, the residence of the commander of imperial troops in the fortress. In the mid-nineteenth century, the changing of the guard took place near Emperor Charles VI’s statue, in front of the Third Gate. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was organized in front of the Babylon building, where the officers lived. Throughout the twentieth century, military parades were held in front of the 91 Infantry Regiment, the former Palace of the Princes of Transylvania, on the pedestrianized Michael the Brave Street.

The Thirteenth Gemina Legion resided in Apulum from 106 to 260 AD. This was the main Roman military base in the province of Dacia. The commander of the legion was also governor of Dacia Superior province. The ruins of the pretorium, the residence of the commander and governor, have been recently been discovered and opened for touristic visits at Alba Iulia.

Based on the work of Pseudo-Hyginus, De munitionibus castrorum (On the fortifications of fortresses) we can reconstruct fairly well how a Roman fortress was guarded. We learn from this source that the legionary guards were led by the tesserarius (guard commander). A tessera was a tablet on which the password of the fortress during the night was written. In Apulum, as elsewhere throughout the Roman Empire, groups of four soldiers had to serve as guards. These soldiers were also in charge of maintaining discipline. There were at all times inner guards at the gates, on the walls, and patrolling thevia sagularis (the patrol road inside the walls of the fortress). There was a permanent guard checking the watchword and guarding the chamber of banners, the chamber of treasury, the area surrounding the headquarters, the residence of the legatus legionis (legion commander), and the buildings of the superior officers of the legion.

Through the ages, tradition, discipline, and military ceremonies have always been present in the fortress of Alba Iulia. The ceremony of the changing of the guard has held an important place in the Roman, medieval, and modern ages. In the Roman age, the changing of the guard took place near the praetorium, the place where the Thirteenth Gemina Legion’s standards and insignia were kept. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travelers in Transylvania mention the ceremony of receiving foreign envoys in the area of the princely court, the small square between the Palace of the Princes and the Roman Catholic cathedral. This ceremony was a solemn procession accompanied by fanfare music and cannon volleys. During the Habsburg rule, Alba Carolina accommodated the arsenal of the province, the quarters of troops, the residences of military commanders, and the guard chambers at the Third and Fourth Gates and in the four caponiers. All of these places had permanent guards. Appreciated by Joseph II as the most important and grandiose fortress in Transylvania, the emperor visited the city and the fortress of Karlsburg (Alba Iulia) twice, in 1773 and 1783. On 25 May 1773, he spent nine hours in Alba Carolina, and from 9 to 10.30 he was in the former Palace of Princes. The Austrians had transformed the palace into the Arsenal, a symbolic and strategic edifice of the Habsburg army in the Principality of Transylvania. The Arsenal (“das Zeughauss”) was a designated depot for weapons and storage place for the army’s flags and insignia. It was also the artillery headquarters and displayed an exposition of military objects. On his 1773 visit, it is recorded that the Emperor visited the artillery headquarters to the sound of trumpets and a festive atmosphere. He was saluted by the garrison’s guard and admired the exposition of weaponry and ammunitions.

Another memorable moment occurred during the exhausting siege of the fortress from December 1848 to August 1849. In spite of continuous attacks, and under a rain of cannon balls, on 21 July 1849 a solemn military ceremony was organized. In the presence of the old Colonel von August, commander of the Fortress, the officers and entire garrison listened to the sounds of the imperial anthem sung by the trumpeters of the Hunters Division, accompanied by cannon volleys shot from all seven bulwarks of the fortress, as the damaged black-yellow flag of the garrison was replaced. During the siege, the flag flew above the Third Gate, next to Charles VI’s statue. On that day, at 17:30, a new flag with the slogan “Victory or death” was elevated.

During those months the Fortress was defended by 100 canons and several batteries of rockets. The defense was undertaken by three main guard units placed at the First, Third and Fourth Gates, and by secondary guard units on each bulwark, as well as numerous sentinels on the walls. The guard was changed, along with the watchword, every six hours.

The tower of the Roman Catholic cathedral served as observation point. In it, four soldiers kept watch, along with one officer, using a spyglass from the Batthyaneum Astronomical Institute.

Inhabitants and visitors to the city can today enjoy recreating the atmosphere of the past through military demonstrations and reenactments, such as the Roman Guard (on Fridays from 19:00 near the Fourth Gate) and the Changing of the Guard of the Austrian army (Saturdays 12.00 on the route between the Third and Fourth Gates). (L.S.)