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Transport and Mobility in Alba Iulia

In ancient and medieval times the city of Alba Iulia was accessible by waterways and roads built by the Romans. In 1754 the first official long-distance public transport became available in the form of the mail coach service between nearby Sibiu and Vienna. From 1865, when the railway reached Alba Iulia, travellers had the additional option of the steam locomotive.

In Antiquity, the Romans were the first to build the roads necessary to connect the residence of the governor of Dacia in Apulum to the rest of the Roman province. The Roman roads continued to be used for centuries by the soldiers, merchants, clerics, diplomats and artisans travelling to and from the old fortress of Bălgrad (the Slavic, medieval name of Alba Iulia). Not only were the land routes developed by the Romans; they also built the waterways connecting Apulum through the Rivers Mureș, Tisza and the Danube with the Roman capital. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Colonia Aurelia Apulensis and Colonia Nova Apulensis were granted the rank of municipium, and the construction of the harbour on the right bank of the Mureș River began. This water route was in continual use from ancient times to the twentieth century for transporting various commodities produced in the Apuseni Mountains and adjacent areas, such as timber, cereals, salt and gold. Various types of boats and rafts were used. After 1699, when the province fell under Habsburg domination, a shipyard was opened in Partoș where up to 800 workers were employed producing boats and rafts, called nae in Latin. Transportation on rafts continued to be practiced by the inhabitants of the city until the destruction of the harbour by the floods of May 1970 and July 1975. Work on the embankment of the Mureș River carried out between 1979 and 1981 regularised the stream and diminished its navigability.

In the case of land transportation, we can gain some insight into this from the perspective mid-sixteenth-century court life in Alba Iulia. Jozsef Benkö described a carriage employed by the prince on special occasions, such as the enthronement or the reception of ambassadors. The carriage was a narrow box suspended on two long leather bands strung between the axles. These rare vehicles were used for the transportation of dignitaries in the Alba Carolina fortress until the end of the eighteenth century. Most often, the prince used an open carriage. The servants of the court would stand on each side of this open carriage. The princely train consisted of various kinds of carriages following that of the prince, transporting the court dignitaries, prelates and elite soldiers.

In Transylvania, paved roads were constructed after 1800, as recent investigations by O. Gaidoș have revealed. In spite of the poor state of the roads in the past, a monthly service connected Sibiu and Vienna as early as 1754. After 1830 this service ran twice per month. The mail coach ride (or the less expensive rented carriage ride) to Vienna took seven or eight days. Buda could be reached in five days. The duration of the ride depended on road conditions, the number of stops and the weather. After 1850, the Sibiu-Timișoara-Pest road was ranked as a state road.

After 1865, travellers coming to Alba Iulia from the west or south could use the railway. Passengers could choose between three steam locomotive services: the Orient Express, a fast train and a slow train, each having three classes of waggons. According to a train schedule from 1890, the slow train ride from Budapest to Alba Iulia took 27 hours, while the fast train took 24 hours. The slow train from Bucharest to Teiuș (a railway node 15 km north of Alba Iulia) via Predeal, Brașov, Sighișoara, Mediaș, Copșa Mică and Blaj took 24 hours. The fast train took 21 hours 30 minutes. The connecting service from Teiuș to Alba Iulia added another 36 minutes. The journey from Arad to Alba Iulia on the first railway of the province – the Arad-Sibiu-Turnu Roșu line – lasted 7 hours. Travellers to Alba Iulia would end their journey in the city’s railway station, one of Transylvania’s first, built in 1868, in an architectural style typical of Austro-Hungarian station architecture up to the end of the nineteenth century.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a narrow-gauge railway connected Alba Iulia with the Apuseni Mountains on a line descending from Câmpeni, through Zlatna, to the lower city and, finally, the railway station.

Looking today at photographs and illustrations from 1900, there are some significant changes. The transportation of most individuals and goods, both within and beyond the city, was still generally by carriage or carts drawn by horses or oxen. The rich, however, could purchase cars, as did Dr Abraham Mandel, the fortunate owner of a Chrysler automobile back in 1928. Those not so rich but with bourgeois leanings could take a small bus for trips such as picnics or visits to the summer garden at Lumea Nouă.

One type of transport that has remained unchanged through the ages is the use of horses by the military. During military parades, soldiers stationed in the fortress would ride horses along the pedestrian street stretching from the Third to the Fourth Gate; even today the public can still watch the parade of the Habsburg guards, which takes place daily at 12:00 p.m. (L. S.)