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The Visits of Habsburg Monarchs to Alba Carolina Fortress

In the pre-modern age, Alba Carolina, one of the most important fortresses of Transylvania, and Karlsburg, one of the most representative cities of the province, have benefitted from the official visits of the emperors of the house of Habsburg. This story deals with the visits of Emperor Joseph II in 1773 and 1783, as well as that of Emperor Francis and his wife, empress Carolina of Bavaria, in 1817.

Emperor Joseph II rated Alba Carolina as the most important and magnificent fortress of Transylvania. He made two official visits, in 1773 and 1783. The travel diary of Joseph II allows us to see the fortress through the eyes of the emperor. After travelling along the Mureș valley, coming from Deva fortress and Orăștie, on Monday, 24 May 1773, while in Karlsburg, the emperor wrote: “The main fortress of the province has seven bastions, two cavaliers, six ravelins, five redoubts and four counterguards in front of the bastions, however, two ravelins, two redoubts and one counterguard as well as the outer ditch are not yet completed […]. Karlsburg was formerly the official seat of the princes of the country and was called Alba Iulia. After Emperor Charles VI had built here a fortress, the name given to it was Alba Carolina. The casemates of the fortress are not completed. Inside the fortress lay: 1. The residence of the bishop; 2. The cathedral, where the graves of some princes of the country can be seen; 3. The second public archive, where the public records are preserved, similar to that of Cluj, but in better order; 4. The mint and the foundry, a wonderful building; 5. The arsenal; 6. The monastery of the Trinitarians, an order that is found only here in this country; 7. The monastery of the Bulgarians and the seminary established by Bishop Stoica for the clerics. On the southern side of the fortress is the town of Karlsburg inhabited by Germans, Saxons, Magyars and Wallachians, and around 35 families of Jews, who are not tolerated elsewhere in this country […]. Then I went to Karlsburg and had a meal, in the evening I went in the fortress and around the fortifications. I have never seen a more beautiful fortress.” On 25 May 1773, the emperor spent nine hours in Alba Carolina. He visited the Palace of the Princes from 9.00 to 10.30 a.m. He went on noting in his diary: “Alba Carolina was chosen by Prince Eugene [of Savoy] and its construction began in 1716-1717. From 1726 the works were suspended and it is not completed yet, however it can be said that it possesses magnificence, perceivable in the stone, the splendour of the statues placed on the gates and bas-reliefs, which were lavishly produced, the plinths are splendid, the casements are clean and beautiful, spacious, the counterguards, the individual bastions and the redoubts are fit, the only drawback is that it is dominated by two or three settlements. In spite of that, it can be seen from the hills, which are at a distance of 5600 fathoms”.

At the end of May 1783, during a second trip to Transylvania, Joseph II halted in Alba Carolina. It is known that he visited Báthory Church. As the church was in a poor condition, the decision was taken for it to be decommissioned. In the context of suppression of the monastic orders, the building complex, together with the church, was transferred to a military commission, which turned it into a military depot. In 1898, the Majláth Superior Roman Catholic Gymnasium was constructed in the same location, which has belonged to the 1 Decembrie 1918 University of Alba Iulia since 1996.

Almost half a century later, during an official visit to Transylvania, coming from Cluj through the Apuseni Mountains, Emperor Francis and Empress Carolina of Bavaria spent 29 and 30 August 1817 in Alba Iulia. According to George Bariț, the emperor met the Greek Catholic bishop Ioan Bob from Blaj, whom he appreciated and decorated for his contributions in support of the imperial army. The discussions of the emperor and bishop regarded the size of the Greek Catholic diocese of Făgăraș, the number of parishes and their material standing. After the discussion, the emperor concluded that “the diocese was overextended (covering the entire province, like the Orthodox one), and the priests are so numerous that God only could take care of their subsistence”.

It has long been known that Emperor Joseph II (1765-1790) spent one third of his time as emperor travelling the lands belonging to the Habsburg crown in order to become acquainted with the issues of the country and of his subjects in his efforts to solve them. When he visited Alba Iulia, he was fascinated by the history of the Roman city, Apulum, and the port in Partoș, as well as Alba Carolina fortress, the mint and the arsenal. Like everywhere in Transylvania, “the good emperor” remained in the memory of the local people as inaugurator of the official visits to the city. Joseph II stands out among the state heads who visited Alba Iulia several times. (L.S.)