FORMER BETHLEN COLLEGE
The Academic College in Alba Iulia was set during the reign of the prince Gabriel Bethlen (1613-1629) due to his desire that this city would become a new Heidelberg. By its dimensions and the prestigious professors who taught here (Martin Opitz, Johan Bisterfeld, etc) this institution of superior education had no rival in Transylvania of those times. The building complex was finished, however, under the new prince, Gheorghe Rakoczi I, with the contribution of the architect Giacomo Resti of Verona. The glory of the college from Alba Iulia was a short one: the Turkish and Tatar invasions in 1658 and 1662, resulting in great destructions for the city, and the burning of the college building determined the decision of moving the institution in Aiud, where is still in function today.
After a while, the old building of the college sheltered the Great Infantry Barracks (for a long period the only Infantry unit in the Alba Iulia Garrison) capable of hosting nearly 1000 soldiers. Here, from the second half of the 19th century, was the headquarters of the 50th Line Regiment. Also here was the place where, around the event on December 1st, 1918, the Office of the Romanian Military Council was set. The military destination was kept until today.
In order to underline something from the former glory of the college, let us hear the foreign travellers who passed through Alba Iulia in the 17th century:
„Here used to be a beautiful gymnasium, founded and erected by the prince Gabriel Behtlen. Back then, rector of this gymnasium was doctor Isaacus Bazirius, a man called here from Constantinopole, where he lived in exile, by prince Gheorghe Rakoczi II; he showed me his diploma written with beautiful golden Latin letters. He was a friendly man and a savant in the same time […] discussing with much eloquence and who let his library opened for my personal use. […] The doctor told me how he has lived 7 years in exile because of the decapitated king of England (Charles Stuart, 1625-1649), verum semper ut dominus, nunquam ut servus (always as a lord, never as a servant). He had in his care the sons of some „Magnificent” ones, who were entrusted to him for teaching, he had a Saxon servant and, as a ministrant, an Englishman whom he saved from slavery in Constantinopole […]
Besides this permanent rector, the gymnasium had other professors as well, teaching logics and rhetoric and initiating the students in stylistic. The rector himself was teaching theology and metaphysics, both in public and in particular. The students were mostly Hungarians, some large bearded fellows who were always arguing with the soldiers; from the generosity of the prince 40 people are supported for free. But the prince Gheorghe Rakoczi I took the college funds for himself, funds destined for the finishing of the princely college begun in Alba Iulia and remained unfinished after the death of the prince Bethlen, and which was transformed into ashes by the Tatars during the last war of Rakoczi in 1658, along with the princely residence city – Alba Iulia.”
„Eminent teachers like mister Johann Henrik and Bisterfeld were teaching here, they are buried in Alba; the latter was cherished in a special manner; the prince gave him a few villages […] and also Johann Piscator who died and is buried there”.
Martin Opitz (born in 1597 in Bunzlau, Silezia –dead from plague in 1639, in Danzig) – was considered by some biographers „the Fathero of the German Literature”. His work is a various one, both in Latin and in German, developed on a certain humanist, religious and nationalist fund. In 1622 he taught philosophy in Alba Iulia Gymnasium. The prince Gabriel Bethlen asked the duke of Silezia to recommend him 4-5 taught men, „ good protestants”, I order to hire them as professors for the newly established college. Finally, only two young professors left for Transylvania, Iacob Copius and Martin Opitz, the first returning home in a short while. Martin Opitz stayed in Transylvania for more than a year. In May, 1622, when he arrived in Ardeal, Gabriel Bethlen was mourning for his recently deceased wife, Suzana Karoly, and the Dieta was just voting to forbid the Romanians to travel mounted. As his verses are showing us on many occasions, Martin Opitz did not feel at home in the aristocratic environments of Transylvania. On the other hand, he was impressed by the Latin inheritance of the Romanians, so he wrote the idyllic poem in 583 verses called „Zlatna oder der Ruhe des Gemuthes” and the archaeological –historical study „Dacia Antiqua”. In „Zlatna”, the themes he explores are focused around the Latinity of the Romanian people. Although the „Dacia Antiqua” study was not preserved (probably burned alongside all the goods of the poet dead from plague, as the sanitary standards of the time dictated), one might say, based on indirect sources that it had impressive dimensions and was based on a judicious documentation.
„In every hut covered with straws
A noble blood says that the inherited tongue
Is the same today, that the customs are
Faithfully preserved, that your cloth
And dance is witness that you have an old root.
A dance almost unrivalled in beauty;
Now a row is forming, now it’s breaking down,
Now they all step, holding hands towards the side
Now towards the other side; they bow, go round,
Of them each is a dexterous deer”.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
In his ambitions as the protector of culture, Prince Gabriel Bethlen wanted to turn Alba Iulia into a „Heidelberg of the East”. Therefore, he founded the Academic College in the heart of the citadel. It was set up in 1622 and it received the rank of academic school in 1629, providing three faculties: Theology, Philosophy and Philology. The humanistic school was attended by 40 students who received scholarship supported from the budget of the princely court in Alba Iulia. Here the youth were preparing for various secular careers and practical functions of the Principality of Transylvania.
Through its size and the prestige of the teachers who taught here, this higher education institution had a European significance, unequaled in Transylvania.
Nevertheless, the glory of the college in Alba Iulia was short-lived: the Tatar and Turkish invasions of 1658 and 1662 affected the college, which was burned and causing the institution to be moved to Aiud where currently still functions – offering just pre-university classes.
The building where the college functioned was taken over by the Austrian army at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Initially, „The Great Barracks of the Infantry” occupied the place – it could gather up to 1,000 soldiers.
The edifice still exists today at the crossroads of Unirii Street and Roman Street. The massive, ground floor and top floor building have several wings that delineate two inner courtyards with characteristic features of the late Renaissance in Transylvania.
Its military purpose is still preserved today.