TRANSYLVANIA’S PRINCELY PALACE
The first phase of the existence of a palace in this area was dated at the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century, in relation with the construction of a headquarters that was to serve the archbishop of Transylvania and the members of the chapter. After a series of extensions, modifications and renovations until the 16th century, beginning with 1541 the palace became the dwelling of the queen Isabela and her son, the king John Sigismund II (who assumed the title of „principe” in 1570), after that the palace was the headquarters of the next princes of Transylvania until the 17th century. For this stage of maximum importance of the palace we must take into consideration the entire complex, that is to say to include the area of the nowadays archbishop’s palace. In 1556, the Roman-Catolic archbishopric was disbanded and the properties confiscated by the princes. Both the extension and embellishment works of the complex were performed under Sigismund Bathory (who ruled in several periods between 1581 and 1602) but also after that under the rule of Gabriel Bethlen (1613-1629) and Gheorghe Rackoczi I (1630-1648), and that is why numerous architects and masters were brought here from all over Europe. It is also important to note that the palace suffered from the invasions of the tatars and turks in 1658 and 1662, when Alba Iulia suffered significant destructions.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the complex was taken over by the Austrian Army, the western part (the nowadays archbishop’s palace) was given back to the Catholic Archbishopric and in the eastern side the Arsenal and the Barracks of the Artillery were installed. After 1918, the palace was used by the Romanian Army, therefore the military destination was preserved until recently.
Returning to the years when the palace was probably the most important building in Transylvania, we will let speak the foreign travelers who arrived in Alba Iulia in the 16th and the 17th century and who were all very impressed by the beauty of this edifice: „Over the southern wall of the city, facing the field, there was an astonishing beautiful palace of the kings. All the walls and all its doors were painted in all kinds of colors and all the columns were adorned with green granite and marble from Samaki. All the windows had bronze frames and had crystal glass and Murano mirrors, and the floor was covered with stones of fine marble like the mosaics from India. In several lower or storied rooms there were basins, water reservoirs and faucets from which clear water sprinkles and which were adorned with different art works”; „The unfortunate palace of the kings that was burnt became so beautiful and flourishing that only the palace of Fernandum (Ferdinand I of Habsburg) is similar to it”; „Here is the royal palace of this city, palace that used to be the residence of the bishop and became a ruin not being taken care of for several years. But the queen Isabella, the mother of the present king, restored the building very well”.
So, the palace used to have some sumptuous rooms for the reception of the guests and for festive events. The throne hall was also here and the rooms of the king as well as those of his wife. Among the reightful „dwellers” we mention: Isabella, the last queen of Hungary; Sigismund Bathory the one who rightfully ruled over the three Romanian countries; along with the prince, in those periods when his marriage seemed to be a happy one, the palace also hosted his wife, Maria Cristina of Habsburg, the sister of the future emperor Ferdinand II; the one presented by history as the nemesis of Sigismund, the one who actually united the three Romanian Countries, the brave voyvoda Michael – in this palace Michael most probably wrote his famous words: „and the boundary of Ardeal… the wished that I wished … Moldavia and the Romanian Country”; the prince Gabriel Bethlen, the one who dreamt about the throne of Hungary, of Poland but also about the title of „rex Daciae” that is to say about the union of all three Romanian Countries under his rule, the prince who made Alba Iulia reach its peak of glory (amongst others, the prince built a university and reinforced the citadel with two bastions); his second wife and successor, the ravishing beautiful Ecaterina de Brandenburg; and finally all the future princes of Transylvania until MihAIL Apafi I, who lived most of the time in Fagaras. In the wall of the northern façade, in the public access area, there is a huge bronze bas-relief (6,3 x 3 m), entitled „the Union of the Romanian Countries”. In an allegorical scene, Michael the Brave, in front of the throne, receives bread and salt from the people who bows with humility. The bas-relief was realized by the artist Horia Flamandu and inaugurated in 1975, when 375 years from the union of the Romanian Countries under Michael the Brave was celebrated, but also the 200 years of existence for the city of Alba Iulia (according to an erroneous interpretation of the historical information). It was a major holiday for Alba Iulia when, on May the 28th, 1975, on the Plateau in front of the 3rd Gate of the citadel the head of state, Nicolae Ceausescu marked it with his presence, along with the Michael the Brave character who reached the crowd under the interpretation of the legendary actor Amza Pellea.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
The Principal Palace, like many other monuments in the Alba Carolina Citadel, has got a long history, linked to personalities and outstanding events in the Transylvanian and even European history. The first phase of the existence of a palace in this area dates back to the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century, and is related to the establishment of the seat for the bishop of Transylvania and for the members of the chapter.
The edifice lived its glory days during the Transylvanian Principality when, for more than 150 years, the fate of the region was headed from Alba Iulia. It goes without saying that the princely residence was the center and the most important scene of the political life in Transylvania at the time. For this stage of the greatest historical importance of the palace, we have to consider the whole complex, with three courtyards, that is, including the area of the current Archbishop’s Palace.
The complex was extended and during the reigns of princes Sigismund Bathory, Gabriel Bethlen and Gheorghe Rákóczi I. Skilled architects and craftsmen from Europe contributed for the works.
The Principal Palace became the seat of famous rulers like: Queen Isabella of Hungary; Prince Sigismund Bathory, who was a de jure ruler of the three Romanian Countries; Michael the Brave, who accomplished a de facto unification of Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia; Prince Gabriel Bethlen, during whose reign Alba Iulia reached its maximum prosperity.
A bronze bas-relief, embedded in the wall of the northern front wall, in the public access area, is dedicated to Michael the Brave who lived and worked here during a short ten-month period in which he ruled from Alba Iulia the destiny of the Principality of Transylvania. The allegorical scene depicts the voivode before the throne receiving bread and salt from the people who are worshiping him with humility. The bas-relief was produced by Horia Flămându (1975) and it was inaugurated on the occasion of the 375 year celebration since the unification of the three Romanian principalities.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the complex was taken over by the Austrian army. The Habsburgs decided that the western part, the current Archbishop’s Palace, should be returned to the Catholic Diocese, and the eastern part was taken over by the Austrian army. Following the 1918 Union, the Palace was used by the Romanian army and remained a military purpose building until recently.
The current palace represents about two-thirds of what was the residence of the Transylvanian princes in the premodern era. Even so segmented, this unique Transylvania monument has continued to represent a model for the late Renaissance buildings of the province.
Currently, the edifice is under conservation, and experts are investigating hidden traces of its former grandeur. The complex will enter into a vast process of restoration which will definitely uncover part of the sumptuousness and the fast of four centuries ago, when it was the most important building in Transylvania.