THE 1ST GATE OF THE ALBA CAROLINA CITADEL
The decorations on the gates, along with the decorative elements of the bastions, ravelins and counterguards, form the richest baroque sculptural ensemble in Transylvania. From the six access gates placed on the central axis of the citadel (three on the western side and three on the eastern side), the first four are richly decorated with bas-reliefs and statues. From the sculptors and carvers team who worked at the gates of the citadel, the documents registered the name of the Bavarian artist Johann Konig.
The counting of the gates from one to six is a recent exercise, beginning with the 20th century, nowadays we also count a 7th gate on the northern side of the citadel. The 1st gate was identified for a long time as the “Charles’ Lower Gate”.
Before the restoration (finished in 2007), the sculptures of the gate were in an advances degradation status, for example the heads of the statues of Mars and Venus or the wings of the double headed eagle. When restoring the representations, pictures taken 50 or 100 years ago were used, the statues being less affected.
The themes of the representations on the gates are inspired from the Roman antiquity, whose inheritance was claimed by the Habsburg Empire and on the recent wars with the Turks (the beginning of the 18th century). On the 1st Gate the subjects inspired from antiquity are predominant. The monument is shaped as an arch of triumph, with four massive pillars, with a large central opening and two smaller lateral ones. The statues above the gate are represented in such a technique that the lower parts of the characters are intentionally smaller for the perspective effect; the statues being supposed to be looked at from below.
The upper case, above the side pillars, shows us two bombards or big caliber cannons placed as they are ready to fire. Over the central pillars we have the statues of the gods Mars and Venus. Mars, the god of war and military power, is represented as a young man, without his usual beard in his mature representation, but wearing his usual Roman military equipment, that is to say an anatomic armor, a large cloak, lance, helmet, etc. In this representation, as a specific feature, we have the helmet, carved with a short crest, without panache, and the position of the god, leaning on a small column.
Goddess Venus represented in Roman mythology, the love, the beauty, fertility, desire but also victory and she was usually associated with Mars. The goddess has clothes that cover almost her entire body but in the same time allowing us to see her generous curves. In her left hand she holds the mirror, her usual object. As a special feature the statue presents some sort of a hat with a short crest placed on her head but this is just an artistic license of the restoration team.
In the middle of the upper case there is the double headed eagle, the symbol of Austria, with the wings spread and holding the sword and the scepter, the signs of power. On the two heads, the eagle wears the imperial crown and on the chest, on a badge, we have the monogram of the emperor under whose rule the fortification was built, that is to say Charles the 6th (VI). From the badge, the symbol of the Order of the Golden Fleece is hanged, a ram. If in ancient mythology the Golden Fleece is associated with the expedition of Jason and his Argonauts, in the 18th century, the Catholic Knight “Golden Fleece” was amongst the most important of such organizations in Europe, and Charles the 6th was also the grand master of the order.
The bas-relief on the left, on the exterior façade of the gate, is showing us the fleeing from Troy of the hero Aeneas, the ancestor of Remus and Romulus. The subject is often used in baroque art, just as in this case, the bas relief is structured in depth, on slightly arched diagonal, a specific element of the baroque. The hero, in a warrior’s equipment, carries his father, old Anchise, who looks over his shoulder at the flames that caught Troy. It is worth mentioning the fact that Aeneas was also the son of goddess Venus represented on the gate.
The bas relief on the right presents the clash between Hercules and the giant called Antheus. This is one of the secondary works of Hercules, besides the twelve classic ones. Antheus, the son of goddess Gaia, was invulnerable as long as he had contact with the ground, so Hercules had to lift him in the air in order to be able to kill him. The giant is presented with a terrified face, trying to release himself from Hercules’ lock. Their bodies are naked, but a piece of cloth, a characteristic of the 18th century bashfulness, is presented into the scene just enough to cover the back side of Hercules.
On the interior façade, the bas-relief on the left (if we face this façade) presents the first work of Hercules, the killing of the Nemeean Lion. This beast was terrorizing the Corinth area, his golden skin being impossible to be pierced by any weapon but its claws being able to pierce any armor. Hercules killed it with his bare hands and then used a claw of the beast in order to skin it. Afterwards he was always wearing the Nemeean Lion’s hide on his shoulders. It is interesting to mention that, according to historical sources, there were lions in the fauna of Greece until the 1st century B.C.
The bas-relief on the right presents us the most commonly known victory of Perseus: the beheading of the Medusa. In order to kill the monster, Perseus used the Gorgon’s reflection in his shield, otherwise he would have been transformed into a statue by looking directly to her. The snakes on Medusa’s head, held triumphantly by Perseus in his right hand, seem to continue the same whirling movement from before the beheading. The lifeless body of the monster is behind Perseus. Considered the most important hero until Hercules appeared, Perseus is equipped in an anatomic type military armor, breeches and cloak, unlike most of its representations where the hero is presented naked.
Scientific consultant: Tudor Roșu, PhD historian
Translation made by: Ciprian Dobra, PR expert
The 1st Gate of the Alba Carolina Citadel stands proudly at the base of the terrace on which this grand fortification was built. Carved out of stone in the shape of a triumphal arch, it is the first access point to the citadel from the East. The gate also provides an insightful history lesson, particularly with regards to Rome and its legacy, which were claimed by the Habsburg Empire.
The monument carries rich sculptural ornamental work, with scenes carved in relief depicting mythical characters, such as: Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome; Perseus, the most important hero until Hercules; and, Antaeus, the giant whom Hercules wrestled and killed.
A bicephalous eagle boasts prime position a top the monument’s main arch, with statues of Mars (the God of War) and Venus (the Goddess of Beauty) by its side. Holding a sword and sceptre in its talons with its wings spread wide, the raptor is considered to be an Austrian symbol of power. It wears the Imperial Crown on its two heads, while its chest displays the monogram of Charles VI, the king in whose time the citadel was built.
Long known as „the Lower Charles Gate”, this beautiful monument reclaimed its allure as a key tourist attraction in 2007.