Last Updated on July 6, 2023 by Ellen
We traveled into the heart of Transylvania to see more of central Romania, and our stay in Alba Iulia is unforgettable. It is a small city known for three ancient fortifications that form a star shape around the old fortress.
The Roman camp Apulum left behind relics from the 2nd through 4th centuries AD. The site expanded in the Middle Ages, with ruins of the first church dating back to about 950 AD. Alba Ilulia expanded again in medieval times, with the final wall fortification that exists today.
But what is truly incredible about all of this history is how it is preserved and accessed by the public today.
The best part of this place is the ‘Three Fortifications Route’. This is a special entrance to an area in the fort that includes parts of the original Roman arches into the fortress, historic weapons of war, and underground chambers including a medieval torture room and officers’ lounge.
There is something creepy about the underground areas. Of course, dark, damp places in Transylvania would seem creepy because it is a place associated with dark legends.
We associate Transylvania with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula fiction. But the dead drinking the blood from the living as an elixir to immortality goes back into the 16th century Romanian legend about the strigoi. These troubled souls rose from their graves at night to feast on the living to reclaim their vitality. There are also legends about living strigoi – akin to evil witches and wizards, though not as fearsome as the dead strigoi.
In the subterranean chambers at Alba Iulia, more fearsome that fictional stories or myths and legends: man’s ability to destroy life. In the torture chamber, I realized that we humans have not yet left the ‘dark ages’. We still torture each other in wars – sometimes in the name of God – to preserve our ‘way of life’ from threatening ‘invaders’. We cannot accept that life is a series of change over time, no matter how much we try to hold onto the present. Life is fluid.
In the Knights Hall, my travel partner sat at the long, massive wooden table and goofed around. It was his birthday! Tedly turned 60 years old!
He isn’t exactly thrilled at aging — but who really is? I am —- almost. That I get to spend another day on Earth is a blessing that so many other cancer patients do not get. I don’t want to clutch ‘now’ in a death grip. I accept this moment will pass and appreciate that I was here to live it. Of course, I’m amazed at the wrinkles and other bodily changes that come with natural aging, and following five years of the cancer prevention drug tamoxifen, which speeds up the body’s aging process.
Our visit to this wonderfully preserved fortress in Transylvania held us both in wonderment that we are early retired budget slow travelers who get to experience such a fantastic setting.
Budget travel tips for Alba Iulia in Transylvania
If you find yourself in Alba Iulia, in historic Transylvania, Romania, don’t miss the Three Fortifications Route area. For just a couple of bucks, you can wander in wonder.
Also don’t miss climbing to the top of the steeple at the Catholic Cathedral for a few dollars. The view isn’t great from the top, but it’s the oldest church on the grounds and it has some relief sculptures from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Another must see: re-enactments of war and also of a changing of the guard. These occur on Friday evening and Saturday morning respectively, at the time of this writing. The schedule has changed since the pandemic, so check the official website of Alba Iulia tourism before you plan your trip. Note: the website is not in English.
The National Museum of Unification was OK, but many of the exhibits have no English translation.
We loved the view from our Airbnb rental, which is pictured at the top of this page. It was $41 a night.
One standout restaurant we really liked: Gothic. It is one of the few places where you an eat ‘inside’ a fortification wall. Note: the menu is not in English, so have a translation app at the ready.
Thanks for reading, “Into the heart of Transylvania – underground In Alba Iulia.”
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