Roman-Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael – Alba Iulia

INTRODUCTION

Saint Michael’s Cathedral of Alba Iulia was built between 1247 and 1291, which makes it contemporary to the famous Notre Dame of Paris. Furthermore, it appears that a great French architect, Villard de Honnecourt, contributed to its design. In addition to being the oldest and the longest cathedral in Romania (at 89.16 m measured along its axis), it is also considered the most important monument of Romanesque architecture in Transylvania.
The site is registered in the National Archaeological Repertory of Romania.

HISTORY

The original cathedral was built in the second half of the 11th century: a basilica with three naves and one apse in a semicircular shape, extended with a circular baptistery on the southern side. The plan of the old building can be distinguished on the floor of the actual cathedral, in stones of a different type.
The earlier construction was expanded at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries while retaining its original layout as a basilica. This later cathedral has a Latin Cruciform transept with three naves, two southern towers and a spire crossing. The two secondary apses originally integrated a semicircular sanctuary.
Later, what is currently called the “old sacristy” was added to the southern side.
On the northern side, two chapels were built – the Lászai Chapel (1512) and the Várday Chapel (1524).
From 1565 to 1715 (with an interruption between 1594 and 1603) the cathedral was used by Protestants. In 1716 it became Catholic again as the seat of the Transylvanian Roman Catholic bishop.

ARCHITECTURE AND FURNITURE

The Laszai chapel, located in the northern part of the cathedral, is the oldest example of Renaissance architecture in Transylvania, built in 1512 by archpriest Laszai Janos to host the altar of Christian Souls. It is richly decorated with bas-reliefs that illustrate coats of arms, characters from classic mythology and the Bible, as well as figures of Hungarian monarchs.
The main sanctuary of Saint Michael’s cathedral has been subject to several changes and additions, which is why today it looks quite different from its original form. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was a square structure terminating in a semi-circular apse, but that was demolished by the end of the century to allow for the sanctuary to be extended in early Gothic style. Its lateral walls are decorated with two Romanesque bas-reliefs representing Saint Michael the Archangel. The sanctuary also includes the altar and the pews of the clergy, both of them decorated in Baroque style. The backs of these pews are painted with scenes from the lives of the prophets and the history of Salvation, as well as the portal of today’s Baroque sacristy.
The cathedral contains the tombs of several royal figures from the history of Transylvania. The northern lateral nave serves as a place of rest for queen Isabella Jagiellon and her son, John Sigismund, the first prince of Transylvania.
The richly decorated, Romanesque style doorway of the Southern side-aisle dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, and it was reserved to be the entrance for bishops. The relief on its lunette was engraved on the back of the tympanum originating from the first cathedral. The ”Maiestas Domini” tympanum is one of the most significant fragments of engraving that remains from the first cathedral, and it was subsequently placed into the tympanum of the southern doorway.
Exterior decorations of the chapel bring up biblical figures of classical mythology and reliefs of canonised Hungarian kings.

OPENING HOURS

November – February
8.00 – 16.00 – Visiting is possible with a prior agreement

March – October
9.00 – 17.00 no prior agreement is needed

For larger groups contact visit@romkat.ro or call +40 258 811 602.

Tower visit (elevator available):
Adults 6 Lei (approx EUR 1,20)
Children 3 Lei (approx EUR 0,60)
Maximum 15 persons per tower climb

CONTACT

Arhiepiscopia Romano-Catolica Alba Iulia
Mihai Viteazul nr. 21
510010 Alba Iulia, Romania
Phone: +40-258-811.689, +40-258-811.602
Mobile: 0753-056.935
E-mail: ersekseg@romkat.ro

ENTRANCE FEES & GUIDED TOURS

Free of charge.

Guided Tours on request.

ROUTE SUGGESTIONS

  • A TRANSROMANICA day in Slovakia
  • A TRANSROMANICA short trip (3 days) in Central Slovakia
  • A TRANSROMANICA short trip (3 days) around Bratislava

TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE

Tourist Information
Office of Alba Iulia
Aleea Sf. Capistrano 28
510111 Alba Iulia
Phone: +40 258 813736
office@apulum.ro
www.visitalbaiulia.com