During the four decades of the Communist regime in Romania, Alba Iulia was disregarded, especially from 1950 to 1968, when the city belonged to Hunedoara Region. In this time, many buildings were destroyed and many new buildings were constructed. The results of the regime’s building programmes are visible today in neighbourhoods dominated by apartment blocks and other inelegant constructions. The city underwent forced industrialization and a spectacular population growth during this period.
Before the end of the Second World War, on 6 March 1945, the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) began their offensive for political conquest of the country, resulting in the formation of Petru Groza’s government. With the forced abdication of King Michael on 30 December 1947, the last anti-Communist bulwark in Romania was eliminated and the RCP was free to change the county according to its whims.
In Alba Iulia, as all over Romania, the first step in the diminution of private property was a law passed on 11 June 1948 which enforced the nationalization (in fact, forfeiture) of industrial factories, banks, insurance and transportation companies. Within a couple of months, state control also extended over cinemas and health facilities. By 1950, all economic and social-cultural units came under state control, including many apartments and houses.
A law passed on 6 September 1950 abolished Romania’s traditional administrative organization into counties, and as a result Alba Iulia was relegated to a subordinate city in Hunedoara Region, which had Deva as its capital. This subordination lasted 18 years, until February 1968, when the county system was re-established and Alba Iulia once again became capital of Alba County. This was a sad period in the history of the city, which was reduced to the status of a forgotten market town, and saw no investment in its infrastructure. In this way, the city was made to pay for its political, religious and cultural past and, in particular, for its inhabitants’ fidelity to the Romanian National Party of Transylvania and, since 1926, the National Peasant Party.
Communist ideology preferred investment in heavy industry to the development of consumer products and infrastructure, and during this time Romania became a major producer of steel, cement and industrial machinery. From the end of the 1960s, Alba Iulia, which had no previous heavy industry capacities, underwent a process of rapid industrialization. New industrial units started to appear, including the Mining Equipment and Repairs Factory (1954), the Refractory Materials Factory (1965), the Equipment for Building Materials Industry Factory (1969), the Porcelain Factory (1969), the Cast Iron Foundry (1975), the Carpet Factory (1977) and the Avicola Company (1978). Numerous halls and warehouses were constructed. A new railroad station for shipments was built in Bărăbanţ.
This fast industrialization required extensive development of the city. Alba Iulia’s outlook changed as apartment blocks became the dominant paradigm of new constructions, with dozens, then hundreds of identical buildings popping up across several new neighbourhoods. The small apartments were identical in their inner floorplan as well as their external appearance, which followed the preference for uniform arrangement stipulated by Communist aesthetics and symbolism. The Cetate (Fortress), Ampoi and Tolstoi neighbourhoods were all built after 1965. The authorities were proud of them, even though there were no green spaces and no playgrounds for children.
A statue of Michael the Brave was the only monument erected in Alba Iulia during the forty years of Communism. The Vauban Fortress and the other monuments of the city were left to decay, since they were perceived as representing the “haughtiness and reactionary character of the Habsburg Empire.” Priority was given to new buildings, even though many had no aesthetic personality. These include the County Hospital and Polyclinic (1973), Unions’ Cultural Hall (1976), the Transilvania Hotel (1972), the Cetate Hotel (1978), and the Parc Hotel (1981).
Everyday life improved at the beginning of 1960s, as the supply of products became more diversified. The maximum level of wellbeing under Communism was around the end of 1970s. The economic crisis of the early 1980s, and especially the intensification of hardship and penury after 1985, made the life of Alba Iulia’s inhabitants almost unbearable. The shops were generally empty, and as soon as rumours of incoming supplies (butter, cheese, meat and so on) spread, long queues formed. In wintertime, heating was turned off in the apartment blocks, leaving people suffering from the cold. Hot water was supplied only two days per week, from 7 to 9 p.m. Moreover, in order to save electricity, the authorities cut the supply for several hours each day and reduced TV programming to only two hours, from 8 to 10 p.m.
The natural growth in labour supply, as well as the movement of workers from rural to industrial areas, led to a significant growth in Alba Iulia’s population. In 1948, Alba Iulia had 14,420 inhabitants, according to the population census. By 1992, the population of the city had increased five times, to 71,168. Growth in the city’s Romanian population was particularly marked. Throughout its existence, Alba Iulia had remained a diverse, cosmopolitan city, but by 1992, Romanians represented 93.69% of the population, compared to 82.54 % in 1948.
In its two thousand years of existence, Alba Iulia has developed like a volcano, its times of glory alternating with moments of complete anonymity. At moments it seems to be ignored, the city stands up once again and rises to new heights. For two thousand years, the city has been “fed from the saps of a strange symbiosis between the place where sublime is born and the place where nothing happens.” Sidelined during Communist times, especially between 1950 and 1968, Alba Iulia is nowadays one of the most important tourist attractions in Romania, and is also known for its university, which in 2016 celebrated 25 years of activity. (S.A.)