DESTINATION: ROMANIA/Alba: Blaj or "Little Rome", as Eminescu called it

 •  Destination: Romania
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"Fountain of Romanian spirit", the town of Blaj named by poet Mihai Eminescu "Little Rome" is a place where almost every building in the central area reminds of the fact that "The Sun of Romanians rose from here" as Ion Heliade Radulescu said in 1843.

Eminescu's Lime Tree in Blaj
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARHIVA

Everywhere you go in Blaj you cannot miss a representation of things you read about in the history books, says mayor Gheorghe Valentin Rotar. A small provincial town, Blaj has a special place in the hearts of Romanians who know and respect their history.

"The place where the destiny of a people was set remains a place of pilgrimage forever," Octavian Goga used to say about Blaj. Although the town, centre of the Greek-Catholic Church, has a suitable geographical position, in the heart of the country, the number of tourists is not as large as it would deserve.

It was in Blaj that teaching in Romanian occurred for the first time and the first Romanian textbooks were printed here as well. The printing house, created at the end of the 17th century at Alba Iulia, was transferred and restored at Blaj in 1747.

The first theatre shows in the country were organized in 1761 in Blaj by the theological students who set out in a tour around the villages with their "Comedia ambulatoria."

The world's first botanical garden near a secondary school was created here in 1881.

Old cultural center, Blaj carries major historical, linguistic and national revival importance. The foundations of a culture in the national language were set here, amid a foreign occupation. Ioan Micu Moldovan used to say about Blaj that "it is the oldest nest of our national revival."

The town was erected after a design made by Inocentiu Micu-Klein himself, the founder of the Romanian Blaj. Before the headquarters of the Greek-Catholic United Bishopric moved to Blaj in 1737, the town was just a village, with reformed Calvinist and Hungarian families, no more than 20. Two years later in 1739, Blaj is declared an oppidum, equivalent to a small town.

Greek Catholic Cathedral in Blaj
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Micu-Klein drafted the major streets, indicated the place of the major square, of the cathedral, of the monastery, of the bishop residence, later made after the drafts designed by architect of the Royal Court Ioan Martinelli.

In 1737, the feudal estate of Blaj was ceded to the Romanian Greek-Catholic Bishopric of Transylvania through estate exchange, following some petitions sent to Charles the 6th by Inocentiu Micu-Klein. The bishop moved the headquarters of the bishopric here to have a closer contact with the faithful. From then on, Blaj became the major cultural and political centre of Romanians in Transylvania, the two major contributing factors being its central position and the role it played in the fight for national and social liberation.

Upon their entering the town through the northern edge coming from Tarnaveni along DJ 107 B on the "Wine Road," tourists can rest under the shade of Eminescu's Lime Tree up on the hill that overlooks the town. In June 1866, as he came from Cernauti and getting to the Blaj steep hill, Eminescu said: "I greet you from my heart, little Rome. Thank you, God, for helping me to see it."

Eminescu's Lime Tree in Blaj
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The tree which is a natural monument is now fenced and there is a plaque nearby reading "Mihai Eminescu stopped near this lime tree and saluted Blaj with enthusiasm, a town he wanted dearly to see." The local authorities placed a belle vue area here.

A little further there is "The Cross of Avram Iancu" guarding the city from a hill which can be seen from any point of Blaj. Between 1820 and 1822, the town citizens erected a four-meter high cross as a token of gratitude for bishop Ioan Bob, who helped the peasants with cereals during the famine and wrote off their debts. Between 1848 and 1849, Avram Iancu settled some troops here. In his memory, the cross was renamed after him. Blasted with dynamite by ill-willed in 1908, the monument was restored in 1915 from the initiative of Ion Micu-Moldovan.

The Cross of Avram Iancu
Photo credit: (c) Constantin DUMA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Another place reminding from Avram Iancu is "The Plain of Freedom", the place where more than 40,000 Transylvanian people shouted in May 1848 "We want to get united with the Country." As a reminder of the events, two years later, the students and teachers in Blaj erected The Stone of Freedom on the place of the podium.

Gloria Monument on the Plain of Freedom
Photo credit: (c) Angelo BREZOIANU / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The celebrations of the ASTRA semi-centennial were held here in 1911 and Aurel Vlaicu flew with his plane above the crown numbering more than 30,000 people.

On November 23, 1918, a Farman-40 plane landed here on the Plain of Freedom, bringing the news about Romania re-entering the war to release Transylvania. Two brave men flew their aircraft with open cabin during the winter and with old flight instruments to bring the message from the Romanian Army Staff to the Romanian National Council in Blaj announcing the determination of the Romanian Army to pass the Carpathians.

As a reminder of the event of 1848, a monumental complex with 24 bronze busts of the 1848 figures was set here in 1973, created by various sculptors. Four years later, Ion Vlasiu's monument "Gloria", a stone monument 18 meters high was erected here, made up of a gate meaning the access to history, with three feminine figures in front of it, made by bronze, with the glory laurels on their heads, as a symbol of the three Romanian principalities. The words "We want to unite with the country!" are carved at the monument base. Six years ago, other two busts were added there.

Gloria Monument on the Plain of Freedom
Photo credit: (c) Angelo BREZOIANU / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The historical center, the 1848 Square, a park where several avenues come to a crossroads is the place where the major popular gatherings on April 3 and May 2-14 in 1848 took place. One of its representative monuments of Blaj, "The Holy Trinity" Cathedral, can be found in the historical center, where the coffin with the remains of the town founder was brought in 1997. In 1738, bishop Micu-Klein signed a contract with Vienna-born architect Martinelli to build the cathedral. Built between 1741 and 1748 in a baroque style, the sermons in the church started only after 1765 after the icons were painted by Serbian painter Stefan Tenetzky. He also made the dome in Byzantine style with local elements. The two towers were added in 1836 for its current appearance.

Nicolae Iorga used to say about the icons made from lime tree by master joiner Aldea of Targu Mures between 1749 and 1765 that it is one of the major and most beautiful in the country.

Simion Barnutiu held his famous speech here on May 2, 1848 in this cathedral, a speech that became the political program of Romanians in Transylvania, about which D.D. Rosca used to say that "it is the major rhetorical piece in the history of Romania." The cathedral is surrounded on three of its sides by the buildings of the former Holy Trinity monastery, the work of the same Viennese architect Martinelli, erected between 1741 and 1747. Here was the place where the first high school teaching in Romanian was open on October 11, 1754. The founding stone of the school was set by Inocentiu Micu-Klein but it was concluded by his follower, bishop Petru Pavel Aron.

There is a newer building nearby, the former boys dormitories, also known as "Vancea dormitory," as it was erected under the patronage of bishop Vancea and which hosts an orphans center.

There is a plaque on the building left of the cathedral reminding that "It is here that the great poet Mihai Eminescu was hosted as a student in 1866." It is currently the headquarters of the Greek-Catholic Theological Faculty and the Archdiocese Seminary.

Just a few meters away from the cathedral one can find "The Greeks' Small Church," built on the place of an old wooden church between 1760 and 1770, called thus after the Macedonian-Romanian traders who had a financial contribution to its building. In the burial churchyard, a true Blaj Pantheon, there are the graves of Ioan Axente Sever, tribune of the Romanian revolutionaries in 1848, Ioan Rusu, founder of Romanian scientific geography, metropolitan priest Alexandru Sterca Sulutiu, the father of Romanian linguistics Timotei Cipariu and that of Ioan Micu Moldovan, author of the Blaj Declaration and the founder of the economic Romanian life in Transylvania.

In the south-western part of the 1848 Square there is the oldest building of the town, an old noble castle, a historical an architectural monument. The beginnings of the construction date back to the 13th to 14th centuries, being completely restored by Georgiu Bagdi. For almost two centuries, this castle was the residence of various feudal lords. Since 1737, the building hosted the residency of the Greek-Catholic Bishopric. In 1842, the castle was restored and the North wing was added during Ioan Lemeni's time as bishop. In 1948, it was turned into a cadastral survey school and then in a special school for teachers. It currently hosts the Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Church.

The documentary library "Timotei Cipariu" is adjacent to it, in a building erected in 1760 and which initially hosted the monastery "Annunciation." This was the place that hosted the monks seminary, the press with its annexes, the letter foundry, the book binding workshop and the xylographers' workshop. The metropolitan chancellery was also placed here.

On the western edge of 1848 Square there is the house when the great scholar Timotei Cipariu lived most of his life (1805-1887) and which is the current ASTRA headquarters. The monument two-storey building near Timotei Cipariu's house hosted the famous Blaj library that had more than 70,000 tomes and almost a thousand old scrolls.

The oldest botanical garden can be found in Blaj behind the cathedral, created near the secondary school in 1881 through the effort of natural history teacher Alexandru Uilacan. It has a historical and documentary importance as Alexandru Borza himself was its curator during a certain period. There are more than 500 species of plants in the garden, coming from all continents, from agave and aloe to gingko biloba and the tulip tree.

Among the natural monuments in Blaj there is also an oak tree over 600 years old in a natural anthropic complex in Avram Iancu Park, known as Avram Iancu's Oak Tree. Under the tree, general Caraffa discussed terms with the last prince of Transylvania, Mihai Apafi the 2nd regarding the transfer of Transylvania under the reign of the King at Vienna in 1687. The tree bears the name of Avram Iancu because it is said that he used to rest under its shade in the last years of his life when he went to his friend, metropolitan priest Alexandru Sterca Sulutiu.

Composer Iacob Muresianu, music teacher in Blaj between 1886 and 1917, lived in one of the houses on the town avenue, a house on which Anton Zeiller painted four muses, representing music, dance, poetry and literature.

In the roundabout at the end of the avenue, "Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf)" statue was erected, a copy of the famous statue of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus.

Once you walk past the Liars Bridge to Blaj Steep Hill, you reach one of the most impressive buildings in the town, hosting Inochentie Micu Klein College and which was initially a normal school bearing the name of The Institute of Gratitude, reminding of the contribution brought by the students and dwellers of Blaj and neighbouring areas to the construction of the building.

Behind the college there is the Bishops' (Archiereus) Chapel, erected between 1925 and 1937 under metropolitan priest Vasile Suciu, where many Greek-Catholic bishops and metropolitan priests are buried.

Any tourist visiting Blaj should stop at the History Museum "Augustin Bunea." The museum includes more than 1,500 items for display, among which a lot of items from the Neolithic and the Dacian period, such as an altar devoted to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Among the most valuable pieces of the museum there is a wooden press belonging to the printing house of Petru Pavel Aron.

History Museum in Blaj
Photo credit: (c) Vasile MOLDOVAN / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The museum patrimony hosts the oldest book printed in Blaj in 1753, called "Amazing" as well as many school textbooks more than two centuries old, school certificates in original and a collection of wooden icons dating from the 18th century. AGERPRES

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