Vauban and bastion fortresses in Romania

The impressive Vauban citadel structures of the 17th – 18th century warfare era, with their characteristic star shape and diamond profile bastions, are usually associated with Western Europe defence architectural tradition perfected by the great French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

Less well known is the fact that remarkable Vauban type fortresses are also encountered in South East Europe, within the territory encompassed today by the state of Romania, which throughout history has been a borderland between conflicting powers that came into contact in this region.

In the 18thcentury the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile hegemon of the Balkans came to blows with the advancing Habsburg and Russian empires in the lands between the Carpathians Mountains and the river Danube, where the principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldova, historic provinces of Romania, are located. I describe that very peculiar geopolitical situation as a triple junction point of empires. The convergence of three competing powers within those territories had a powerful influence not only on local military architecture, causing the Vauban fortress type to be widely adopted, but has also produced the odd mix of western and oriental civil architectural styles encountered in today Romania.

I will be presenting here some of the most representative such historic military architectural structures using satellite images from Google Earth, endeavouring to complement them in the foreseeable future with photographs taken in situ, as I will travel throughout Romania and visit those places. The map bellow indicates the location of the citadels mentioned in the article.

Romania's region: a "triple junction point" of empires where the continous state of warfare in the 18th century made necessary the construction of many Vauban type fortresses (like the one refered to in this article and circled on the map)
Romania’s region: a “triple junction point” of empires where the continous warfare between the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires in the 18th century made necessary the construction of Vauban type fortresses (circled locations are refered to in this article)

* Austrian fortresses

Austria incorporated in 1699, after the conquest of Ottoman Hungary, the autonomous Transylvanian principality and its adjacent areas (Partium, Banat). The virtually continuous warfare in this borderland with the Turks and the necessity to firmly secure the territory, determined the construction of strong Vauban fortresses to protect main towns and reinforce strategic points along the advancing front line. Thus one of the oldest and most impressive such fortresses was erected between the years 1714-38 in Alba-Iulia (Hungarian: Gyulafehérvár, German: Karlsburg) the ancient capital of the principality.

The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738
The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738. View from 1.9km altitude.

The citadel surrounds the old Roman city of Apulum, one of the oldest continuously settled places in Romania, and its grid of streets sill preserves the Roman layout. The Austrians even used blocs of stone from the old Roman defence walls.

The city of Cluj (Hungarian: Kolozsvár, German: Klausenburg) was, as the seat of the Transylvanian parliament, the Diet, also provided with a Vauban fortress at practically the same Read more

Victorian barn: an interesting example from southern Romania

Toward the end of the 19th century, Romania became one of the main European grain exporters, in close competition with the producers of Southern Russia (the Black Sea steppe). It was a direct result of the Crimean and the 1877-’78 Russian-Turkish wars that resulted in unencumbered international access to the waterways of the Danube, the Black Sea and the Bosporus straight, which opened again the trade routes of the region for first time since the Ottoman conquest, four centuries before.

The extraordinary demand from the industrialised countries of the Victorian Western Europe for large quantities of grains, made possible an unprecedented economic and cultural flourishing in Romania and from that period dates most of the picturesque French inspired architecture of Bucharest (what I call the “Little Paris” style) and of many other Romanian provincial towns.

The industrial architecture is another chapter of that development, seen today in the old barns that dot the countryside and the peculiar Victorian industrial buildings of the steam engine mills from the grain exporting ports on the Danube.

Peasants & crop transports waiting their turn to an industrial steam mill, 1899 Braila, Romania (Valentin Mandache collection)
Peasants with crop transports waiting their turn to an industrial steam mill, 1899 Braila, Romania (early postcard)

I found during my fieldwork an excellent example of a surviving 19thcentury barn in a village in Gorj county, south-western Romania.

Historic 19th century barn, Oltenia region (©Valentin Mandache)
Historic 19th century barn, Oltenia region (©Valentin Mandache)

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