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The Photo Camera of Samoilă Mârza / The History of Romania in One Object



The year 1918 saw one of the most important events in Romanian history: the unification of the provinces of Transylvania, Banat and the counties in Hungary inhabited by Romanians with the Old Kingdom of Romania. 120,000 people arrived in Alba Iulia from all the regions of Transylvania. On December 1, 1918, 1,228 delegates – intellectuals, officers, peasants, merchants, women, soldiers, and the high clergy of several Christian denominations – voted for the unification of Transylvania with Romania inside the Alba Iulia’s Union Hall.



Photo 1: Samoilă Mârza's H. Ernemann photo camera


On December 1, 1918, Samoilă Mârza used an H. Ernemann camera, produced in Dresden, probably in the early years of the 20th century. The model is one with an extendable leather bellows and designed for use on a tripod. Its negative was a glass photo plate, and it had a Carl Zeiss type lens, produced in Jena. In a 2009 TV show, the wife of Samoilă Mârza's brother recounted in an interview: "my mother-in-law (Samoilă's mother) said that she sold a pair of oxen and gave her money to Samoilă to buy the camera."



Photo 2: Samoilă Mârza around 1918

Photo 3: Samoilă Mârza on the Italian front of WWI

Photo 4: The ceremony of consecration of the flag of the Romanian National Council on November 14, 1918

Photo 5: Galtiu village delegation, reenactment photo (1919)


Born in Galtiu (a village near Alba Iulia) in 1886, with his apprenticeship as a photographer spent in Sibiu, Samoilă Mârza took part in the First World War as a photographer and soldier, on the fronts in Galicia and Italy. Unfortunately, only a few photos taken by him on the front are known. On the way home he stopped in Vienna, where he participated in the ceremony of consecration of the flag of the Romanian National Council (representing the Romanians from Transylvania), on November 14, 1918, and managed to take three photographs. He reached Galtiu only four days before the National Assembly gathered in Alba Iulia. There are some photos with the Galtiu village delegation, which for long was believed to have been taken by Samoilă Mârza on the morning of December 1, but they are actually the result of a “reenactment” of the event, about two months later.


Thus, Samoilă Mârza left for Alba Iulia as part of his village delegation, on the morning of December 1 and positioned himself on Câmpul lui Horea (Horea’s Field, named after the leader of the Romanian peasant revolt of 1784), where over 120,000 people were impatiently waiting for the deliberations taking place in the nearby Union Hall. Most likely he did not even realize that he was the only man with a camera in that sea of ​​people.


Photo 6: Greek-Catholic Bishop Iuliu Hossu reading the decision of the Unification

Photo 7: Attorney Aurel Vlad, one of the leaders of the Romanian National Party in Transylvania addresses the public

Photo 8: Orthodox Bishop Miron Cristea delivering a speech

Photo 9: People gathered Câmpul lui Horea - this photo is the most popular of the three Mârza took depicting the National Assembly


He took his place in the main tribune area, where he caught three frames: one of the Greek-Catholic Bishop Iuliu Hossu reading the decision of the Unification, the quintessential act of the day, the act by which the Transylvanian Romanians decided to unite with Romania; another during the speech of Aurel Vlad, one of the leaders of the Romanian National Party in Transylvania; and a third one of the Orthodox Bishop Miron Cristea speaking to the public.

He took his place in the main tribune area, where he caught three frames: one of the Greek-Catholic Bishop Iuliu Hossu reading the decision of the Unification, the quintessential act of the day, the act by which the Transylvanian Romanians decided to unite with Romania; another during the speech of Aurel Vlad, one of the leaders of the Romanian National Party in Transylvania; and a third one of the Orthodox Bishop Miron Cristea speaking to the public.


The other three shots he took show the thousands upon thousands of Romanians who were attending the event, capturing the magnitude of the popular assembly in Alba Iulia. Peasants, soldiers of the national guard, political leaders, priests, men, and women complete this impressive human landscape.


The delegations carry banners with the names of the localities they represent and tricolor flags, with the colors arranged horizontally. In the days preceding the Union there had been an unprecedented emulation and each delegation created and carried a flag. This happened because beforehand such flags had been banned. The Austro-Hungarian state considered that the hoisting of a banner with colors other than the official ones was the equivalent of treason.


Photo 10: A frame arranged by the photographer, with guards in the foreground, and many people pointing towards the camera

Photo 11: The arrival of political leaders on Câmpul lui Horea


One photo depicts the Transylvanian guards, in white coats, probably tasked with paving the way for the Union leaders who were approaching the main tribune. In another photo, a carriage drawn by two white horses brings through the crowds several political leaders. Finally, the third is a frame arranged by the photographer, with guards in the foreground, and many people pointing towards the camera. In the distance one can see the main tribune of the assembly.



Photo 12: Ion Arion, the martyr of the Union, on his catafalque


There is also a seventh photo, probably also taken on December 1, showing Ion Arion, the martyr of the Union, on his catafalque. Arion had been shot at a train station as he was making his way to Alba Iulia on November 30. When the train left the station in Teiuș, the Hungarian guards opened fire and Arion was deadly wounded. His body was laid to rest in Alba Iulia where he was interred with great pomp on December 2.



Photo 13-15: Photo portraits of Samoilă Mârza


During the interwar period and later, at the request of the authorities the “photographer of the Great Union” would take many more pictures, either of important events in Alba Iulia or of various buildings and functions. But he mainly immortalized simple people around Alba Iulia, probably using the same camera with which he had documented the Union of December 1, 1918.



Photos 16-19: Samoilă Mârza also immortalized the Romanian army entering Alba Iulia on December 19-22, 1918, another major event in Romanian history


But by far the most important assignment will remain that of photographing the Unification ceremonies, which resulted in images of huge historical value. His role as the sole visual chronicler of the Great Union however will be officially recognized only much later, in 1945.





Text and video presentation by historian Tudor Roșu. Film concept by Tudor Roșu and Vasile Sârb. A project developed together with The National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia and Alba County Council.


Our online series THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, developed in partnership with some of the most important history museums in the country, evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from artifacts or vestiges with powerful symbolic, representative value.