The Union Hall of Alba Iulia / The History of Romania in One Object
Photo 1: The Union Hall decorated by Pierre Bellet, here some of the medieval rulers of the Romanian provinces
Photo 2: Postcard from the beginning of the 20th Century depicting the Military Casino, the future Union Hall
Built between 1898 and 1900 on the site of a former small inn, the Military Casino served as a place for festivities and receptions for the Austro-Hungarian army. Its size and shape expressed the mixture between the Führerprinzip and the provincial stillness, the sometimes-tense relationship between Schönbrunn and Országház (the Hungarian Parliament). It also evoked a majestic order yet somewhat more restrained here, as well as the ubiquitous imperial eclecticism. The hermeneutics of building’s slender yet solid lines evoked La Belle Époque of the end of the 19th century but interpreted in the style of the Ausgleich (the Compromise of 1867 which established the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary). It breathed existentialist engagement, opulence, order, and militarism.
Photo 3, 4 and 5: Exterior views of the Union Hall building today
In the autumn of the exceptional year of 1918, it was this building that was chosen as the meeting place of the representatives of the Romanian nation. The works of the National Assembly that had gathered in Alba-Iulia on December 1st were carried out in the more spacious hall of the “Mihai Vodă's fortress”. This one, modestly decorated only with satin curtains and flags hanging behind a green podium, looked too small under the "siege" of the 1,228 delegates but managed to brilliantly fulfill its unlikely mission: to host and witness the unanimous vote for the unification of the provinces of Transylvania, Banat and the counties in Hungary inhabited by Romanians with the Kingdom of Romania. It was here where Vasile Goldiș, the man of the day, with his thunderous voice, read the Resolution of the Union. It was here where the entire assembly sang Deșteaptă-te, Române! (Wake up, Romanian!) – the anthem of present Romania - at 13.30 on December 1st, 1918, with eyes bathed in tears.
Photo 6 and 9: Vasile Goldiș's portofolio
Photo 7: The fist page of Vasile Goldiș's portofolio
Photo 8: The last page of Vasile Goldiș's portofolio which ends with the words: Long Live Greater Romania!
One of the most important objects preserved in The National Museum of Unification, which administers the Union Hall, is “The Folder of Vasile Goldiș”, which contains the manuscript of the speech delivered by the illustrious Transylvanian leader on December 1st, 1918. The Union Act, also known as the "The Union Resolution", contains nine articles that summarize the aspirations of the Romanian generation of the First World War regarding their own national destiny. The first two articles were setting, imposing, while the following seven set forth the guiding principles for the new state. For example, Article 1, the most important of them, reads as follows: “The National Assembly of all Romanians in Transylvania, Banat and the Hungarian Country gathered through their designated representatives in Alba Iulia on December 1st, 1918, decrees the union of Romanians and all territories inhabited by them with Romania”; Article 3, sub-item 3, proclaims the universal suffrage: “The accomplishment of a pure democratic regime in all areas of public life. The public vote, direct, equal, secret, organized on communes, proportionally, for both sexes, aged 21, at the representation in communes, counties or the parliament”. The assembly unanimously adopted the resolution. But the events in Alba Iulia were not confined to the welcoming, yet limited, setting of the Military Casino / Union Hall. Over 100,000 people took part in the People's Assembly on Câmpul lui Horea (Horea’s Field, named after the leader of the Romanian peasant revolt of 1784) where the participants were awaiting the decisions of their representatives.
Photo 10 & 11: Two different views of the interior of the Union Hall
Photo 12: The Union Hall in the interwar period
Once well-established in the Romanian national saga, the place that would be called "The Union Hall" underwent significant changes for the celebrations of the Coronation of King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie of Romania in 1922. A portal, triumphant and leafy, with a Latin inscription on the frontispiece and the integration of circular shapes inside, was added; the walls were repainted in vivid colors; new murals were depicting great leaders of the past. The echoes of the former Austro-Hungarian life, the worlds, the dances, had been forever muted.
Photo 13: The Union Hall in 1966 during Nicolae Ceaușescu's dictatorship. Here Nicolae Ceaușescu is photographed with a group of 1918 veternas
The hall witnessed a terrible time during the Stalinist period from the end of the Second World War until 1958. It was an interval in which the “building with the Union Hall” belonged to the local garrison and functioned as a “Military Circle”. It was a time when the Unification of 1918 was seen as imperialist, anti-revolutionary and reactionary - and not as a crucial landmark in the history of Romanians. This was when most of the damage to the aesthetics and functioning of this iconic building occurred. In 1958, the Museum in Alba-Iulia took over the place and, while the authorities pondered with the idea whether to open here an exhibition dedicated to the Romanian Communist Party, the destruction stopped.
Redevelopment and refurbishment projects of the building were carried out in 1967-1968 as the Unification of 1918 was again recognized as a most important historical moment. An exhibition devoted to the events of December 1st was set up. Other renovation works would follow in 1993-1994 and in 2018-2019 when Pierre Bellet's portraits of some of the most important Romanian historical figures painted on the walls were restored to their former glory. The 2018 project was not only one of rehabilitation, but also of restoring the spirit of the place, closer to its look and feel of 1922.
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.