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Alba, one of Romania's 41 counties, is located in the central-western part of the country. Its territory is surrounded by Cluj County to the north, Bihor County and Arad County to the west, Hunedoara County to the southwest, Vâlcea County to the south, and Sibiu County and Mureș County to the east, while covering an area of approximately 624,167 hectares. Alba's capital city is called Alba Iulia and can be found in the central part of the region. The city is reported as "one of the oldest settlements in Romania," as the site served as a Roman military camp known as Apulum. Today, a collection of Roman antiques is exhibited in Regional Museum in Alba Iulia. However, history isn't the sole attraction of Alba County. Natural areas such as The Scărișoara Glacier Cave, Huda lui Papară Cave, the Gorges of the Râmeț Valley, and the Albacului Gorges, to name a few, serve as considerable tourist destinations in Alba as well. Protected natural areas include the Apuseni Nature Park, found in the northwestern corner of the county, which is known for its fairly abundant amount of caves. In general, Alba County mainly contains high plateaus, hills, and mountains. The predominant river crossing in the region is Mureș, with its tributaries, Aries, Sebeș, and Cugir.
Alba Iulia, the capital city of Alba County, serves as one of the historical and cultural destinations in the region. Alba Iulia's Habsburg citadel features wide, tree-lined streets and numerous historical, cultural, and architectural landmarks. Notable sites include the Roman Catholic Cathedral, Batthyaneum Library, Orthodox Cathedral of the Reunification, Apor Palace, Princely Palace, and the University of Alba Iulia. Vauban Fortress, designed by Giovanni Morando Visconti, is a star-shaped construction with six baroque-style gates, serving as an example of military architecture. At the same time, the Princely Palace, Union Hall, and Batthyaneum Library hold historical significance. Additionally, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Cathedrals are some of the places where historical events and figures of Transylvania are celebrated.
Furthermore, Alba Iulia reportedly serves as one of the gateways to the Apuseni Mountains National Park. Apart from hiking, Apuseni Mountains are often visited for their caves. One particular location within Alba County's borders is Scarișoara Glacier Cave, featuring Scărișoara Glacier, the world's largest underground glacier, holding over 100,000 cubic meters of ice. Its layers of ice preserve the region's climate history and the remains of plants and animals. Moreover, the glacier's age was determined through ice core samples, revealing a minimum of 10,500 years, making it one of the world's oldest non-polar glaciers. The Scărișoara Glacier Cave itself features an aven-shaped entrance with a 60-meter diameter and 48-meter depth. Visitors descend via metal stairs to the Great Hall, where a circuit leads to a balcony above the Church Hall, with the whole visit taking about 30 minutes. En route from the parking lot to the cave, visitors encounter souvenir shops selling wooden items, forest fruit jams, and syrups. Another considerable area within Apuseni Mountains is Roșia Montană, featuring a Roman gold mining complex, which yielded around 500 tonnes of gold over 166 years starting in 106 CE. This relatively intricate system included galleries spanning 7 km and waterwheels across 4 underground sites, with wax-coated wooden tablets providing insights into Roman mining practices. In today's time, the local landscape is protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Site.
Visitors seeking walking and hiking can utilize Via Transilvanica, a fairly long-distance hiking route spanning up to 1,400 km, crossing Romania's historical region of Transylvania from the northeast to the southwest. The route, intended for walking, cycling, and horseback riding, crosses 10 Romania's counties, among them Alba as well. Terra Dacia, part of the Via Transilvanica crossing counties of Alba and Hunedoara, features various royal, medieval, or Dacian fortresses along the way. The Mureș Valley and the Târnavel Plateau, with its vineyards, natural vistas, ancient cities, and archaeological landmarks, are crossed by Terra Dacia. Eventually, the path approaches the Iron Gate of Transylvania in Caraș-Severin County.
The Apuseni Mountains, situated in the western and northwestern areas of Alba County, exhibit diverse geological formations with deposits of non-ferrous minerals such as copper, lead, zinc, and precious metals (gold, silver). The Mureș River Valley and its associated rivers—Aries, Sebeș, and Cugir—alongside neighboring regions, offer "favorable" conditions for agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, and viticulture. Additionally, the positioning of the Mureș Valley has facilitated the establishment of transportation routes, including roads and railways, fostering trade. While the Apuseni Mountains dominate the west and northwest, the county's southern region is covered by the Sebeșului Mountains, and about a quarter of the county is formed by the Târnavel plateau, known for its vineyards and natural gas reserves.
Thus, the local topography features high plateaus, hills, and mountains. Eastern parts of Alba County are defined by the Metaliferi Mountains, southern areas by the Șureanu Mountains, northwest by the Bihor Mountains, and Alba County's western and northern edges by the Apuseni Mountains.
Alba County is located in the central part of National Park Cheile Caprei, characterized by two limestone columns, with cliffs made of gray limestone containing conglomerates, clay shales, and sandstones from the Upper Cretaceous period. The entrance features columns, while gorges with steep walls follow, supporting vegetation of calciphilous and xerophilous plants. Some of the local tree species include beech and hornbeam. Another protected area in Alba County is Apuseni Nature Park, known for its caves throughout the park. The park's limestone landscape creates a variety of formations, from sculpted mountain ridges to underground rivers. Protected animals, including bears, elk, black goats, owls, and nutcrackers, inhabit the area. However, the park also homes high-altitude settlements, contrasting other Romanian parks. For instance, the Aries Valley holds traditional villages where artisans, such as the Motzi people, craft instruments and furniture from local spruce wood.
In terms of local weather and climate, the warmest month in Alba Iulia is generally August, with an average daily temperature of 26°C. Reportedly, January is the coldest month, as temperatures average a high of 2°C. February tends to be the driest month in Alba Iulia because it generally receives 31 mm of rainfall on average. The most precipitation falls during June, with an average of about 103 mm.
The capital city of Alba County, Alba Iulia, has historical significance, being near the site of the Dacian center of Apulon and the Roman capital Dacia Apulensis, known as Apulum. In the Middle Ages, the area was linked to Hungarian regent Geula, who established the city in the 10th century and erected the first Transylvanian church. In the following years, Alba Iulia played a role in Hungarian and Catholic history, with the 12th-13th-century Catholic cathedral and the use of the citadel by John Hunyadi against the Ottomans in 1442. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Alba Iulia served as the capital of Transylvania. When Michael the Brave declared himself the ruler of Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia in Alba Iulia, the three relatively more prominent Romanian provinces were united for the first time in history. Furthermore, Alba Iulia became one of the critical locations for Romanian-language printing. Other notable events that took place in the city include the historic union of Transylvania with Romania on December 1, 1918, and King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania being crowned in the Orthodox Cathedral of Alba Iulia in 1922.
In terms of the county's history, Alba contains archaeological findings from the Neolithic "Petrești Culture." Centuries later, Roman rule fostered settlements like Apulum and Alburnus Maior due to mining that took place in the Apuseni region. During the Middle Ages, Alba Iulia reportedly developed both culturally and economically. Later, the "Principality of Transylvania" emerged within the Hungarian state, with Blaj becoming a spiritual hub under the Romanian Church United with Rome. Thus, the territory of Alba County was part of Transylvania. The county later witnessed educational growth through institutions like the Jesuit college in Alba Iulia and Protestant initiatives.
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