Have you ever thought how the chess community of a little town reacts to a visit from a European Chess Champion? Grandmaster Dieter Nisipeanu, the reignung champion, found himself involved with a simultaneous exhibition in a small town located in the heart of Transylvania, the mythical land where writers and movie directors keep placing the whereabouts of Dracula. That this province has its own authentic heroes and its people love the Royal Game is transparent in the report that follows.
A bi-millenary municipality, a heart-shaped, historical city of monuments and of national becoming, Alba Iulia has rich vestiges of the material culture – dating since Neolithic, Bronze Era, Hallstatt, Latène and Middle Ages. The tribe of the Dacians from “the far-off Appulus” is mentioned in Consolatio ad Liviam – Poetae Latini Minores, and the geographer Ptolemaios revealed in his Geographical Guide (written in the first half of the second century) the coordinates of the city: 49°15’ longitude – 46° 41’ latitude. A land with warriors and great wealth, it was perceived as a threat as well as a trophy by the Roman Empire.
During the Roman Wars with the Dacians, Transylvania, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, was conquered and the leaders of the unified Dacians were beheaded. The XIII Gemina Legion was to be billeted in Alba Iulia in one of the major Roman stone-built camps during the years Dacia was a Roman province. The Roman Castrum (vestiges are shown in the picture on the right) was named Apulum. Along with the Dacians, the Romans, „ex toto orbe romano”, are the ancestors of the Romanian people.
The medieval period was no less rich for the former Roman citadel. In 1009 the Roman-Catholic Archbishopric of Alba Iulia was instituted under the tutelage of the Hungarian Kingdom. The first Catholic Cathedral built in the 12th century still dominates the centre of the contemporary city, being the oldest Catholic Cathedral from Eastern Europe.
The Roman-Catholic Cathedral St. Michael (12th century)
From Roman camp to Medieval Citadel (adorned with the image of Romulus and Remus at the gate of St. George and with that of St. Michael at the other homonymous gate on the Western side). The constructers built the fortifications directly on the Roman walls and the medieval roots caught solid roots in the centuries that followed. Alba Iulia was certified as a county in 1171, then as civitas, along with Brasov, Sibiu and Rodna. The first documentary reference Alba Iulia had been made in 1276, and was then taken over and consequently translated as Balgrad or Gyulafehérvár (“The White City”).
An Episcopal citadel and an important political, military and ecclesiastic center of the province, Alba Iulia reached an important climax between 1542-1690, being the capital of the independent Principality of Transylvania and the residence of the state.
Between 1577-1702, Alba Iulia turned into a cultural centre just as well. More than 22 works, each of them a magnum opus of old Romanian culture, such as Tetraevangheliarul Slavon (1579), Evanghelia de invatatura (1641), Noul Testament de la Balgrad (1648), Psaltirea (1651), Bucoavna (1699) or Chiriacodromionul (1699) came out of the printing presses of Balgrad. The ample series of incunabula and rare books (such as Codex Aureus) from the Batthyaneum Library (where it is the oldest astronomic observatory in Romania) enrich through their singleness the culture of Alba Iulia.
Batthyaneum Library (Interior)
On November 1, 1599, the medieval Lord Michael the Brave envisioned Alba Iulia as the centre of his plans to unify the three Romanian Kingdoms. The city became the capital of the first political unit that managed to unify the Romanian medieval states into a single body.
Michael the Brave
Having been overtaken by the Austrian suzerainty after 1700, the city of Alba Iulia had experienced fundamental changes between 1714-1738 and therefore became a real military bulwark, a monument of baroque architecture built in Vauban style. Alba Iulia has the greatest and best-preserved fortress of this kind in Romania, which has become an effigy of the city.
The Vauban Medieval Fortification of Alba Iulia (18th Century)
The First Gate of the Medieval Citadel
The Third Gate of the Medieval Citadel
King Ferdinand I and
Queen Maria of Romania
On December 1st, 1918 another glorious page of history was written in the citadel of martyrdom and glory, as a corollary of its millenary history. Here, in Alba Iulia, on the Field of Horea (a revolutionary peasant hero executed by Vienna Imperial Authorities), 100,000 Romanians and almost 1300 delegates have democratically, plebiscitary and irrevocably decided the Unification of Transylvania with the mother country, accomplishing the dream of many generations. A new historical stage came to an end, a stage also outlined on October 15th, 1922 by “our defining in terms of history”, through the crowning of the Great Romania’s monarchs, the King Ferdinand I, the Unificator and his queen Mary, in the National Reunification Cathedral.
In spite of great nationalistic battles that marred the stability of the province in its troubled history, eventually the multi-ethnic groups learnt to live together in a unique medium of tolerance. The great number of wooden or stone churches represent archiepiscopal cathedrals – orthodox or roman-catholic- but also in evangelic, reformed, neo-protestant, in synagogues and monasteries.
The National Reunification Cathedral (Interior)
An old wooden Christian Church
The communist regime attempted to destroy the religious liberty of Transylvania. Heroes defending their roots and values emerged among the religious leaders, and a good example is that of the Magyar Bishop, Marton Aron, imprisoned by the Communists. Remembrance is something the city of Alba Iulia protects at its best. There is a Marton Aron Museum built in 2004, and the National Museum of the Union was founded here in 1887 hosting about 200.000 patrimonial objects, while its library has 70.000 rare volumes being one of the most precious research centers in Romania if not Central and Eastern Europe.
Marton Aron Museum (Interior)
The Museum of Union
With a population of only 70,000 (around the same number of ChessBase readers per day!) Alba Iulia represents a tourist attraction for those interested in the vestiges of the Habsburg Empire or in the extensions of medieval Christianity towards the East. A genuine place where West met East, Alba Iulia’s history and cultural inheritance did not leave out the Royal Game. On the contrary, in such a cultural environment the game of chess and its disciples could only find a perfect shelter for perpetuation.
Chess activity can be observed as soon as the 1920s within the walls of the city, a first chess club being founded in 1927, while a first tournament was played in 1928. However, the peak of the town’s chess activity was registered in the late 1990’s when the local club, led by the enterprising spirit of Mihai Breaz, worked its way out to the Romanian Chess Super-League, next to the top six Romanian Chess Clubs.
Nevertheless, the greatest interest in the game has been reached only recently. Its highest altitudes during a visit of a remarkable guest. Grandmaster Dieter Nispeanu, the European Chess Champion, visited Alba Iulia on November 25, 2005. For 2000 years the White City and its province had received many an illustrious visitor. However, perhaps with a few notable exceptions, none were conquerors of Europe. Willing to put the shoulder to the popularization of the game, Dieter kindly accepted to offer a simultaneous at 40 boards in this historical city. National chess champions of the Romanian youth country-wide were invited, their expenses being supported by the city officials.
Had Dieter been a selfish man, he would have got some rest for couple of hours prior to the simul. Yet, very much aware of the importance people of this city attached to his visit, he agreed with his typical thoughtfulness, to a very busy schedule:
10:00h: Together with Paul Voicu, the Vice-Mayor of the city, Dieter officially starts the match between the selected teams of Romanian National Champions and the Alba Iulia County Champions.
10:15h – 12:05h: A quick tour of the most important historical monuments of the city. Visiting all of them in two hours is an impossible mission.
Dieter with a bust of King Ferdinand I, next to a Roman soldier in the Museum of Union
12:10h – 12:40h: Dieter responded affirmatively to the invitation of the local ProFM Radio. Answering the avid questions about chess of Mihai Coser was not easy endeavor. What was suppose to be a 10 minutes presence turned out to be almost a hostage-situation with Dieter being kept 30 minutes by the fascination of the radio people.
Live in the local ProFM Radio show
12:45h: – 13:15h: Invited by Mircea Hava, the Mayor of the City, for a visit and talk at the City Hall. Interesting chess projects have been discussed and wouldn’t be a surprise if the city would eventually host a serious international tournament.
With the Mayor…
13:20h – 14:30h: Lunch break with local traditional cuisine
14:30 – 15:00: Press Conference at Parc Hotel. The numerous journalists present are quickly conquered by Dieter’s modesty and switch from “Mister Nisipeanu” to “So tell us, Dieter….?”.
15:00: Conference Hall of the Parc Hotel. The starting hour of the simul. The players are waiting for the big moment.
The start of the simul was preceded by a trophy-giving ceremony staged by the city officials for the most meritorious chess players of Alba Iulia County.
The youngest member of the local club, Mihnea Costache, five years old, received a special certificate for his excellent results. After all, the little fellow already won two tournaments for beginners with a percentage of 100%!
The veterans are not forgotten either. Viorel Berghian, aged 82, received a distinction for being the oldest member of the local chess community.
Dieter himself gets a Diploma For Excellency offered by the Mayor of the City
The simultaneous exhibition is under way
The staging hall for the display of the European Champion
“I’m sorry, mate, but I must keep my 100% score”
Daniel Cinca managed to grab the seventh draw from the Champion’s hands.
Rewarding, considering he had traveled 300 km only for this game
22:00h: After more than six hours of play, the simul came to an end: 32 victories, 7 draws and one defeat after an incredible blunder that gave a piece away. This mathematical result says little about the true impact of the event for the chess life of the city. The next day, all journals printed headlines and dedicated entire pages to the event. Surely, chess ceased to be a small occasional column in a newspaper’s corner in Alba Iulia.
An eagle-eye view of the Champions’ Challenge in the City Hall
The next day, Dieter witnessed the battle of the young Romanian chess champions during an attractive Champions’ Challenge Tournament held at the City Hall and gathering some of the best junior chess players of the country.
The city by night
Photos from event by Marius Ceteras, Dorin Sava and Valentin Grozav. The author thanks Alba Iulia City Hall for granting complimentary use of some photos and information, to the Mayor Mr. Mircea Hava and to Mr. Dorin Sava, Counsellor for Mayor. The author wishes to extend his gratitude to Olimpiu G. Urcan, a Permanent Resident in Singapore but born in Alba Iulia, for the help with preparing this article.
Marius Ceteras is a 32 years old FIDE Master and engineer. He lives in Alba Iulia and from 2003 he is the National Coordinator of internet chess of the Romanian Chess Federation. He is the webmaster of the Romanian Chess web pages and columnist for Gambit and Sah, two of the Romanian chess magazines. His articles also appeared published in the late internet-based Correspondence Chess News and the prestigious New in Chess Yearbook. Former national junior champion, he has dedicated his later years to coaching young talents and some of his students participated to the World Junior Chess Championships.