Last month I joined a group of ambassadors visiting the vast and impressive Vauban Fortress at Alba Iulia. As a historian I found this a fascinating place to visit. All the different eras of Romanian history are represented here – the original Dacian settlement, the Roman legionary fortress and the magnificent Habsburg citadel in the impregnable star-shaped configuration designed by the French military engineer Marshal Vauban. Also, you can see the fort’s associations with the famous Romanian rebels and heroes Horia, Closca and Crisan and with the reunification of the Romanian state in 1918. But today the fortress is also a major tourist attraction- for school children learning about their history, for families enjoying a day out, for foreigners like myself keen to discover and appreciate Romania’s rich architectural heritage.
This is partly due to good use of EU funds. The restoration of the fortress at Alba Iulia has been a huge project, demanding significant investment and a lot of work by skilled craftsmen to restore the nine gates which lead into the citadel and the various important architectural and archeological sites within it. Romania’s record in planning and then implementing projects with EU funds needs improvement. These projects are very demanding – in time and management skills. But the local authorities in Alba Iulia rose to this challenge. They planned early; they had a clear vision of what they wanted to do and were not discouraged by the scale of the task or the obstacles that they faced on the way. I was very impressed with the results they have achieved. And as a Scot I was able to assure them that they have made an investment that preserves Romania’s heritage but will also pay itself back many times in the income and jobs it will generate in the local economy in the years to come.
In Scotland we are very proud of our heritage – the beautiful landscape and magnificent castles that represent our history and tradition. But we also put it to work for us today – as the magnet for some 15 million tourists in Scotland every year. No doubt the whisky helps too! But Romania has a similarly rich heritage and huge potential for tourism development. British companies are already engaged in this sector and others are looking for opportunities. Alba Iulia is a great example of how local communities can use EU funds to protect their heritage and provide for their future. Go and see for yourself!