Overseas Ambassadors

Women propose special
relationship with Romania

Alba Iulia compares to Madison, Ind.,
say locals Fife, Vetrhus

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(February 2011) – A hill separates the old city from the new. A temporary bridge carries vehicles across the river. The military has just vacated a large installation and city leaders are working to maximize heritage tourism.
These are just a few of the similarities between Madison and the Romanian city of Alba Iulia, recently visited by two emissaries from Madison – Camille Fife and Jan Vetrhus.
While in Romania on October, Fife and Vetrhus invited two cities to become sister cities with Madison. Time permitted a visit to only one of them – Alba Iulia, a city of 66,747 in the region of Transylvania.

Mercia Hava and Camille Fife

Photo provided

Madison, Ind., resident Camille Fife
presents Alba Iulia Mayor Mercia Hava
with a miniature key to the city.

Alba Iulia is significant in Romanian history because it is the site of the unification of Transylvania and two other principalities to form the nation of Romania in 1918. The city is site of an ancient fortress with walls enclosing a starburst-shaped area atop a hill. This walled “historic district” is located on a hilltop, with more modern portions of the town located below – the opposite of Madison’s old and new districts.
Fife, a professional preservation consultant, became interested in Alba Iulia when she was attending a conference in Canada. There she struck up a conversation that led to a friendship with Catalina Preda, a Romanian preservationist. Both woman are filled with pride in their homelands. Before long, Fife was making plans to attend an international conference Preda was organizing in Bucharest, Romania.
Approximately 100 people – including Fife and Vetrhus, a retired manufacturing executive – attended “The Economics of Heritage Regeneration” on Oct. 25-26. Conferees discussed such topics as raising public awareness and intervening to save at-risk structures.
The conference was a natural outgrowth of an initiative called “Beautiful Romania.” That project had been led by the United Nations Development Program and various Romanian ministries and agencies. The U.N. Development Program got involved in Beautiful Romania “because of the horrific conditions they found after the fall of the Iron Curtain,” said Vetrhus.
She explained that Nicolae Ceausesco, who was dictator of Romania from 1965 to 1989, had a policy of destroying villages and replacing older buildings with blocky Soviet-style construction. After the end of Soviet influence, Romanians regained pride in their native architecture. “Heritage regeneration” is now taking hold in municipalities like Alba Iulia, a city that can trace its history to Roman times.
At the conference in Bucharest, Fife gave a talk called, “Madison, Indiana: A small town setting the stage for big results.” She focused on Madison’s successful use of heritage preservation to attract tourists, businesses and new residents. She told them Madison’s strategy relies on four main activities:
n Large, well-organized festivals;

Alba Iulia

Photo provided

Alba Iulia, Romania, is a city of 66,747 people. It is located in the region of Transylvania. It has a significant historical importance in Romanian history because it is the site of the unification of Transylvania and two other principalities to form the nation of Romania in 1918. The city is also the site of an ancient fortress with walls enclosing a starburst-shaped area atop a hill.

n Using the beauty of the historic downtown to spur economic growth;
n Building partnerships for cooperative trails and regional tourism promotion;
n Encouraging preservation trades education through community college courses, workshops and field schools.
After the two-day conference, Fife and Vetrhus got an opportunity to visit the city they feel is so much like Madison. Fife presented the mayor, Mercia Hava, with a letter from Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong and a miniature key to the city. Hava agreed that Alba Iulia would take steps to join with Madison in a “Heritage Cities” exchange project.
Medieval fortifications and breathtaking Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are among the architectural treasures that Alba Iulia offers visitors. “They’ve been working on a lot of the restorations, but they haven’t promoted it,” observed Vetrhus. That’s an area where American preservationists might be able to help.
The Romanians are experimenting with public-private partnerships, a trend that Vetrhus and Fife found encouraging. The city’s preservation effort has even come to the attention of a preservation trust operated by Charles, Prince of Wales. That trust was a partner in the Bucharest foundation.
Fife was also encouraged that Romania’s young people are pushing hard for “heritage regeneration,” as they call their preservation effort.
“There is a tremendous passion among the young professionals about how their country is run. They want change and they are frustrated with the elected and appointed officials,” said Fife. “The young people were amazing. They were intelligent and accepting.”
The two Madison woman hope to facilitate other visits and exchanges that will establish a mutually beneficial partnership between Madison and Alba Iulia.

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