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1978 the communist era was blooming in Romania as the Soviet Union was trying to change everything in Romania, from the army to even the architectural style of the towns, into a Soviet look alike country; this is a big reason why many people argue today that Romania should be included as a Slavic country and not only seen as one. Most of the city buildings were made up of massive apartment blocks. The city of Alba Iulia has one of the most beautiful boulevards in Europe and this is thanks to this god-like action.

The reason for moving the block

The plan was to create a majestic boulevard to go with the medieval town of Alba Iulia and at the same time create a tourist attraction, however, at the end of the planned boulevard stood a big challenge, a massive apartment block.

The apartment building blocking boulevard 1978 (Source: Public Domain)

It would have cost too much to demolish and rehouse the 120 citizens that were living in the building, and at the same time, the building was only 2 years old so it would be a real waste to just demolish it. The plan was to somehow shift the whole apartment block to an empty area of space that was big enough to fit this monster. This area was only 55 meters away.

One of the architects from the company handling the planning for the boulevard came up with a stupid idea (at the time) of moving the whole building on rails. Many have laughed but not the project manager, which thought of it as the most ambitious thing in this world, and he wanted to see it accomplished.

Preparing for the big move

This is when the best engineers and architects in Romania at the time were called to group together to make this ‘impossible’ project a reality. They came up with a solution to first split the building into two and move both halves at the same time to the other side of the road out of the way of the boulevard.

Engineers setting the apartment block on rails 1978 (Source: Public Domain)

They have dug 2 meters under the building and put railways under the building. The major problem, as well as the difficult part of the project, was lifting the building up as it weighed almost 8000 tonnes. today such a move can be made, and it is done by using hydraulic presses that slowly but safely raise the building.

Well, at that time, and in a communist country, such technology was not available so the engineers had to devise another ingenious idea. Instead of hydraulic presses, they used building jacks called jackscrews which are manually turned. With the jacking system in place, cribs made out of wood were stacked into piles to support the structure lifted in increments.

The two halves of the building were moved at a 33-degree inclined angle and it took 5 hours and 40 minutes to move to a distance of 180 feet.

This type of project has never been done before on such a huge scale. This sort of engineering was considered way ahead of its time, and to prove it, we have the story of an old lady that was living in one of those apartments. During the transition, she decided to place a full glass of water to see if any would spill by the end and guess what, not even one small drop spilled from the glass.

Sistematizarea (Systenatization), as so-called in Romania, refers to an urban program carried out under Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime. This consisted mostly of demolishing and reconstructing cities, towns, and even villages to turn Romania into a multilaterally developed socialist society. Ceausescu was very impressed by the project that took place in Alba Iulia. He also used it to brag about the level of engineering in Romania compared to other western countries. This has been the first move on such a huge scale, and it showed the true power of the country at that specific period.

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