The Fortress of Arad was built by order of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, after the plans of the Austrian general and architect Filip Ferdinand Harsch. The construction took 20 years, from 1763 until 1783, and was carried out by thousands of serfs.
The construction of the new fortress, located on the south bank of the Mureş River, marked the history of the town deeply. A team of military engineers directed by Ferdinand Philipp Harsch has designed a Vauban-Tenaille fortress, the most advanced variant of the Vauban-type fortifications. It has a six-pointed star shape and was provided with three rows of pillboxes underground and more rows of trenches, which could be flooded. The fortress has a circumference of 3180 meters, alternating knight-type and detached-type bastions, is flanked by two pentagonal redoubts provided with 296 shooting holes for artillery. On a lower level in front of this constructive system, were the pillboxes.
The fortress has a history of its own. The permanent garrison consisted of the Infantry Regiment 33, participant at all major military actions of the Empire. Inside, the main gate and buildings were built in Baroque style. In the center of the Fortress there is a Catholic Church and in buildings around it were hosted Franciscan monks. The last four monks dedicated to Saint John of Capistrano lived in the convent until 1861, when it became exclusively a military hospital.
Until 1918, the fort also was one of the largest military prisons of the Empire. In 1752 the emperor Franz Joseph I visited the fortress himself and lessened the sentences of the imprisoned officers. Here were imprisoned also Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, and between 1790 and 1815, many French prisoners of war.
During the revolution in 1848/49, the fortress played a crucial role. Under siege of the Hungarian republican army, the garrison bombed the town every day for nine months. In the summer of 1849, the Hungarian revolutionary army succeeded to occupy the fortress for 46 days, before it was encircled by the Russian and Austrian armies and forced to surrender. The Hapsburg troops used it once more as a prison and incarcerated here Eftimie Murgu and 500 officers of the revolutionary army, the majority of them sentenced to death. Among the executed were the 13 generals of the revolutionary army who were hanged respectively shot on October 6th 1849 in the outer pill boxes.
In the next decades, the Arad Fortress was a prison for Turkish soldiers, taken prisoner in 1881 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Hapsburg in 1914, in Sarajevo. Between 1914 and 1918 a camp has been improved in the outer pillboxes hosting civilian and military prisoners from Bosnia-Herzegovina, over 1,000 Russian and Serbian prisoners of war. In November 1918 the fortress has been occupied by French and Serbian troops and in July 1919 the Romanian army took it over.
Since then, it used to be a military base for the Romanian Royal Army, and the Wehrmacht. Soviet Red Army was stationed in here ‘til 1957. Now it is still a Romanian Army base, but in the future the fortress will become a museum complex.