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The Epoch Times
March 5 – 11, 2009
Dracula’s Castle a Jewel in Romania’s Crown
By GINA NEAGU & ADRIAN STURDZA
Epoch Times Staff
Bran Castle has earned its reputation as one of the most famous monuments of medieval architecture, known to tourists across the world as “Dracula’s Castle.” Although Romania is full of old architecture and history, Bran Castle is one of the most important, and arguably well known, examples. Its claim to fame is the association with the infamous Count Dracula, the main character of Bram Stoker’s novel 19th century novel Dracula. With its 17 rooms, Bran Castle is also one of the most expensive properties in the country, with a real estate value of around US$140 million.
An Embattled History
It was built in 1212 by an association of merchants from nearby Brasov, where its main task was originally to protect shipments that passed through the Rucar-Bran gorge that traverses the Carpathian mountains. In 1920, the City of Brasov donated the castle to Queen Maria of Romania, as a sign of gratitude for her contribution to the country. She restored it and left the inheritance to her daughter, Princess Ileana. In 1948, however, the royal family was expelled by Soviet troops, supported by the proSoviet Romanian government at the time. It then became property of the government, and was opened to the public in 1956, with one of its sections transformed into a museum of medieval art. Years of official negligence then led the castle to near ruin, so between 1987 and 1993 it was put through a massive restoration project. After the Romanian Revolution in 1989, the communist regime was abolished, and the Habsburg family—Bran Castle’s former owners—started legal proceedings to regain their asset. Years of painstaking
FAMOUS CASTLE: Tourists poking around the not-so-scary Bran Castle, known as “Dracula’s Castle,” less than 124 miles from Bucharest, Romania. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/GEtty IMAGES
efforts and a long legal battle later, Dominic of Habsburg, the grandson of Queen Maria, and Princess Ileana’s son, got the Castle back, almost six decades after it was confiscated from the family. They plan to transform it into a high-quality museum
open to the public.
The Dracula Connection
Bran Castle became famous after Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel Dracula, in which the main character is Count Dracula, also known as “the
PERIOD ARCHITECTURE: Bran Castle, built in 1212, is considered a magnificent example of medieval architecture. This photo from May 2006 shows Dominic of Habsburg (C) and members of his family posing for a picture in the courtyard. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GEtty IMAGES
Vampire of Transylvania.” The truth is that the character in Stoker’s novel never existed, neither in Romanian history or folklore. Dracula, actually, is widely believed to have been inspired by a dark personality of Romanian history, Prince Vlad Tepes. The Prince ruled Vallachia, part of what is now called Romania, during the 15th century. Although never accused of sucking blood, he certainly had a dark reputation. During his childhood he was held as a political hostage by the Ottoman Empire, and spent many of his early years in Istanbul prisons. Later in his life he became Prince of Vallachia, with some support from Hungarian royalty. He then became well-known for the harsh punishments he exacted on Turkish troops. A common practice was to impale enemy soldiers and leave them to die slowly. This is how he got the other name “Vlad, the Impaler.” Apparently, Vlad saw the cruel punishments as revenge for the mistreatment he received from Turks in his childhood. He also ruled Vallachia with an iron first. Apart from committing atrocities upon his rise to power, petty theft was also dealt with through ridiculously harsh punishments for criminals. It is said that during his reign nobody even dared to pick money up off the ground. While the story of the Prince goes some way to explaining the origin of the Dracula character, the connection with the castle is still unclear. This is because, in the end, there is none. Bran Castle was named “Dracula’s Castle” about three decades ago by western tourists who came to Romania in search of Dracula. They were surprised by how the entrance of the Transylvanian mansion resembled the castle described by Stoker in his novel, and therefore named it Dracula’s Castle. With the passing of time, it became a common belief that Stoker’s novel had some real connection with the Castle but, for better or worse, it is not the case.
Now, a Popular Tourist Destination
STRIKING RESEMBLANCE? A storybook view of Bran Castle, thought to be the inspiration for the castle Bram Stoker describes in his novel “Dracula.” DANIEL MIHAILESCU/GEtty IMAGES
Bran Castle was named “Dracula’s Castle” about three decades ago by western tourists who came to Romania in search of Dracula.
architecture. Tourists come only to find it nestled in a tranquil mountain area with shepherds pasturing their herds, and wives weaving beautiful handmade textiles to adorn theirs homes. While thrill-seekers may be disappointed by all this, they
should be pleasantly surprised by Romanian hospitality and cuisine, which are among the best in Eastern Europe. Tours are available for those who want to spend the day at Bran, and overnight stays in the area are also possible. Tourists also inevitably learn about Romanian folk legends during the stay. They might find out, for example, that if a garlic clove is placed above the door entrance, the house will be protected against evil spirits. Safe from harm, tourists return back to their homes with fond memories, and the desire to visit Dracula Castle’s and its beautiful surroundings again in the future.
These days, anyone journeying to Bran Castle with Stoker’s terrifying descriptions in mind will find the reality proves surprisingly different: the Castle itself is an old, benign, and beautiful example of medieval
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BRAN CASTLE: Dominic of Habsburg (right) climbs the hill to the Bran Castle, known as Dracula’s Castle, shortly before the handover ceremony, about 124 miles north of Bucharest on May 26, 2006. Dominic of Habsburg is a descendant of the Habsburg dynasty which ruled Romania for a period starting in the late 17th century of more than 60 years. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GEtty IMAGES