Very recently I was lucky enough to go on a roadtrip through Europe which started in my home town of Cluj-Napoca, Romania and ended back in Northampton, England. While in Romania, I decided to go on a trip to visit Bran Castle or Dracula’s Castle.
Taking the trip involved a bit of stamina as the train left at 1:48AM and arrived in Brasov at 8:50AM. Knowing that we would return on the same day, made it impossible to travel by car and so we used the local train. The return tickets for three people were a little under £80 so I would say we ended up on the cheap side. Brasov is the single biggest city that is close enough to Bran to travel to.
From the Brasov train station, we took the bus 23 (23b and 25 also work) to the national bus zone number 2 where we managed to get the 10AM bus to Bran (7 lei trip = £1.20/person). The bus trip was mental! The guy was doing about 50 miles per hour on bendy roads and we did the 45 min trip in about 30. We arrived at the castle very close to 11 AM and the fun was just starting!
For a bit of a historical background:
– The castle construction was begun in 1211 by teuton knights but not completed until 1388.
– The Castle was built on a steep cliff between Măgura and Dealul Cetăţii (“fortified town’s hill”), with an exceptional view of the nearby hills, Moeciu Valley and Valea Bârsei. It served the role of customs – holding 3% of goods transferring in and out of Transylvania – and the role of a fortress – the castle stood at the Eastern border of Transylvania and was used in an attempt to stop the Ottoman Empire’s expansion. The castle was inhabited by professional soldiers, mercenaries, and the storyteller Ioan de Târnava, wrote about “the English brigands and ballista soldiers” of the fifteenth century. The lord of the castle was elected by the King, usually from among the Saxons, and whose role was increasingly important in the history of Transylvania. By the end of the fifteenth century, the castle’s commander also held the title of Vice-Voivode of Transylvania.
– In 1411, The Turks raided Transylvania, but John Hunyadi (Iancu de Hunedoara) defeated them in Bran. Iancu, Prince of Transylvania, who needed the support of the Saxons at the border, reinforced the promises granted to the inhabitants of Brasov by Mircea the Elder and by Sigismund.
Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) was allied with Bran and Brasov during his first reign (1436 – 1442) and through the start of his next reign, after the Princes of Transylvania requested that he handle the anti-Ottoman resistance at the border. During his second reign (1456 – 1462), however, his army passed through Bran in early 1459 to attack Brasov, in order to settle a conflict between the Wallachia Voivode and the Saxons, who requested higher customs taxes and supported his opponent for the throne. Vlad the Impaler burned the city’s suburbs and murdered hundreds of Saxons from Transylvania, provoking the Saxon community to seek revenge by later mentioning in reports that the Voivode were a tyrant and extremely ruthless.
– In 1723, renovation was completed on the northern tower of the castle, as mentioned in an inscription. The Castle was damaged over time, often by sieges and otherwise by common negligence or even by forces of nature. For example, in 1593 there was an explosion on the powder mill and in 1617 a severe storm destroyed the roofs. The castle also underwent reconstruction during the reign of Gabriel Bethlen (1613 – 1629), when the gate’s tower, the round tower and the donjon were all renovated.
– After 1918, Transylvania became part of Greater Romania. On December 1st 1920, the citizens of Brasov, through a unanimous decision of the city’s council, led by Mayor Karl Schnell, offered the castle to Queen Maria of Romania, who was described in the deed as “the great queen who (…) spreads her blessing everywhere she walked, thus wining, with an irresistible momentum, the hearts of the entire country’s population”.
The Castle became a favorite residence of Queen Maria, who restored and arranged it to be used as a residence of the royal family.
From 1920 until 1932, the Castle was converted into a royal summer residence, coordinated by the Czech architect Karen Liman, who designed the castles Peles and Pelisor.
The 57 meter deep well of the castle gave insufficient water; therefore water was piped to the castle from natural springs situated across the valley. In 1932, the castle added a hydroelectric power plant on the stream Turcu, to light the castle but was also connected to the towns of Bran, Simon and Moeciu. The grateful inhabitants thanked Queen Marie, to which she referred in her writings:
“poor villages, pure Romanian that in a near future would not have had this advantage.”
When Queen Marie died, on July 18 1938, Bran Castle was bequeathed to the Princess Ileana, now married to Archduke Anton of Austria since 1931. The Queen’s favourite, according to a statement from Balchik on June 29, 1933. The Archduchess continued the planning for the castle’s future.
The Princess Ileana built a hospital in Bran, she named it “the Hospital of the Queen’s Heart”, which serviced the treatment for wounded soldiers from Brasov after the Red Cross hospital was bombed by American aircrafts. After 1945, the hospital continued to treat people wounded and maimed in the war and the population of the region. Princess Ileana herself cared for patients as a nurse and even operated in the hospital. She continued the work with great efforts until January 1948. She eventually had to leave the country, but she did return when she was 61 to visit the great castle.
She died in January 21, 1991, and was buried in The Orthodox Monastery of Transfiguration Elwood City, Pennsylvania, which she founded and of which she was the abbess. In her grave was placed a small box containing earth from the foot of Bran Castle, collected when she was exiled.
On May 18 2006, after several years of legal proceedings, the castle was legally returned to the heirs of Princess Ileana of Romania and Archduke Anton of Austria. However, the Romanian Government, through the Ministry of Culture, provisionally administered the castle for another three years.
On June 1, 2009, the Castle fully re-entered the possession of its legal heirs, Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalena and Archduchess Elisabeth.
Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania.
This character is often confused with Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), sometimes known as Vlad Dracul, who was a Walachian Prince with a castle, now in ruins, located in the Principality of Wallachia. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. Chapter 2, May 5 of “Dracula” describes the Count’s castle as
“. . . on the very edge of a terrific precipice . . . with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”
Dracula – as he is perceived today – is a fictitious character whose name derives from the appellation given to Vlad Tepes, the ruler of Wallachia from 1456-1462 and 1476, and who, for largely political reasons, was depicted by some historians of that time as a blood-thirsty ruthless despot.
Stoker’s character, Count Dracula, first appeared in the novel “Dracula”, published in England in 1897, by the Irish writer Bram Stoker. But the name “Dracula”, far from being a frightening term, derives from the Crusader Order of the Dragon with which Order both Vlad Tepes and his father had been associated. The rest of the Dracula myth derives from the legends and popular beliefs in ghosts and vampires prevalent throughout Transylvania.
Stoker’s Count Dracula is a centuries-old vampire, sorcerer, and Transylvanian nobleman, who claims to be a Székely descended from Attila the Hun. He inhabits a decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains. In his conversations with the character Jonathan Harker, Dracula reveals himself as intensely proud of his boyar culture with a yearning for memories of his past. Count Dracula appears to have studied the black arts at the Academy of Scholomance in the Carpathian Mountains, near the town of Sibiu (then known as Hermannstadt). While Stoker named his Transylvanian Count “Dracula”, he was careful not to suggest an actual link to the historical character of Vlad Tepes. While Stoker’s character Van Helsing muses as to whether Count Dracula might be the Voivode Dracula, he obviously is not since Count Dracula of Transylvania is plainly not Prince Vlad Tepes of Wallachia and Stoker was disinclined at all to make his character a real person of historic significance.
In the villages near Bran, there is a belief in the existence of evil spirits called ghosts or “steregoi” (a variant of “strigoi”). Until half a century ago, it was believed that there existed certain living people – “strigoi” – who were leading a normal life during the day but at night, during their sleep, their souls left their bodies and haunted the village tormenting people in their sleep. These evil spirits haunt their prey from midnight until the first cockcrow, when their power to harm people faded. “The undead [i.e., ghosts, vampires] suffer from the curse of immortality,” writes Stoker, “they pass from one period to another, multiplying their victims, augmenting the evil in the world…” The Dracula character derives from these local myths.
As for Vlad Tepes, the ruler of Walachia, he does, indeed, has an association with Bran Castle. Vlad was involved in several campaigns to punish the German merchants of Brasov who failed to abide by his commands as regards their trade in his Walachian markets. Passage to Wallachia was through Bran, the closest gorge to Brasov, which connects with Targoviste, Vlad Tepes’ capital. The original customs houses at which taxes were collected from merchants entering Transylvania are still at the base of Bran Castle. The relationships with the Bran lords were not very cordial, as they were representatives of the Citadel of Brasov, which were hostile to Vlad the Impaler. It is not known if Vlad Tepes captured Bran Castle. Written documents do not describe it. The documents that do exist in archives with regard to Bran Castle, are mainly administrative and refer to the income and expenditure of the domain of the Bran Fortress, with little mention of political and military events.
However, in the fall of 1462, after the army of the Hungarian king, Matei Corvin, captured Vlad Tepes nearby the fortress of Podul Dambovitei, near Rucar, it appears that Vlad was taken to Bran Castle and locked up there for two months. This is affirmed in the recent volume Vlad The Impaler – Dracula, published by the Mirador Printing House, Arad, 2002, authored by Gheorghe Lazea Postelnicu. From here, Vlad was taken and imprisoned in the Visegrad Fortress.
Visitors to Bran Castle should make the distinction between the historic reality of Bran and the character of the Count in Bram Stoker’s novel. Dracula exists in the imagination.