Transylvania, Romania: The Land of Dracula

When we hear the place Transylvania, we almost always think about Dracula, the bloody vampire, that always makes a good Halloween story. So, when I visited Transylvania early this year, it's hard not to associate the places, like the Bran Castle to the famous novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. 

It’s said that Bram Stoker’s inspiration for the Dracula was a historical character Vlad Tepes or Vlad III, the ruler of Wallachia in the 15th century. During Stoker’s research on the region of Transylvania, he came across the brutal accounts of the atrocities committed by Vlad III, also known as Vlad Dracul, aka Vlad the Impaler. He was known for committing brutal acts of war and was under constant threat of attack from the Ottoman and Hungarian forces. During his infamous retreat from the Ottoman forces, Vlad the Impaler had the bodies of his enemies and his people alike impaled on large spikes in the field surrounding his county.  



The inspiration for the made-up character may have been based on the historical figure, but the description of the castle in the novel does not directly match the description of Dracula's Castle.  However, the connection between the Bran castle to the myth created around Stoker's novel made Bran Castle or Dracula's Castle the most famous landmark in Romania.

Bran Castle is perched high atop a 200- foot high rock and has commanding towers and turrets.  The original architecture was built in the 14th century and the building resembles a labyrinth with narrow corridors designed to protect a small city. Today, the modern restored Castle serves as a museum displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie, vampire kitsch, and vampire room explaining "Dracula between Myth and Reality". 



Evidently, connecting the myth created around Bram Stoker's novel and Hollywood to the real castle is good for Romania's tourist industry.  I had to walk through a long road lined with vendors selling Hollywood-style vampire trinkets before I could get to the castle main entrance. After the visit, I realized that even without the Dracula connection, Transylvania with its medieval architecture and natural landscape was well worth the visit.

The View from Dracula's Castle

Sighisoara, the Birthplace of Vlad Dracul

Sighisoara is a well-preserved example of a fortified medieval town and listed as a World Heritage Site. Its historic center is surrounded by fortifications and towers of the 12th-century citadel. The main landmark in Sighisoara is the 64 meters high clock tower that was built in 1556 and houses a history museum. 



But the most famous building on the main square of the citadel of Sighisoara is now a restaurant called “Casa Vlad Dracul”. The house was the birthplace of Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler.



There is also a small weapon museum and a torture gallery and 13th century Church. I climbed up the clock tower to see the inner workings of the magnificent clock with its moving figurines, and the spectacular views of the medieval town. 


Hunedoara 

The most visited place in the Southern part of Transylvania is the mythical 14th century Hunedoara Castle or Corvin Castle. It’s one of the largest castles in Europe, built on old Roman fortifications with huge pointed towers, soaring battlements, and massive drawbridge. It was rebuilt many times over the years. So, what’s the Dracula connection? In the 15th century, Vlad III or Vlad Dracul's father and brother were murdered after Hunyadi, a Hungarian noble, invaded Wallachia. And Vlad III was reportedly detained in Corvin Castle and held in the castle’s underground chambers.


Brasov

Brasov is nestled at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. It’s surrounded by green mountains with a Hollywood-style sign “Brasov” .  And as the gateway to Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle), tour guides would eagerly tell tales about the Vlad Dracul's romantic flirtations, and tales from the grave. 

We first visited St. Nicholas Church in the oldest part of the city before checking into our hotel. The medieval church was surrounded by protective walls with large wooden gates. Beside the church was a small old cemetery. It so happened that there was a burial service inside the church, so we were not able to explore inside the church. Instead, we spent learning about the history of the First Romanian School and looking at the oldest books at the Library and the Archives of the Saint Nicholas Church.



The city is surrounded by an aura of mystery. The natural landscape provides a backdrop to a mishmash of architecture that includes Gothic spires, medieval gateways and watchtowers, baroque buildings, and modern cafes that line the main square Piaţa Sfatului.












NOTE:  All photos by the author

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