Transylvanian Christmas: Dracula's Castle, Bran, Romania

December 09, 2014

On our final day in Transylvania Henry and I set out to 'Dracula's Castle' in Bran to separate myth from man: Bram Stoker's Dracula versus Vlad the Impaler. The stakes *hehe* were high---we were cutting it fine if we were to catch our flight back to London from Bucharest---but we were more than determined to sink our teeth *ha* into this last endeavour of ours, the final nail in the coffin *huhu* in our tour of Romania, so to speak. How could I ever look myself in the mirror *chortle* again if I went all the way to Transylvania without visiting Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula's Castle? 

A vampire bat's view photo I wish I took, alas I sadly lack wings. Source: Pinterest.
“  Bram Stoker's Count Dracula inhabits a decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains, high above a gallery perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania. Stoker depicted the imaginary Dracula’s castle based upon a description of Bran Castle that was available to him in turn-of-the-century Britain. Indeed, the imaginary depiction of Dracula’s Castle from the etching in the first edition of “Dracula” is strikingly similar to Bran Castle and no other in all of Romania.  Chapter 2, May 5 of “Dracula” describes the 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.” Indeed, Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, and so became known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. ” ---Bran Castle.
Source: Pinterest.
Romania very cleverly capitalises on the fascination with Dracula, superstition, and vampires. Bran especially so, every place of trade is prefixed with 'Vampire'---vampire camping, vampire cafe, vampire antiques. Clearly the 'vampire tourism' approach works because every year more than half a million people pay something like 25 RON / £4.50  to visit Dracula's Castle. And someone must be buying the tacky vampire paraphernalia and Vlad the Impaler t-shirts from the throngs of souvenir stalls at the foot of the castle...

Of course it had to be me. I just had to...! That, and because I ran out of clean clothes to wear. Judge me if you will, but I am loving my souvenir stall get up, accessorised with a Romanian Orthodox cross. That tee is so metal.

On our way up the cobblestoned hill to Bran Castle we met a very friendly wolf-like dog who danced with Henry (Dances With Wolves: The Transylvanian Sequel) and followed us up the hill. I suspect he is a spy working for Count Dracula. 

The resemblance between those two is uncanny. Henry is getting shaggier and shaggier with each passing day in the Romanian wilderness. Observe how well he blends in with the surroundings of the Carpathian Mountains.

The entrance to Bran Castle. 

What the fudge, how did my hair get so...thick? I only just cut it a couple of months ago.
I've heard mixed reviews about Bran Castle. Some slate it for being a soulless tourist trap capitalising on that convenient misunderstanding about it being the castle of Vlad the Impaler, the 'original' Dracula when really Bram Stoker was careful to make no distinction between his Count and Vlad himself (the confusion arose from Vlad the Impaler's nickname 'Dracul'---'the dragon' or 'devil') and beside there was never any evidence to prove that Vlad ever made it his residence. The critics bemoan that there's nothing to see inside the empty castle, that the only thing vaguely vampiric about the place is the hordes of souvenir stalls around the castle flogging Dracula t-shirts (one of which yours truly proudly sports), Dracula mugs (we bought three) and Dracula masks (I really wanted one but there weren't any for sale!). 

But possibly these naysayers formed their opinion pre-2009 before the castle was returned to the Habsburgs, the children of Princess Ileana of Romania. In three astonishing weeks the Habsburgs restored the formerly barren castle back to its days of splendour, filling it with art and furniture collected by Queen Marie and opening the castle as a museum. The Bran Castle I visited was tasteful. Sure, these was an exhibition of medieval torture instruments on the second floor but for the most part the artefacts on display were informative and the museum is well-proportioned with everything spread out nicely and not overwhelming so you can appreciate the objects. There are rooms with dioramas of traditional Romanian life: family portraits, models in traditional dress, table laid with fruit, rooms laid with royal furniture, a room explaining the genealogy of Vlad Tepes, and we even climbed a secret tunnel up to the highest balcony with sweeping views of Transylvania. 

Personally, I recommend Bran Castle a must-see if you are in the region of Transylvania. If not to make the distinction between Stoker's Dracula and Vlad Tepes, then to support the efforts of the Habsburgs in restoring a national icon, and to see for yourself the castle and the landscape that inspired the story and mythology that has endured in so many imaginations...and nightmares.

Oh, and did I also mention that Bran Castle is up for sale? Yours for a cool £47 million. 

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