A blog post by Greg
I must say that when I suggested to Felicity that we visit Romania for our next travel adventure (which would become ‘Romania: Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ which you can watch HERE), that I knew the only real image I had in my mind of the country was over a century old, highly stereotyped, and created by a man who had never visited the country.
Despite knowing how ridiculous that was as the basis for forming an image of a country, I did actually find myself very much wanting to find the fictional ‘Castle Dracula’ created by Bram Stoker for his 1897 book.
To get to the point where we can discuss looking for Dracula’s Castle in Romania, however, it is worth us taking a little diversion to Whitby in Yorkshire. We took a little pilgrimage there in March (see the short video ‘Seeking Dracula in Whitby’) to the location where Bram Stoker is supposed to have come up with many of the ideas for the book, and to the spot where he is supposed to have sat writing much of it. I’ll be going into a little more detail about that particular visit and Bram Stoker’s time in Whitby in a later blog post, but suffice to say that the closest that Bram Stoker ever came to Romania (which at the time he wrote the book was not the unified single country that exists today) was finding the name ‘Vlad Dracula’ and some more details within books in libraries in Whitby and London.
It is very hard, therefore, to know which real castle, if any, Stoker used as the basis for the castle where Jonathan Harker travels to at the beginning of the novel to meet up with the mysterious Count Dracula. In the small town of Bran, near the old Transylvanian/Wallachian border, however, is a castle which claims to be the only one in all of Romania which fits the description of the castle in the book. They even have the source that Stoker could have looked at when he was writing his description in ‘Transylvania: Its Product and Its People’ by Charles Boner published about three decades before Stoker put pen to paper.
The historian in me had to point out that there is a level of conjecture and guesswork in this… but the travel adventurer in me has no qualms in confirming that Bran Castle is Dracula’s Castle (at least in terms of Stoker’s book – to begin learning about the other part of our adventure and Vlad Dracula you can read Felicity’s blog post here).
As you pull into the quaint little town of Bran, the castle looms above you, standing tall above the other buildings in the area on it’s rocky hill, dropping on one side into a precipice down from the castle.
To approach the castle gates you walk up through a small market selling a combination of Bran Castle, Count Dracula, and Vlad the Impaler themed merchandise, as well as a small open air museum showing the old village houses which the people of Bran used to live in. Finally you arrive at the castle gates and head in, making your way up a castle path. At all times I could hear echoes of the book in my head – even on a beautiful sunny February morning I could imagine the castle in the dark of night, almost hear the wolves howling in the distance, and almost see Count Dracula crawling out of a window…
Of course, aside from its links with Count Dracula, the castle does have its own fascinating history.
The first fortress built on the site goes back to 1211 when the Teutonic Knights, a catholic religious order formed of German crusaders to help defend the southeastern border of Transylvania, which they managed until they were forced out of the region in 1226.
It was between 1377 and 1388 that the castle itself was built, to form a dual role of a ‘customs house’ and a fortress to defend against attempts at Ottoman expansion, and in fact it is these roles which likely saw Vlad the Impaler (our ‘other Dracula’) pass through Bran Castle on his way to solve a dispute between the Wallachia Voivode and the Saxons about tax rates.
The castle changed ownership a number of times, until in 1888, not long before the book Dracula was written, the City Administration of Brasov handed the castle over to the forestry department, and although until 1918 it was inhabited on and off by foresters and woodsmen, in general the castle fell into decay, and could easily have ended its existence as a slowly crumbling ruin if not for the unification of Romania!
After Transylvania became a part of Greater Romania, Bran Castle was gifted, on December 1st 1920, to Queen Marie of Romania. For the next twelve years the castle was restored to the Queen’s requirements, and in 1932 it became a famous royal summer residence – including her own ‘Tea House’ in the grounds which today has become the Casa de Ceai Restaurant, which we would definitely recommend!
I found that from the outside, and in the courtyards of the castle, it felt every inch the Castle Dracula of the books. Inside though in the music room, study and bedrooms, this was a home treasured by a Queen.
All in all the castle is well worth a visit, and marked a wonderful introduction to the Romanian castles on our adventure!
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!