Certainly, Transylvania evokes powerful images of vampires and Gothic castles. Tales of the supernatural had been included in Romanian folklore for centuries when Irish writer Bram Stoker incorporated them into his famous novel.
Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Dracula novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, who was the ruler of the Romanian province of Walachia at various times from 1456 to 1462. We are here now because we want to visit some sites associated with Dracula and try to sort legend from truth.
Perched on top of an 80-metre-high rock, Bran Castle has imposing towers and turrets but it owes its fame for being the castle Stoker used in his book.
Although Stoker never visited Transylvania, his book has encouraged persistent myths that this was once the home of Vlad Dracula. While the association with Dracula is dubious, the castle continues to hold a strong attraction for all fans of Count Dracula so naturally, we have to visit.
Narrow winding stairways and torturous passages lead through some 60 rooms which house collections of furniture, weapons and armour. You can tour the castle on your own, but expect to spend several hours doing so and in the summer and on weekends there are always crowds.
While Bran Castle is the place that inspired Stoker’s tale, it’s really Poenari Fortress about two hours west that is considered to be the real Dracula’s Castle. Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century then later was abandoned and left in ruins. In the 15th century, Vlad the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure perched high on a steep precipice of rock, making it one of his main fortresses.
The ruins of Poienari Fortress are all that are left today. If you decide to climb the 1,462 stairs, you’ll be able to touch pieces of the walls and towers that are still standing.
This is at the heart of the Count Dracula legends. Sighisoara was founded in the 12th century by Transylvanian Saxons, but it’s Dracula that has put the town on the map with today’s visitors. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the town is full of cobbled streets and ornate churches. We climb the 175-step wooden staircase leading up to the Church on the Hill. It has been used by Saxon churchgoers and students at the adjacent high school, as well as current Sighisoara residents and visitors since it was built in 1642.
Also see: Trying Transylvania, Romania
Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. You can still visit his birth home, although today it is a restaurant and museum. The house is in Citadel Square, close to the Clock Tower, and it is well worth visiting. As we climbed the narrow stairs in almost complete darkness, something fell on my neck causing goose bumps all over my body. Emerging into a darkened room we came face to face with a live vampire in a coffin.
Not too many people can call vampire acting their full-time occupation!
Fringed by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with glorious architecture and historical attractions, Brașov is one of the most visited places in Romania. It was founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient site and was settled by the Saxons as one of their seven walled citadels.
We stroll around the old Town Hall Square where we admire colourfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. We go inside the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania, named for damage caused by the Great Brașov Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls. The interior is impressive and it houses one of the largest pipe organs in Eastern Europe.
Part of the city’s defensive wall, once 13-metres-high, two-metres- thick and over three-kilometres-long, can still be seen today. So too can Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe, at just 1.3 metres wide.
The relationship between Vlad Dracula and Brașov was problematic over a number of years. In 1560 he invaded southern Transylvania and destroyed the suburbs of Brașov, ordering the impalement of all men and women who had been captured. It is said that Brașov has the distinction of seeing more stakes bearing Dracula’s victims than any other place. Fortunately, there is no evidence of this today, however.
The heart of the city is its medieval centre complete with open squares, stone wall defences, towers, and centuries-old buildings and churches. Staircases link the Lower Town, where historically the Romanian peasants lived in small, colourful houses, and Upper Town where the wealthier Saxons lived in the city centre. The Council Tower dates back to the late 1500s and sits in the passageway between the Big Square and Small Square. We climb the stairs for fantastic views overlooking the city.
We notice the houses with eyes. They’re actually ventilation windows, however, throughout periods of political strife, locals believed they were being watched by the “eyes” to ensure they were not causing trouble.
From 1451 to 1456 Vlad Dracula lived in Sibiu yet just four years later he mercilessly raided this region and killed, impaled and tortured 10,000 of his former fellow citizens and neighbours.
Did we find Dracula?
We saw a make-believe vampire and learned much about Vlad Dracula and his exploits. And while vampires may not be real, there is no doubt that Stoker’s Dracula has become a powerful reminder of the rich and authentic Romanian folklore, and a great tourist attraction for the country today.
Read more of Len’s adventures at LenRutledge.com
TOP IMAGE: By Geralt via Pixabay
OTHER IMAGES: By Phensri Rutledge