I have long been intrigued by
Romanian folklore. The very word Transylvania sends a shiver down my spine with blood-curdling images of haunted castles and fanged creatures. I am ready to find the historical threads in the lore.
by train from the capital Bucharest, I wend my way through the verdant foothills of the
Carpathian Mountains, and arrive in the medieval city of
Brasov with vestiges of Austro-Hungarian Empire, Saxons and brief Ottoman rule.
The wide pedestrian-only promenade Str Republicii is lively and colourful. On the umbrellas of the many sidewalk cafes is written, "Possibly the Best City in the World". I chuckle and muse "perhaps it is." Brasov flaunts the narrowest street in all of Europe. Rope Street (Strad Sforil), dating back to the 18th century, is just over a metre wide and can be walked along touching both sides.
Black Church (Biserica Neagra) towers in dusky beauty. Built in 1385, it was called St. Mary's - until renamed in 1689 after its outer stone walls were blackened by the "Great Fire" that levelled most of the city. Inside 100 Persian rugs are hung from the walls (given to the church by Saxon merchants returning from shopping-sprees to Ottoman lands). In 1839 a 4000-pipe organ was installed. I quiver in delight as its thunderous chords set off tremors in the air waves.
With taxi-driver Maxim, my sights are set on the early 14th century Bran Castle. It is spine-tingling to catch my first glimpse of its looming russet-roofed, white-walled citadels and towers jutting from the side of a cliff. I leave Maxim to chat with his cronies and start up the winding path towards the castle. The light sprinkle of rain becomes drenching wind-driven splatters half way up, which only serves to enhance the tale of this being Dracula's castle in Bram Stoker's 1887 novel.
Bran contains a "Bram Stoker Room," telling how Stoker's book brought fame to the castle, and how his fictitious
Count Dracula may have been inspired by the historical figure Count Vlad III Dracula (a.k.a Vlad Tepes).
Vlad III was the ruling prince of the Romanian state of Walachia from 1456-62, and from 1476-77. His moniker Dracula, meaning Son of Dracul (dragon) was inherited from his father Vlad II Dracul, who belonged to the
Order of the Dragon established to preserve Christianity. Although not a vampire, like Stoker's Dracula, he was dubbed "Vlad Tepes" (Vlad the Impaler) for his blood-thirst in dealing with enemies; namely skewering them on wooden stakes in such a manner that the victims suffered excruciating pain for up to 48 hours before their last breath. It is improbable that Vlad Tepes ever set foot in this castle.
Bran was mainly a fortress over the centuries to protect Romanian borders. In the early 20th century the town of Brasov gave the castle to
Queen Marie of Romania. She absolutely loved each of its 57 rooms, turning them into a summer retreat for her six children and
King Ferdinand. She hired Czech architect, Karel Liman who imparted the castle with its romantic appeal and added to the comfort with heating stoves of Saxon tile, running water, electricity, telephones and elevator.
I climb creaky wooden staircases and weave in and out of the high-ceilinged rooms filled with lavish, but not opulent, hand-carved furnishings. Several rooms overlook the courtyard dotted with potted red geraniums to enliven the castle's sombre tones. The combined music room and library converted from an old attic is the largest room, and is as cozy as this stone edifice can be with a fireplace, a bear-hide rug and padded furniture.
A narrow passage carved in the rock connects the first and third level with access to a turret with a 360-degree view. My mind rattles like ghostly chains with thoughts of how many escalated this eerie passage over the centuries, and for what purpose?
Princess Ileana, whose fondness for Bran matched her mothers, remained in possession of the castle from the time of the Queen's death in 1938, until the Communists evicted her in 1947. The castle opened as a museum under the Romanian State in 1957, and in 2000 it was given back to Ileana as a company run museum.
Romania was a wonderful commingling of past and present, history and myth all wrapped into a pleasurable experience. My dint in the sights left me wanting more... and a resolve that there will be a next time.
Irene Butler writes for Canadian and US newspapers and magazines. She has trekked thru 69 countries with a focus on culture and history and off-the-beaten path travel.
Brasov is 139 km (87m) NW of the capital of Bucharest
Bran Castle - buses marked "Bran-Moeciu" leave from Autogara 2 to and from Bran Castle every half-hour. Taxis are always available.
More Attractions in Romania:
Bucharest - seek out the fascinating mix of architecture from Romania's elegant past & grandiose Communist era.
Around Bucharest -
visit the tomb of the infamous Vald Tepes
Walachia (Wallachia) - the heart of Roma culture and beautiful monasteries
Transylvania - some of Romania's best skiing and hiking in the Bucegi Mountains
- also visit the city of Sighisoara - the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, and the village of Sinaia to see
Sinaia Monastery and
Carpathian Mountain National Parks - pick a park to suit your interest: birding, flora, fauna, caving, hiking, and skiing.
Black Sea Resorts - find a hide-a-way along the
45 miles of sandy beaches, and view the remnants of ancient Greek culture.