For many Bran Castle may be synonymous with “vampires” or “horror stories” but in reality is more of a beautiful medieval castle than a haunted place.
How did its association with Dracula come by then? We might attribute at least part of the reason to its location. Bran Castle is set in Transylvania region, Romania, close to the city of Brasov. It is perched on a dramatic hilltop above a valley and it is surrounded by a deep green forest, which gives it an air of mystery.
According to Bram Stoker’s book, his character, the vampire prince Dracula, lived in “a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below”. The similarity between the fictional description and the reality is astonishing.
The other part of the reason is the Romanian ruler, Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who
supposedly was used by Bram Stoker as an inspiration for his book. Vlad the Impaler ruled the historical region of Wallachia in the 15 th century and he was known for his cruel methods of punishment, which drove his enemies away in fear. His favorite means of execution was the impalement and there are many stories in the local folklore related to this.
Besides his cruel nature, Vlad Tepes was the son of Vlad Dracul, a name very similar to
Dracula. In reality Dracul meant “the Dragon” in medieval Romanian and was a sobriquet received by his father after he became a member of the Order of the Dragon.
Many believe that the castle was inhabited by Vlad Tepes, but there are no historical records of this ever happening. Despite this, the bloodthirsty count’s story is so popular and widespread that almost no one cares about the truth. The legend of Dracula is one, the story of Vlad Tepes is something else, but this “confusion” put the small town and its castle on the map of international tourism and has brought since then thousands of visitors to the area.
A visit inside the castle will reveal to you its true nature. Bran Castle started as a fortification, built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13 th century, after which, more than one hundred years later, at the end of the 14th century the actual castle was built by the Saxon community of Transylvania to protect the ongoing military invasion of the region and the trading route.
In the 20 th century the castle became a royal family residence after it was offered to Queen Mary of Romania as a reward for her help during World War I and the 1918 union of the country. It became one of the Queen’s favorite residences and she arranged it to become worthy of the royal family. It was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana and for a period of time belonged to the communists, but nowadays it is back in the possession of the Princess’ inheritors, who operate it as a museum and leave it open for the public.
The museum occupies four floors and hosts several objects of furniture, costumes, weapons, and personal items of the royal family, brought here mainly by the Habsburg family from their personal collection. The bedrooms and living area are tastefully decorated, although in no way opulent. The most interesting rooms to discover are the Music Salon and Queen Mary’s Bedroom.
Those looking for frightening experiences may also see an unusual display of torture tools in a room. It is a fascinating, but macabre part of history, so it is recommended that only people over the age of 18 enter the exhibition area. Of course, a tour would not be complete without a room dedicated to the legendary Dracula character.
The outside fortifications are impressive and they will take you back to medieval times. They include shooting ranges, narrow staircases and even a secret exit, which was once known only to soldiers. If the invaders managed to enter the fortress, the soldiers used this passage to climb to the top of the castle from where they threw stones and hot tar at the attackers to drive them away.
On the southern side of the hill we find a small village museum with traditional houses of the Rucar-Bran area, which highlights the local architecture and the old traditional occupations of the people: agriculture, animal husbandry, wool and wood processing.
Usually Bran Castle can be visited every day, although at this moment, due to the COVID situation it is closed to the public. As an interesting fact, sometimes it is listed on Airbnb for Halloween. Two people can get the opportunity to spend the night in the beautiful castle, sleeping in specially designed coffins.
Whether you are looking to uncover its mysteries or to capture its majestic looks, Bran Castle will make your visit worthwhile!
Thank you to Daniel Rosca from Romania Photo Tours for permission to share the photograph.