“Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a nobleman of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” DRACULA Ch. 1 Bram Stoker
Bran Castle is advertised in the tourist industry in Romania as Dracula’s Castle. Bram Stoker’s directions in the passage above as to where he believed that Count’s castle may have been, are vaguely accurate if your target is Bran Castle. However it certainly isn’t in the “extreme east of the country.” The problem for the Dracula legend is that Bram Stoker never went to Romania. Count Dracula is a Stoker creation and his castle is a work of fiction. However given the association in the minds of millions of readers of Stoker’s novel, there is an inextricable link between Transylvania and Dracula so the Communist Government in the early 1970s were being financially responsible by providing a handy castle in the right general area that could be a focus for needy foreign Dracula hunters. In order to provide some real history as part of their tourist promotion of this castle and country, Vlad the Impaler had be ‘resurrected’ in order to provide a ‘Dracula Substitute’. He was a Wallacian hero of some note back in the fourteenth century and he was probably even more nasty than Dracula in the shedding blood business. The image on the right is an advertisement placed on the path up to Bran Castle to wet the visitor’s appetite for gore. Vlad was a leader of his people in the continual fight against the invading Ottomans and he was very successful, given that his favourite treatment for Turkish prisoners of war was to impale them on stakes and leave them in the path of the invaders to discourage the enthusiasm of the next batch of Turkish soldiers.
Despite there not being a great deal of emphasis on Dracula in Bran Castle, it is certainly a beautiful place to visit with a back story of its own of resident royalty. This castle was a favourite of Marie Alexandra Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the wife of Ferdinand I, the second king of Romania who reigned from 1914 to 1927. While her story lacked a lot of bloodshed (except when she acted as a nurse during World War 1), her’s was a racy story. In fact, much of the resident guide’s monologue as he led us around the castle was dedicated to her life and exploits. Rather than her husband, Queen Marie went to the Versailles Peace Treaty conference in 1919. We were told she was more than persuasive in defending the rights of Romania against the demands of the French PM Clemenceau.
By 1927 Ferdinand had died and she was a widow. During the messy period of confusion over who was King of Romania from 1927-30 and her son Michael’s refusal to take any advice from his mother in later years, Marie spent the rest of her life in places like Bran Castle.
One other aspect of Queen Marie that made her as interesting a queen as her predecessor Queen Elizabeth, (if not more so), was that she was a prolific writer. Over her life time she produced a huge range of literary output including poetry and novels. Her personal story was an interesting aspect of this curious castle in the Carpathian Mountains.
Marie’s children’s book was published in 1929 and her ‘Story of My Life’ was published in English in three volumes in London in 1934. The castle on the hill in the story of the magic doll looks a bit like Bran Castle.
In some ways it is the souvenir shop in a tourist attraction that is the litmus test of what the stakeholders feel are the key attractions of the site. Using this measure, while Queen Marie was the centre of attention in the actual rooms of her home in Bran Castle, it was Dracula and Vlad the Impaler who were the big sellers for tourists looking for souvenirs of their visit; Dracula stuff for the kids, Vlad books and DVDs for the adults.
Not to make too strong a point about Dracula and Vlad being two separate identities, there is a link between the name Dracula and Vlad Tepes (Romanian for ‘impaler’).Vlad’s father’s name was Vlad Dracul (‘Draco’ is a Latin word maening ‘dragon’ or ‘devil’) so Vlad signed himself in documents as Vlad Dracula, suggesting ‘the son of Vlad Dracul’. The name is probably the only thing that Bram Stoker took from his Romanian research. For most Romanians, Dracula is a western creation and entirely separate from the 15th Century Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler. Western tourists may see them as one and the same.
Curiously Vlad’s early bad press around his murderous rampages with sharpened sticks comes from one group of his victims, the Saxon settlers of German origin who had settled in Transylvania. On one of the occasions of his various attempts to consolidate his power, in 1457 he had plundered the towns of Brasov and Sibiu (both on our itinerary!) in Transylvania where his victims of all age and sex were impaled for their troubles. Johannes Gutenburg had invented the printing press approximately 20 years before and stories about Vlad’s evil practices were printed in pamphlets and became best sellers in the German territories. Perhaps the image in the above woodcut of Vlad dining al fresco while his enemies were being impaled as entertainment is a little exaggerated.
While our tour party were disappointed to hear that Bran Castle had no association with Dracula and limited association with Vlad the Impaler, we were not disappointed with the visit to this fabulous castle or the village that surrounded it. Our guide at the castle did take advantage of our interest in Vlad, telling us the curious story of the supposedly empty tomb of Vlad’s in a monastery near Budapest which sounded if it might suggest some similarity to his alter ego as Dracula or even suggest his similarity to Christ whose empty tomb has been surrounded with mystery and theology for two thousand years. However research doesn’t bear out the story but who wants to let fact gets in the way of entertaining stories.
Vlad III Tepes was a fifteenth century ruler who was one of the many interesting characters in Romanian history that followed us around Transylvania and up into Moldovia. We encountered him again spread out on the wall of our lunchtime restaurant in Sighisoara…but we will save that story for another chapter!
“…but just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth and lolling red tongues, with long, sinewy limbs and shaggy hair. They were a hundred times more terrible in the grim silence which held them than even when they howled. For myself, I felt a sort of paralysis of fear.” DRACULA Ch. 1 Bram Stoker