Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Romania & Bulgaria has to say about the town of Bran and Bran Castle:
Illuminated by the light of a pale moon, the vampire’s lair glares down from its rocky bluff... but regrettably, Bran Castle’s blood-drinking credentials don’t withstand scrutiny. Claims that Vlad Tepeş either “The Impaler or Protector of Wallachia”, depending on whom you ask, passed through here are unproven. Nor did the castle inspire Bram Stoker, much as souvenir-sellers attempt to link Bran to the iconic Gothic novel Dracula.
These seem minor quibbles when you gaze up at the turreted fortress, guarded from the east by the Bucegi Mountains and from the west by the Piatra Craiului massif. Meanwhile, the castle’s museum pays greater homage to Romanian royals than immortal counts. Ignoring this, a gauntlet of souvenir sellers hawk fang-adorned mugs and “Vlad the Impaler” compact mirrors (really).
Rising above the town on a rocky promontory, Bran Castle holds visitors in thrall. An entire industry has sprouted around describing it as ‘Dracula’s Castle’. The liberties taken with Bran’s reputation are quickly forgotten on a visit you’ll climb up its conical towers, admiring views over thick forest, and stroll through creaky-floored rooms furnished with bear-skin rugs and 19th-century antiques.
Noting Bran Pass’ strategic location, Teutonic knights built a citadel here in the 13th century. The structure was destroyed in battle, but fears of Turkish invasion led to a new citadel being built in the same place in 1382, as part of a 14th-century boom in castle-building. Bran Castle languished as an administrative building during the 18th century. The town of Bran was offered to Queen Maria of Romania in 1920, as a thank you for her efforts in uniting the country.
Indeed, you’ll learn rather more about Queen Maria than Dracula. One room exhibits a half-hearted account of Romanian vampire lore, and rather infuriatingly shoehorns together some displays on Vlad Tepeş - popularly, ’The Impaler’ - and author Bram Stoker.
Several displays are devoted to Maria, the castle’s former royal resident, and her belongings are lovingly displayed alongside video footage. One of the finest rooms is her husband King Ferdinand’s former bedroom, with decorated furniture and ceramic fireplaces.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I’ve never been a fan of horror movies so my understanding of Dracula and/or Bram Stoker doesn’t extend much beyond the idea of a blood-thirsty Halloween figure with blood dripping off his fangs. However, I’ve always adored castles and when I learned that this one in Transylvania was heavily turreted and nestled in a beautiful setting I felt we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see it.
As a matter of habit I don’t like to look at pictures of places or buildings in advance, so I had absolutely no idea what Bran Castle looked like. After purchasing our tickets, we said goodbye to our taxi driver and made our way towards the stone ramp that would carry us up to the castle’s entrance. When we rounded the corner, the view before us took my breath away.
Bran castle is like no other castle I’ve ever seen before. It’s an interesting combination of brick, stone, plastered walls and Tudor-style chocolate beams along its upper reaches. The castle is nestled in a cradle of craggy rocks so that even the base has no clear margin , but seems to seep into the mountain upon which it stands.
We almost entirely alone as we walked up the long stone ramp, admiring the banners hung on the right-hand side of the causeway. These banners played up every aspect of the fictitious Dracula and his gory deeds. It was only a few days since Halloween, so there were banners that referenced the parties that were held in the castle precincts.
We climbed a long flight of stairs from the base of the castle to the entrance high above. I’m not at all sure that this was the original entrance, it’s probably the one used to accommodate the thousands of tourists who flock here during the warmer months. Inside the entrance vestibule we were introduced photos to Vlad Tepeş and Queen Maria of Romania.
Here’s what I learned about the castle and Dracula from the website Bran-Castle.com:
“This character is often confused with Vlad Tepeş (Vlad the Impaler), sometimes known as Vlad Dracul, who was a Walachian Prince with a castle, now in ruins, located in the Principality of Wallachia. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle.
After 1918, Transylvania became part of Greater Romania. On December 1st 1920, the citizens of Braşov, through a unanimous decision of the city’s council, offered the castle to Queen Maria of Romania, who was described as “the great queen who (…) spreads her blessing everywhere she walked, thus winning, with an irresistible momentum, the hearts of the entire country’s population.
The Castle became a favourite residence of Queen Maria, who restored and arranged it to be used as a residence of the royal family.”
From the foyer we were directed to a narrow staircase and I immediately noticed some Halloween decorations hanging above the arch of the door. I asked the attendant and learned that an American woman had hosted a huge Halloween party at the castle for over 3,000 guests. I was delighted that the decorations had been left in place for the time being. They added a whimsical spirit to the setting for sure.
For the next hour, we made our way from one room to another, through the castle with many of the Royal Families’ furnishings still in place. Every room was an absolute delight, and I especially enjoyed the many different fireplaces, stoves and ovens that kept the castle cosy during the winter months. No two heating structures were alike, and each seemed more delightful than the last. As I mentioned before, the Halloween decorations added a sense of fun, and now I can’t imagine visiting the castle without the bats, skeletons, cobwebs and pumpkins.
There were a couple of rooms that tried to tie in Bram Stoker and Count Dracula to the castle’s history, but we then learned that Stoker never once visited Romania let alone Bran Castle. I didn’t really care, I was just delighted to imagine Queen Maria living in the small rooms, dining in front of a roaring fireplace or on an outdoor terrace during the hot summer months, walking along the exterior balconies and meeting with the local villagers in order to achieve the many social welfare initiatives she envisioned.
There wasn’t a square metre of the castle that didn’t enchant me, and I have to say I was a little sad when I realized that we were finally in the castle courtyard and we had visited all the rooms open to the public. As is so often the case, one needed to ‘exit through the gift shop’. Normally, I push right on through, but this time I had a peek around hoping to find a bookmark to keep as a memento.
No bookmarks, but I did take a few photos of striking goblets, mugs and a funny t-shirt. Once we were back outside in the sunshine, we didn’t dawdle, but walked quietly down the stone ramp and passed by an interesting set of souvenir stalls at the base of the ramp. We admired the manicured grounds inside the gate, commenting how it would be a great place for restless children to burn off some excess energy after being confined in the narrow staircases and passages inside the castle.
We made a beeline past the souvenir stalls, ice cream shops and fast-food eateries to find our driver. He spotted us before we spotted him, and moments later we were back on the highway towards Braşov. We had nothing but praise for our time in Bran Castle, and you could see clearly that he was pleased.
I told him I’d hoped we hadn’t kept him too long, and asked how many trips he manages to do in a day during the busy season. He said he could usually do only two because the line-ups for tickets and then for the entrance into the castle are so long, sometimes as long as two hours, he normally has to wait for a good chunk of the day for his guests to emerge.
Wow, we’ve certainly come at the best time possible, no crowds, no long waits, and no pushing or shoving within the castle itself. I really appreciated the fact that I could take photos of the rooms and their furnishings without having people get in my way. We both felt very pleased with the decision to visit Transylvania and Bran Castle. It might have been better to be able to stay in the region, but there were other places beckoning and we had to move on.