Does one think of Transylvania as an imaginary, dark malignant location where vampires live? Transylvania forms a circle of mountains called the Carpathians and inside of this circle there's a high plateau. Transylvania literally means "land beyond the forest." Bram Stoker, the writer who made Dracula renowned, called Transylvania "one of the wildest and least-known portions of Europe."
At the end of WW 1, in 1919, the Romanians acquired Transylvania from Hungary. Many years later, after World War II, Romania became a communist nation. Romania became a democratic republic in 1990. Today's regions of Transylvania reveal its historical past with Roman remains, feudal fortresses, Byzantine monasteries, and quaintly decorated villages.
Transylvania, like Romania, has had a troubled history. Transylvania was ruled by Hungary before Ottoman Turks took over in the 1400s. One ruler, Prince Vlad Dracul (sometimes known as Prince Vlad Tepes) defied the Turks and on that basis was seen as being a Romanian hero. The Romanian word dracul means dragon. Prince Vlad Dracul was called Dracula since it means the son of Dracul, the surname of his father. Prince Vlad Dracul existed long before Bram Stoker's book character Dracula.
In 1431, in anticipation of his accession as Prince of Wallachia, Vlad II (Vlad Dracul) moved his family to Sighisoara (Schassburg), a heavily fortified citadel that still dominates the crest of a hill. By year's end, his second son and namesake-- Vlad Dracula--was born in what is now the Vlad Dracula House, one of many remaining merchant houses in the village. Amazingly, Vlad's house at Sighisoara remains in excellent condition: a three-storied stone house built with dark, yellowish rock, crowned with a tile roof and lit by little windows
In a field near Bucharest, Vlad was assassinated. As outlined by most accounts, Vlad's body finally found rest on the island of Snagov, where he had established a monastery about the same time he built Castle Dracula. As a result, the region was overrun by the Turks, who seized Vlad's stalwart mountain fortress. Castle Dracula fell into ruin, a condition furthered by a number of little but destructive earthquakes.
Historically, Vlad Dracula lived in more than one stronghold and even constructed a castle in Bucharest. Scholars have spent a lot of time painstakingly documenting the whereabouts of the real Castle Dracula.
Many people, including Romanian promoters, claim that Dracula's castle is Bran, a foreboding Transylvanian mountain fortress that may have been Stoker's inspiration. Bran Castle is located in the village of Bran, which is located between Brasov and Bucharest. The castle fortress is found on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In 1377 the citizens of Brasov rebuilt the castle. Through the years, additions have been constructed onto the castle.
Remarkably, visitors tour the castle daily, never realizing that, while Dracula did visit Castle Bran on several occasions, the stronghold was actually built by the Hungarians and was the castle of John Hunyadi, prince of Transylvania and Vlad's rival. The real Castle Dracula (or Castle Poenari) was actually built by Vlad near the village of Poenari, located about Fifty miles northwest of Tirgoviste.
Bran Castle is known as a national monument and landmark for all of Romania. The Teutonic Knights started its building in the early thirteenth century on top of a peak. In 1377 the citizens of Brasov rebuilt the castle. It consisted of a four-story keep having a lookout post on top, two towers, a curtain wall, and an underground prison. The walls were constructed of stone from the nearby river. Over time, additions have been constructed onto the castle.
Buttressed by stalwart natural defenses (three of the four sides of the ridge drop precipitously to the river valley) and fortified with the latest design innovations, 15th century Castle Dracula appears impregnable. Its 10 foot-thick exterior walls form an irregular polygon, tracing the shape of the ridge and spans approximately One hundred feet by One-hundred-twenty feet at the highest point.
Interspersed along the curtain wall were at first five battlement towers; now only two are in reasonably good condition. (Incredibly, during a siege, these towers held as many as 30 soldiers and an equal number of servants or retainers.)
Sections of Castle Dracula did survive and those areas are today accessible to the public. Previously, domestic quarters, stables, the kitchen, and servants' quarters remained within the walls of Castle Dracula but none of those structures has survived. Currently, however, the secret passageway that Dracula utilized to escape the Turks does exist.
In the 1970s, Romania's Commission on Historic Monuments finished a restoration venture on Castle Dracula which has stopped its course of decay.In May 2006, the Romanian government gave Bran Castle (also called Dracula Castle) to the von Habsburg family. The von Habsburgs have planned to maintain the castle as a museum.