Thick walls, narrow loopholes, steep climbs and gloomy dungeons … Bran Castle is the most popular landmark in Romania. It is known as the lair of the sinister Count Dracula - but the real story of the castle is slightly different from popular legend.
Bran Castle is located in the town of Bran, not far from Brasov, on the border of Mutenia and Transylvania. It was built by the inhabitants of Brasov themselves - with their own money and on their own. And no, not at all on the orders of the vampire count, and not in order to imprison him in the dungeons. At the end of the 14th century, these territories were regularly attacked by the Turkish invaders. The Hungarian king - at that time Brasov was located on the southeastern border of the Kingdom of Hungary - offered the local residents to build a defensive structure in exchange for tax breaks. In addition, a customs point was supposed to be located at this place.
They agreed, and so a stern fortress was built on the top of the cliff - powerful walls, watchtowers and labyrinths, intended mainly for keeping prisoners. Of course, it was possible to survive the siege there. It is believed that the branched system of labyrinths can be accessed through a well of one hundred meters deep - now it is closed for the safety of visitors. At the site of the construction of Bran, there was another fortress, presumably of the 13th century, which belonged to the Teutonic knights - and who knows what secrets they left behind?
The castle constantly passed from hand to hand, until at the beginning of the 18th century it ceased to play the role of a defensive fortress. At the beginning of the 20th century, the inhabitants of Brasov presented the castle to King Ferdinand, who preferred to transfer it into the full possession of his wife, Queen Mary, who was the granddaughter of the Russian Emperor Alexander II. By order of the Queen, the castle was restored and turned into a charming residence with a park, artificial lake, fountains and terraces - and even a tea house. And no vampires!
Queen Mary bequeathed the castle to her daughter, and during the war, Princess Ileana set up a hospital there. In 1948, the royal family was expelled from Romania. Dark times began for the castle. In the 50s, they tried to make it a museum of the history of feudalism, and this idea was popular, but the state of the castle was emergency. The restoration work took four decades.
And in the early 2000s, according to the law on the return of land, the castle was transferred to the descendant of the Habsburgs, the grandson of Queen Mary, Dominic Habsburg. The bearer of the royal family has lived in the United States for many years and made a career as an architect - so he found a very practical application for his legacy. Unfortunately, all the historical furniture was taken out and transferred to museums - the Habsburg received an almost empty castle, albeit in good condition. He spent a lot of time, effort and money on recreating the historical setting and organizing exhibition spaces that organically fit into the atmosphere of the ancient fortress.
But how, in reality, Bran Castle is connected with the personality of Vlad the Impaler, known as Count Dracula? There are several versions, and none seems convincing. Some believe that he spent several nights here during his campaigns - Bran is conveniently located on the way between Wallachia and Transylvania. Others claim that Tepes hunted in the picturesque forests surrounding the castle. And still others say that in the underground labyrinth of the castle Count Dracula was kept in prison by the Turks - but even this theory has not been historically confirmed. In general, Vlad Tepes's connection with Bran Castle can be described with the words "passed by". Although it is known that he liked Brasov himself, and he even planned to arrange his residence there, until Janos Hunyadi, the ruler of Transylvania, forbade the city to accept him. There is little reason to think of Bran as the "hideout" or "lair" of a vampire count!
However, two people contributed to the dark reputation of Bran Castle. In 1897, the first edition of the famous novel by Bram Stoker was published, which used the old legend of the endless cruelty of Vlad Tepes to create the image of the Transylvanian Count Dracula. The incredible popularity of the book has led to the fact that Transylvania, in creating thousands of readers, has become almost an entire kingdom of vampires - and everyone loves to tickle their nerves. Fans of the novel made many attempts to identify the area where the count's ancestral castle was located, and came to the conclusion that it was Bran, because Stoker described the impregnable castle on the edge of the cliff in some detail and accurately, mentioning two watchtowers. But he has never been to Romania and has never seen Bran Castle in reality. Perhaps it was a coincidence - or the writer saw it in some picture. Or maybe Stoker's creative imagination created an ideal "gloomy old castle", and Bran, shrouded in legends, turned out to be its best real embodiment?
Be that as it may, even if Stoker did not mean any particular castle when describing the abode of the vampire, in the first edition of the book it was Bran Castle that was depicted in the illustration. So the book character became the owner of a real castle, and a small defensive fortress acquired a gloomy entourage - although even now many dispute the right of the Bran Castle to be considered the residence of the book count, because there are darker places in Romania.
Naturally, the new owner, the same Dominic Habsburg, decided to use the fame of Bran Castle as the abode of Dracula and turned this legend into money. On the territory of the castle there is a museum of the Middle Ages with an extensive collection of weapons and instruments of torture. Tourists can buy funny souvenirs related to the image of Dracula, and the castle can also be booked … for a Halloween party. So the defensive fortress, which has lost its significance, has become a popularly beloved landmark of Romania these days - albeit with an eerie shade.