A visit to Bran Castle, where Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was set…
We had a day trip today to see Bran Castle, the 15th century fortress used as the backdrop for Bram Stocker’s infamous 19th century work of fiction. The castle itself was nowhere near as spooky as we would have hoped, but it was a well-preserved example of medieval architecture that allowed for amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
Bran Castle was built in 1377 by Germanic Saxons who settled in the area on invitation of the Hungarian king. The castle was particularly important from a defensive perspective as it sits right on the border between Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia*. It was therefore a first line of defense against potential invaders and played a vital military role until the 19th century when Wallachia and Moldavaia united to form the Kingdom of Romania.
*These 3 regions now make up modern Romania, but once upon a time they were seperate states – Wallachia and Moldavia ruled by their own kings and Transylvania ruled by the Hungarian king. It was only in 1918, after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was disbanded, that Transylvania became part of the Kingdom of Romania.
In 1920, the castle became a residence of the Kingdom of Romania’s royal family. It still belongs to the Romanian royal family’s descendents who maintain the castle in great condition and no doubt make a fortune off stupid tourists like us who flock to see the castle simply because it featured in Bram Stoker’s novel.
We were disappointed with Bran Castle all round really. I mean, we didn’t see a single bat, wolf or vampire up there! There was just a creepy Romanian guy (let’s call him”Vlad”) hanging around the castle entry dressed in a cape and plastic Dracula mask who was trying to extort money out of tourists to have their picture taken with him. As if “Vlad” wasn’t tacky enough, lining the entry into Bran Castle there were also a heap of market stalls selling all sorts of “Made of China”, plastic, vampire-themed crap. That and the hordes of tourists in the castle itself made for a less than memorable experience unfortunately.
In order to stave off a case of the “Grand Disappointments”, we also went to see Râșnov Fortress. Just a few kilomteres down the road from Bran Castle, Râșnov Fortress is much more isolated and far less touristy. This immense 13th century fortress was built on top of the ruins of a Roman citadel, which is believed to have been itself built on top of a much older Dachian* ruin. Perched high on a hill, the fortress has magnificent views over the surrounding mountains and plains.
*Dachians were a tribe of early Europeans who occupied much of South-Eastern Europe during the Bronze Age. Modern-day Romanians have proudly told us that they are the descendents of the fierce, wolf-worshipping Dachians and Romans, who conquered this region around 100AD. Certainly Romanians seem to have that fiery Latin temperament we’re used to from our travels in Italy. Even the Romaian language is Latin-based,which makes communication for us a bit easier as it’s quite similar to Italian. Surrounded as they are by Slavic nations it’s interesting that Romanians managed to maintain their uniquely Latin language and culture alive for centuries.
Like Bran Castle, Râșnov Fortress was used as a defensive fortification by Saxon-Germans who settled here in the 12th century. Even though it is pretty much in ruins now, the fortress was far moodier and more interesting to explore than the super-touristy Bran Castle.
The absolute highlight of the day however had nothing to do with castles or fortresses; on our way back to Brasov we stopped off in the tiny town of Poiana. This village sits high up in Carpathian Mountains overlooking Brasov and, in winter, is Romania’s premier ski town. At this time of year it is popular with hikers keen to explore the wilds of Romania*. We joined the other hikers for a short walk through the forest and were rewarded with great views down to Brasov and some of the most amazing autumn foliage colours we have ever seen.
*Just a quick note about the Romanian wilds: they are AMAZINGLY beautiful, but seriously wild. One of the greatest surprises for us travelling through the country so far has been how lovely the scenery is. If you love untouched, unspoilt forests, mountains and hills, this is the place for you. Just be warned that they have LOTS of bears and wolves. Apparently one of Nicolae Ceaucescu’s crazy laws was that no one was allowed to go hunting but him; as a result Romanian wildlife flourished during the 46 years of his dictatorship and this country now has Europe’s greatest concentration of large carnivores. Sounds cool until you find out how many tourists get eaten by bears and wolves each year! Hikers be warned…
Tonight is our last night in Brasov – tomorrow we’re off to Bucharest, Romania’s manic capital city. It will be interesting being back in a big city after a week in tiny towns and rural villages. Hopefully the contrast won’t leave us too shell-shocked! Tune in tomorrow to see how Romania’s Big City treats us…