Scarier than Fiction: Discovering the Real Life Dracula in Transylvania
Forget garlic, fluttering bats and every other cliché associated with the Dracula story – Transylvania’s Bran Castle (and its terrifying history) most definitely puts Bram Stoker’s tale in the shade.
Located in Romania’s Carpathian mountains between Transylvania and Wallachia, the castle was once home to Vlad Tepes, aka notorious medieval murderer Vlad the Impaler. Famously, he used Bran castle as his base during his reign of terror in Transylvania, a period of gruesome violence in which 21,000 prisoners were impaled in a so-called ‘forest of human bodies’.
The Dracula Connection
Dracula author Bram Stoker never actually visited Romania, but there are clear similarities between his blood-thirsty, Transylvanian lead character and the life of Vlad the Impaler, not least his hilltop fortress. In Dracula, Stoker’s vampire lives in a remote castle “. . . on the very edge of a terrific precipice . . . with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm with silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”
According to Dracula experts, the Irish writer based his description on an illustration of Bran Castle taken from a book published in 1865 called “Transylvania: Its Product and Its People”.
What’s in a name?
Stoker is thought to have borrowed the name Dracula from the ‘Crusader Order of the Dragon’ – a medieval order of knights that once counted Vlad as a member. And the Transylvanian influences don’t end there. The villages close to Bran are rife with ancient stories and legends about ghosts and vampires. At one stage, a popular myth was that some villagers were leading double lives, going about their business as normal during the day, only for their souls to leave their bodies at night to carry out evil deeds.
Bran Castle Tours
Bran Castle is one of Romania’s most popular tourist attractions, with most visitors tacking it on as a day- trip from Bucharest. Entry to the castle costs around €8. Guided tours are available for a small fee, but visitors are also permitted to wander the castle on their own if they prefer. The castle is open daily. For further information see the official Bran Castle website.
Brasov is the closest major city to Bran Castle and is located around 3 hours from Bucharest by train (the journey costs around €10). From here, it’s a 30km journey to Bran Castle. If you plan to explore the region, it’s worth spending a night or two in Brasov, which itself is a beautiful city filled with gothic architecture and lively bars and cafés. Buses leave regularly from Brasov to Bran and stop directly opposite the castle.