On the Hunt for Dracula in Romania
We’ve all either read the classic or watched one of the many movies on Dracula. But did you ever want to know more? Who is this man of mystery? Charming ancient soul by day and vampire seeking blood by night. Truth be told, Dracula is a factious character created by Bram Stoker. But there was plenty of inspiration for his dark and enticing tale. Come along with me as I hunt Dracula in Romania.
“I want you to believe…to believe in things that you cannot.” ~ from Dracula by Bram Stoker
Vlad vs. Dracula
There were two main inspirations for Stoker’s Dracula. The first and most well-known is Vlad Tepes Dracula. Vlad was a Romanian prince of Wallachia, not Transylvania, in the 15th century, and is famous for his impaling of this enemies. The truth is he was no villain, he only killed to protect his country and his people. He was no vampire, but his name, Dracul, translates directly to Devil. Perhaps it was a combination of the impaling and the curious name that struck Stoker. Even Bran Castle, the inspiration for Dracula’s castle was never Vlad’s. It’s said that Bram Stoker merely saw a photo of it and used it loosely as his inspiration.
The “Real” Vampire?
Strangely enough, a big inspiration for Stoker’s vampire was a woman. The Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory is known as one of history’s most prolific female serial killers. During the late 16th century and early 17th century she would kill young virgins, drain them of their blood and soak in it to attain eternal youth. She is even said to have drank of their blood. She’s certainly more vampire-like than Vlad ever was.
The strigoi might have also played a role in conjuring up the character of Dracula. Romanian mythology says that the strigoi are troubled souls of the dead, who rise from the grave. This isn’t just an old, forgotten myth. It still presents itself in modern day Romania. A few years ago it even made news when a group of villagers dug up a body and cut out his heart, burnt it and then drank it. They believed that this would cure them and their village of the nightmares they were having concerning the dead man. They believed he had become a strigoi and was haunting their dreams.
My Hunt for Dracula
Last summer while travelling through Europe I was eager to explore a bit of Romania. And I must admit, Dracula, his myth, and the legend of Vlad, were all a big part of my choosing to visit Romania. My base was Bucharest for five days.
The first time I caught wind of Vlad was when I saw his bust appearing to stare at me from over a brick wall as I passed the Old Princely Court. Built by Vlad during the later part of the 15th century as a fortress it is now in ruins. A wander around the grounds, alone, and down into its basement exuded an air of creepiness. All alone in the recesses of the ruins I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a dark cave. Coming up for air I drifted past old grave stones and took a short flight of stairs up to a seemingly medieval rooftop patio. In Bucharest’s Old Town, this may have been a great location to build his fortress, now it seemed to go unnoticed by locals and the few tourists passing by.
The following day I took the Two Castles in One Day tour. The tour took a group of five, strangely all female, along with a guide into Romania’s Carpathian Mountains to two castles. One of which was Bran Castle. We stopped for a traditional Romanian lunch overlooking the castle and a striking white statue of Vlad Tepes on horseback. Surrounded by lush green mountains that were shrouded in a heavy fog, it all set the mood for our visit to the famous site.
Built as a fortress in the 13th century on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Bran Castle has no real connection with Vlad Tepes, other than he was briefly imprisoned there. Vlad’s real castle, Castle Poenari, is located further west. But Bran Castle was made famous when Bram Stoker used it as his inspiration for Dracula’s castle on the hill. This modest fortress is small in comparison to many others. Home to small rooms, narrow hallways and staircases, and a wealth of interesting period pieces of furnishings from Romania’s royal family. It also has an exhibit on medieval instruments of torture. Perhaps a nod to Vlad the Impaler himself.
It may not have been Vlad’s castle, it was symbolically Dracula’s. And standing atop it, looking out over the surrounding area, it was no surprise why people flocked here. The fortress had a sense of charm interwoven with doom. Surrounded by the glorious mountains, with their air of mystery, and close to Transylvania, it all felt so eerie and surreal.
I may not have seen Dracula, nor any other vampires, but there’s no doubt his myth has a strong presence throughout Romania. And while I came close to the lingering ghost of Vlad, his energy will forever lurk in the hearts of locals, and inspire tourists to visit this amazing country.
Other sites to visit:
- Castle Poenari – Vlad Tepes’s Castle, located 2.5 hours northwest of Bucharest
- Sighisoara – Vlad Tepes place of birth, located 5 hours north of Bucharest, where you can visit his house
- Snagov – Island Monastery, located 1 hour north of Bucharest, possible site of Vlad’s burial
- Comana Monastery – Original monastery founded and built by Vlad Tepes, located 1 hour south of Bucharest, possible site of Vlad’s burial
Have you ever travelled in search of a fictional character?
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