If you’ve visited a thousand and one castles and cathedrals like the #AdventurePartnerForLife and me, you might be thinking that this is just. another. castle. I have a secret for you, though—it’s not. Welcome to Bran Castle, better known to the world as Dracula’s Castle, and one-time home of the infamous Vlad the Impaler. You know how I love a solid, creepy-ass, macabre story; I’m super excited just thinking about it! Put your big girl panties on for this one, kiddos.
Nestled between quaint medieval villages in the picturesque Romanian Carpathians, you’d think the castle residents hosted high tea and exchanged pleasantries with high-brow visitors—and they actually did to some extent (boring)—but this is Transylvania. And we’ve all heard a dark tale or two about Transylvania, one of Romania’s best-known destinations. Here’s the real scoop…
The Teutonic Knights actually first built the castle in the 1200s, only to see it destroyed by the Mongols soon after. (You remember them, right? The Teutonic Knights?) Rebuilt in the 1300s, the castle was used as a defense post against the Ottoman Empire and, eventually, ownership fell under Vlad Țepeș, also known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracul. Yes, my friends, the history books have determined that the nickname is indeed well-deserved.
Vlad The Impaler
Ol’ Vlad massacred tens of thousands of opponents and had a good many of them, literally, impaled. A reminder for those folks who may have forgotten—impalement is a form of torture where a stake is driven through the human torso. (For an excellent visual depiction, click here!) His bloodthirst knew no bounds, either; he impaled men, women, children, whoever. Sometimes, he had them burned alive. Laonikos Chalkokondyles‘ The Histories provides this gruesome description of the Ottoman massacre:
The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen stades long and seven stades wide. There were large stakes there on which, as it was said, about twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted… There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Needless to say, he was a pretty nasty son-of-a-bitch. It’s thought that Vlad the Impaler is Bram Stoker’s reference for Dracula and that Bran Castle is the Transylvanian castle depicted, though this has never been 100% verified. The castle is, however, the only castle in the region that matches Stoker’s terrifying tale.
What’s even more interesting is that, to this day, some area residents still believe in the undead, or “strigoi,” which was the basis for Bram Stoker’s famous novel. There was even a widely publicized Romanian case in 2003 where six men were jailed for digging up a corpse and removing (and then burning) his heart because it was suspected he was undead.
Saint Andrew’s Day
More widely believed (even celebrated?) is Saint Andrew’s Day, the 30th of November and the first day of Romanian winter. On the eve of the holiday, night walkers rise and disturb the living. Beware of talking wolves, for it’s said, if you hear one, you will soon die! And, yes, eat lots of garlic; it’ll protect you from unwanted attacks. Mostly, though, Saint Andrew’s is a day of traditions for young women to meet their future husbands. That’s much less interesting, though.
The Truth About Bran Castle
So, after all of this myth, legend, and lore, what’s the real deal with Bran castle? The truth is that, while Vlad the Impaler owned the castle, he didn’t actually spend much time there. Maybe two months. Ever. Queen Marie was responsible for decorating the home, and it’s actually quite inviting… minus the torture chamber, which is equipped with a spiked chair and an iron maiden. (Because no castle would be complete without one!)
The medieval villages of the Carpathian Mountains are a truly special treat, steeped with mystery and a particularly intricate past. If you ever make the trek to eastern Europe, be sure to make a stop in this region of Romania! It’s a visit you won’t soon forget.