Legendary Places to Visit in Transylvania

A Brief Portrait of “Dracula”

If you look now on a modern map you will not find Transylvania and so you’ll be rather inclined to believe that this is a fairy tale land created by the Irish novelist Bram Stoker as the main scene where his famous character “Dracula” lives. But Transylvania is real, a part of Romania – a little Latin country at the Black Sea. And Dracula is real as well, but not exactly as described in the book that made his name known all over the world.

Stephen Vincent Benet once said: “Books are not men and yet they stay alive.” Well, men write books about men. As a result the immortality chain is created: new legends are born or old ones are brought back to light.

Bram Stoker had a simple recipe to success: he took an already legendary name for his main character, he placed this personage in an already existent land – Transylvania – (and what a wonderful land that is!) and he gave him attributes described as real by many authors and chronicles. Yet the image of Dracula, the Wallachian Prince – a Romanian, was severely distorted. The prince was now just a count of Szekler ancestry, and he became the beast who comes to suck our blood in the hours of darkness.

The one who, for Romanians, is a national hero, the one who acted as a defender of Eastern Orthodoxy, is indeed one of the most controversial personalities of history. His atrocities are described in detail, too often exaggerated especially in German and Turkish chronicles.

Because of Vlad’s endeavors to tear down the Catholic institutions from Wallachia, the German Monks fled the country and, like many other refugees, had a story to tell, a story which tended to overemphasize their grief. According to these monks, the crimes Dracula supposedly committed included along the classic decapitation, sadistic massacres, boiling alive, burning and sureâÂ?¦ impalement.

For the Turkish historians, the reasons to denigrate the Wallachian prince were also “personal”. Dracula had been, at one time, the friend and protÃ?©gÃ?© of the sultan, but he had deceived this holy confidence, causing huge losses on his former ally. Prince Vlad was able to resist Mehmed the Conqueror who controlled an army three times the size of his own, using a fighting tactic not uncommon for other Romanian monarchs: he ordered his men to poison the waters everywhere in the Turks’ way and to burn the villages, so that the enemy would find nothing to eat, drink, or rob. This saved Wallachia from becoming a Turkish province and gained for Europe a mean to organize its barricade against the common threat. After such a triumph, there is no wonder that the Turks started to refer at Dracula as “Kaziglu Bey” (“The Impaler Prince) – thus the legend was born.
In Russian chronicles, although part of the crimes are admitted, Dracula is seen as a cruel, but just ruler. The Russian diplomat Fedor Kuristsyn, describes Vlad Tepes as being a despot who used torture as a mean to enhance the principle of justice: rival candidates to the throne, enemies of the country, the alien Roman Church, corrupted boyars, all these constituted as many threats that had to be repressed by terror. In this sense, he was certainly not the first ruler in the world to use such means to reach his goals.

The Romanian view about Dracula is quite different. Vlad Tepes was indeed a despot, but a rational despot, trying to consolidate his regime by slaughtering conspirators. Peasants use to see their monarch as a hero who plunders the rich to help the poor. He was also implacable in punishing burgles, liars or traitors.

Bran, Transylvania – The Search for Dracula Goes On

Once stated that Vlad Tepes, alias Dracula, is a real personage who once ruled over Wallachia, the logic question arising will be “why was Bram Stoker choosing Transylvania as the location for his hero?” Fact is Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 in Sighisoara, a Transylvanian fortress. His father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a military and religious society, comparable with the Teutonic Order of Knights. The Order’s official dress was a black cape over a red garment. In Romanian language “Dracul” has two meanings: first, and most important, “Dragon” and second “Devil”. “Dracula” is a diminutive, which means “the son of Dracul”.

But historic facts, although astonishing, are not as profitable as the legend. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is much more interesting as a vampire than as a local monarch. In consequence there is no wonder that this image is exploited and Transylvania, Dracula’s birthplace, is “sold” as a “cursed land, where the devil and his children still walk with earthly feet!” (Bram Stoker, “Dracula”, 54)

Vampire hunters, tourists, historians, they all visit Transylvania trying to trace Dracula’s footsteps. And all end up visiting Bran Castle. There is no official evidence that Vlad Tepes was ever there, but since Poenari, the Wallachian fortress, his real castle, is just a ruin situated on the top of a mountain, and ample bazaars and other similar money-making conveniences are difficult to organize, Bran seemed to be the right choice.

Yet, the fake Dracula’s Castle is a national monument and a main attraction of Romanian tourism. The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, and the Teutonic Knights established it in the XIII century to watch over the Rucar-Bran Pass. Like any other strategic edifice, the castle had an agitated history, being at times burned to ashes. Nowadays the fortress is a museum, and once inside the tourist will hear guide speaking mainly about the Hohenzollern dynasty and Queen Mary who transformed it into a summer residence and also loved the place so much that upon dying wish she asked that her heart be buried in the hill in front of the Bran Castle.

So much about Dracula’s Castle!

Sighisoara – the Medieval Town

The town itself is an amazing view, but when coming to sightseeing, there is a walled citadel on the top of the hill, secret gateways and passages and important historic monuments such as the 60-metter-tall Clock Tower – a symbol for justice – and the house of Vlad, currently a restaurant, are a must. Sighisoara, as his birthplace, signified a lot for the Wallachian Prince. It was him who issued the first document listing the town’s Romanian name “Sighisoara”. Before the town was known under its foreign names: Latin “Castrum Sex”, Hungarian “SegesvÃ?¡r”, or German “SchÃ?¤Ã?Â?burg”.

UNESCO listed Sighisoara as a World Heritage Site, due to the fact that in the historic centre of the city the features of a small medieval fortified town are excellent preserved. It is this very heart of the town where every year, in July, one of the most spectacular Medieval Festivals takes place. Thousands of tourists gather together to celebrate history and similar cultural heritage. Medieval costumes, medieval music, theatre and art simply “invade” the streets – a veritable trip back in time!

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