Visiting Europe this fall? Skip the usual big cities and spend Halloween in Transylvania! Conjure up legends of vampires through Romania's national hero -- Dracula.
In 1897 Bram Stoker wrote a horrifying story about a bloodthirsty vampire from a remote castle in Romania. The character of Count Dracula was loosely based on the life of Prince Vlad Tepes – known as Vlad the Impaler for his habit of impaling his Turkish enemies on wooden stakes. Vlad’s father was known as Dracul meaning “dragon” or “devil” and Vlad became known as Dracula meaning “son of the Devil.”
In the novel, the Romanian province of Transylvania was home to Count Dracula – he lived in a remote castle in the Borgo Pass near Bistritsa. While driving along winding country roads through forest-covered mountain passes, visitors conjure up the mystery and magic of Transylvania’s vampire legends. Horse-drawn carts rumble through historic villages in the unspoiled landscape. With so many places to visit, here are some highlights.
Bistritza and the Borgo Pass
In the novel, Jonathan Harker ate at The Golden Crown Restaurant in Bistritza before continuing his journey to Count Dracula’s castle on the Borgo Pass. Visitors can eat in the same restaurant and then continue to Castle Dracula Hotel, built recently on the Borgo Pass where the fictional castle is supposed to be. Don’t forget cloves of garlic and crucifixes!
Located in the village of Bran, it is easy to see why this medieval castle is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle, despite the fact that there is no evidence that Vlad ever lived here or even visited. The labyrinth of narrow corridors and secret chambers invoke gothic fairytale images of Transylvanian vampires hiding around every corner!
Vlad’s birthplace is filled with perfectly preserved medieval buildings. Dracula House, in which he was born in 1431, has a plaque on the door and is now a restaurant, bar, and small museum of medieval weapons.
Vlad moved to Tirgoviste in 1436 and lived there for six years before he was sent to the Turks as a hostage. They freed him in 1448, after informing him that his father had been assassinated and his older brother had been tortured and buried alive by the nobles of Tirgoviste. When Vlad became leader of Wallachia, he established Tirgoviste as his capital, and he was so confident in the effectiveness of his law that he placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste -- it was never stolen and remained there throughout Vlad's reign. Crime ceased.
On Easter Sunday of 1459, Vlad invited the nobles to a feast in Tirgoviste. After the meal, the nobles were rounded up and marched fifty miles to Poenari, where they were forced to build the mountain fortress. Those who survived the ordeal were impaled. According to another local legend, Vlad’s wife committed suicide by throwing herself from the battlements rather than being taken captive by the advancing Turks.
Vlad’s reputed burial place is on a small isolated island in the middle of Snagov Lake. According to legend, the monastery was also used as a prison and torture chamber -- when prisoners prayed before an icon of the Blessed Virgin, a trap door opened dropping them onto sharp stakes below.
Dracula Amusement Park
Visitors may soon be able to visit a Dracula Land theme park. The original location was to be Vlad’s hometown of Sighisoara, but it seems that the project is now planned for Snagov, his burial place. The scope of the complex seems to be expanding beyond the Dracula theme, and the plans now include a golf course, water sports, horse racing, and a Formula 1 race-track.
Oh dear! Has it all gone too far?