Bob and I vacationed in Romania where I did a little research for a future project. Basing my expectations of Transylvania on Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula, I prepared my psyche to encounter a dark, dank, and dreary medieval castle and rather ugly surroundings.
Count Dracula sprang to life in 1897 when Stoker’s novel was published. Though it did not achieve financial success for Stoker, he seemed to have had fun with it. And he received accolades from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who wrote to Stoker that he very much enjoyed reading Dracula, and thought it to be one of the best stories of diablerie.
On my quest, I wanted to know if Stoker created Count Dracula directly from his imagination, or from a nightmare as he once mentioned – a vampire king who rose from his grave – or did he use snippets from medieval history of real people and their hard, macabre and ghastly lives?
Not being a scholar on the subject, I’m going to take a leap of faith since a few of the “facts” I’ve read sound sufficiently convincing to me. (It should be noted that many of these facts are disputed by scholar Elizabeth Miller.)
Our trip started in Bucharest, an immensely interesting city. The countryside from there to Transylvania was striking – cozy villages and beautiful mountains, including the one used for the movie “Coal Mountain,” pictured here.
Then we lunched in the picturesque town of Brasov, where we listened to folk music as children and teenagers sang and danced. It looked like a quaint German town, but the music, food, language, and culture were very Romanian.
When we saw the weathered backside of the Orthodox Cathedral in Brasov, we felt a little closer to Dracula’s lair. The cathedral looks worn on the outside but is gorgeous on the inside.
When we saw poster announcing “Private Tours with “Count Dracula,” we knew we were close. We walked up the hill and there it was: Bran Castle, Dracula’s hangout. Though many people travel to Transylvania to visit “Count Dracula’s castle,” this incredible medieval castle may not have been the inspiration for Stoker. Some scholars point to Slain’s Castle in Ireland. But it is a known fact that Stoker originally named his vampire “Count Wampyr.” Then he studied the history of Romania and discovered the name “Dracula,” and he immediately renamed his villain. Stoker wrote that Count Dracula fought the Turks and was betrayed by his brother. These are historical facts in Romanian history and, since they are included in Stoker’s novel, they point to Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler (more on him later!). It’s also possible that Stoker took inspiration from an illustration of Bran Castle he encountered in Charles Boner’s book on Transylvania.
View of Bran Castle as we walked up the hill.
Vlad Tepes, Vlad III, signed letters he wrote using the name Dracula
A Little History
The name “Dracula” comes from the Order of the Dragon founded by the King of Hungary (Romania was part of Hungary at that time) to defend Christianity against the feared Ottoman Turks, who were their enemies and neighbors across the Black Sea. Vlad II of Wallachia (Wallachia is the land now attributed to Romania, particularly to Transylvania) took the name Dracul after being invested in the Order of the Dragon. “Dracula” would then mean “son of the dragon”. This “son” was Vlad III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, who may have been the real life model for the bloodthirsty vampire.
Dracula was not the first vampire story, though. It had been preceded and may have been inspired by Carmilla, a story about a female vampire who fed upon the blood of young women. Another possible source of inspiration for the vampire idea is the Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, who presumably tortured and killed young women and bathed in their blood as a way to maintain her youth. And then there were the sídhe, bloodsucking women in Scottish fairy tales. So Stoker had plenty of material to draw upon to create the ageless Count Dracula.
For certain, the Romanian people are very appreciative of Bram Stoker’s creation of a courteous count that just happened to need his bloodsucking abilities to survive, since this has built a nice tourist industry for Romania. Don’t tell them Bran Castle did not belong to Count Dracula!!
And by the way, there was nothing dark, dank, or dreary about Transylvania or Bran Castle – I could live there! It was beautiful.
Interior courtyard of Bran Castle
I hope you’ve enjoyed this topic. Please suggest topics for future blogs.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you about appropriate attire when you visit Bran Castle (just in case you run into your host).