Following in the footsteps of pretty much everyone who visits Transylvania, we took a trip out to Bran Castle. Popularly known as the 'Dracula Castle', it actually has a more tenuous Dracula connection than you would be led to believe, with the ‘real’ Dracula Castle perhaps being Poenari Castle in Argeş County.
The Dracula connection with Bran Castle is that it fits the description of Bram Stoker’s Dracula Castle and looks extremely similar to the imaginary depiction of Dracula’s Castle from the etching in the first edition of ‘Dracula’, and this is shamelessly milked to entice visitors.
That said, Bran Castle is very very old and does have plenty of its own history (skip the blue bit if you’re not into history!): While a wooden castle was built by Teutonic Knights in 1212 (and then destroyed by Mongols in 1242) the stone castle came later in 1377 when the Saxons of Kronstadt (Braşov) were given the privilege to build this stone citadel at their own expense and labour. The castle was later used in defence against the Ottoman Empire during 1438–1442, and went on to become a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia (regions pre-dating modern Romania). The Wallachian ruler Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler), the real-life historical figure associated with the character of Dracula, would also have passed through here on a number of occasions – although it is not thought he has a strong association with the castle.
In 1920, the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania and became the favourite home of Queen Marie. The castle was in turn inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana, but was later seized by the communist regime and the Royal Family were expelled in 1948. All was not lost however, as in 2005 the Romanian government passed a special law allowing restitution claims against properties such as Bran that had been illegally seized, and a year later the castle was restored to the ownership of the Royal lineage via Dominic von Habsburg, the son and heir of Princess Ileana.
On 18th May 18 2009 the administration of Bran Castle was transferred from the government to the Archduke Dominic and his sisters Maria-Magdalena Holzhausen and Elisabet Sandhofer. The Habsburgs siblings opened the refurbished castle to the public as the first private museum of the country, and it now serves as a major tourist destination and economic resource for the region.
In its role as a museum, it is set out in different rooms with period items, often belonging to the family members. This makes for quite a sweet display, and it is a really nice castle on its hillock of rock, with meandering corridors and even a secret staircase (although not too secret, as the door is open and there is a sign pointing you to it!)
In addition to the museum of the castle itself, there are several displays about the mythology of vampires and also about the historic Vlad Tepeş or Vlad the Impaler.
Stepping out into the courtyard, there is the very curious artefact of a weighing scales for weighing convicts. This came into existence as there was a theory that if someone was a witch for example, they would weigh differently to what you would expect from their appearance. Therefore, they would be sat on one side of the scale and weighed against things such as stones, or even a copy of the Bible! Obviously this system was open to massive corruption and the whims of the prosecutors. It makes for an amusing story now, but imagine how terrifying it must have been to get caught up in that type of prosecution?
Moving on from Bran, we next went to Peleş Castle. Our wonderful host had told us that she felt Peleş was more beautiful than the Palace of Versailles, and was on a par with Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany. I have never been to either of these places before, but had seen Neuschwanstein in photos and it is stunning so we had high expectations for Peleş. It did not disappoint…
Walking down the hill to it from where we were dropped by the car, we first saw Pelişor, the smaller chateau very near to Peleş.
This was beautiful, but when we carried on to Peleş it was simply spectacular. The gorgeous castle is offset perfectly by stunning surrounding mountains and dramatic conifer clad scenery. We spent the first 20 minutes there just wondering around the front garden, trying to absorb the view and taking photo after photo.
To walk around the grounds is free, but to visit inside the castle you pay to join a guided tour. Even approaching the ticket office, which is located in the courtyard, is a visual treat with the impressive hand-painted murals all around.
The tours take place in different languages, so we waited for the English version. You can get different levels of tours as well, and we did the cheapest option. Cameras also cost extra if you want to use them.
|Slippers over your shoes to protect the flooring|
Inside is simply incredible – I am running out of suitable adjectives here! Every surface is heavily decorated with carved wood, marble or gilt everywhere you look. This incredible detail belies the relative youth of the castle, which was constructed between 1873 and 1914 with such luxuries as a central heating and ventilation system cunningly disguised within the décor.
Going from room to room, there is so much beauty to take in. One room is a decorative armoury, one is full of inlaid furniture and Murano glass chandeliers, and another has frescoes by the young Gustav Klimt, before he became so famous for his gold stylised artwork. There are also rooms decorated in Moorish and Ottoman styles.
|Murano glass chandeliers|
|Inlaid art - gem stones in the furniture and different woods in the doors|
It really is beautiful, maybe somewhat over the top, but I kind of like that :)