I hate to burst your bubble but what you may know as Dracula’s Castle is called Bran Castle and it wasn’t in fact his… Although born in Transylvania, in Sighishoara, Vlad was the ruler of Walachia, a territory south of Transylvania at various times from 1456-1462. Like most people in the area back then, Vlad was involved in fighting the Ottomans – and was effective at it – but he didn’t actually live in Bran Castle.
Dracula’s Castle – well, Bran Castle, actually
Built in the 1300s, Bran Castle started off as a place for Teutonic Knights and served as a critical defense structure against the Ottoman army for centuries, changing ownership with each change of power. When Transylvania united with the rest of the territories of Romania in 1918, the castle was given to Queen Maria of Romania, a beloved royal figure, said to spread “her blessing everywhere she walked.” The queen worked with Czech architect Karen Liman to transform the once dark and austere structure into a cozy summer residence. When the queen passed away, the queen’s heart was placed in a precious sarcophagus which eventually made its way back to her beloved castle, in a monument especially built at the base of the castle. After tumultuous regime changes, the heart found its safekeeping place in Bucharest, in the National Museum of History.
Upon the Queen’s death, the castle was inherited by yet another lovely royalty and the Queen’s close friend, her daughter Pricess Ileana. She had a personality larger than life and a heart to match it. Ileana was a talented artist, intellectual, and care-giving philanthropist. During WWII, she built a hospital for the wounded, named “Queen Maria’s Heart” in honor of her mom, where she also served as a nurse until the communist regime forced her out of the country. Princess Ileana emigrated to the U.S. together with her children, where she was ordained as Mother Alexandra and lived until she passed away in 1991, shortly after the fall of communism in Romania, but not before visiting her beloved Bran Castle one more time.
On a curious note, growing up I watched the hilarious Laurel & Hardy shows on Romanian T.V. They were renamed as Stan & Bran for the Romanian audience and later on I could never really figure out why – I thought it was because those names were just easier for the Romanian audience to pronounce. It wasn’t until this year that I found out the connection with Princess Ileana. Stan and Bran (like the castle) were the Princess’ favorite horses. How about that?
Of course, Vlad does have a dedicated place in the castle now, especially for visitors coming a long way to see him. I couldn’t resist his dark charms and had to give him a kiss. Near his portrait, just in case, there was a poem designed to ward off evil spirits, and close by, there was a sample of ancient torture devices.
Vlad’s home town, Sighisoara
Ben and Linda had the pleasure of visiting Vlad’s birthplace, the medieval town of Sighisoara. The family crest and name was the Dragon, which resembles the word Dracul, meaning “devil” in Romanian.
Vlad was actually a good figure for his people, as he was successful in defending Walachia against the brutal Ottoman Empire. His methods might have been extreme but from what I hear, the Ottomans weren’t exactly super friendly either… Overall, our country had a very tumultuous past, at any given time trying to fend off invaders, from Ottomans, to Austro-Hungarians, to Russians – and sometimes succeeding.
Although we didn’t join our friends this year, my husband and I visited Sighisoara a few years back, and really enjoyed it. It’s definitely a great town to see if you’re ever in Romania.