A Pedacito Of Dracula's Court, Romania
The Vampire has been one of the oldest expressions of mythology since time immemorial. There has been a universal theme of tales of the undead who feed off of the life force of living humans, ranging from cultures as diverse as ancient druidic Europe, south Asia, to modern Haiti.
However, Romania stands out as the most famous place associated with the traditional environment of giving impetus to the birthplace of the world’s most famous Vampire.
In 1897, Irish writer Bram Stoker created the infamous novel Dracula. Since my early childhood, I’ve always been intrigued with eponymous narrative, burning with the desire to know the actual person that existed behind the veil of fiction that inspired Stoker’s vampire and to physically visit the location of the sinister castle.
Working on a separate assignment in a neighboring country finally gave me the opportunity to visit this region and answer my second vexing question: Why did Stoker choose Romania as the location for his novel.
Perhaps it was the intersecting of a forbidding forest, Gothic Architecture, and a ruthless prince. Indeed, Romania is a very enigmatic place, perhaps the most mysterious in Europe.
Going back to my first curiosity, who was this mysterious person Dracula? He was more than just the protagonist in a novel, but a real-life character: a notorious prince that lived in the 15th century, Vlad the 3rd Dracula nick-named Vlad the Impaler!
Son of the obscure Vlad Dracul, a member of the shadowy order of the Dragon whose members wore long black cloaks and red capes. I take a train to Vlad’s birth city of Sighisoara, also known as the “Pearl of Transylvania”. Having one of the best-conserved medieval fortresses of Europe,
The town is surprisingly sedate, a quiet stillness pervades the air, cobblestone streets, and a cloudy grey sky highlights the vast vagueness of the city. The people are polite but aloof. I am acutely aware of my otherness as I meander around, eventually becoming lost, but never disoriented.
After an hour or more, I accidentally find the object of my seeking, The Casa Dracul, the birthplace of the infamous Dracula.
The house would be obscure and indistinct if it weren’t for a marked sign and emblem of a Dragon. Inside the narrow walkway, I see a fresco of medieval examples of some of Vlad’s more famous torture instruments as well as the only known portrait of his father Vlad Dracul.
Even in life, he was considered a blood-thirsty monster, this warlord, prince of Wallachia, an enemy of the Ottoman empire, his reputation grew even more with the passage of time.
As I walk through a small museum and read about his exploits, I am suddenly transplanted back in time, feeling myself part of the crowds of ancient Romania, listening to the vast macabre deeds of Dracula.
The real-life Vlad the 3rd shares many traits with Bram Stroker’s character Vampire, a perverse pleasure in personally torturing and killing his enemies, but the most common bond: an obsession for other people’s blood.
I head back southeast towards the city of Brasov. This gothic hilly town is the place where the Dracula novel is set. I take a taxi along the Borgo Pass, a very old road that winds and twists through the enchanting Carpathian Mountains.
As I approach the town and observe the castle looming over the horizon, it creates an eerie atmosphere evoking a memory of the fictional Dracula’s sinister exploits. Its narrow stairway and silent forest bring goosebumps to my skin.
Today however the Bran castle is one of Romania’s most important national monuments. Built in 1377 on the ruins of an ancient Fortress of the Teutonic Knights, its real relationship to Vlad the Impaler is simply a figment of the imagination of the author Bram Stoker.
There isn’t any hard evidence that this castle served as a winter refuge for Prince Vlad. Certainly, the Gothic landscapes, tangled woods, and mysterious atmosphere of Transylvania help to incubate the spooky realm of Dracula created by Stoker.
As I prepare to catch my plane and leave Romania, I’m still as intrigued and mystified as when I came. The true Castle and tomb of prince Vlad Tepes still remain a mystery.
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