THE BRAN CASTLE
article appearing in
Radio Romania International
6 June 2009

The Bran Castle is one of the most important tourist venues in Romania, known across the world because of its association with Dracula, the famous character invented by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker.

According to Forbes magazine, the castle was the second most expensive residential building in 2008, being evaluated at 140 million dollars. Located between the Bucegi and the Piatra Craiului mountains, 30 kilometers from Brasov, the castle is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. It was built by a Teutonic knights order known as Dietrichstein in the early 13th century, more exactly in 1212.

The castle’s name, Bran, comes from Slavic and means 'gate', which indicates that it once served as a fortress, a gate in the Southern Carpathians through which you go to Transylvania. The castle is called Torzburg in German and Torcsvar in Hungarian, which, according to historians, indicates the presence of a Turkish population in the area, most probably Cumans. The Bran Castle was strategically erected on a cliff. It's almost certain that the fortress built by the Teutonic Knights was made of wood.

Proof thereof is a document issued in 1377 by the Hungarian king Louis I of Anjou (1342-1382), in which he granted the Szecklers in Brasov the right to build a new stone fortress in Bran at their own expense and with their own labour. As early as the 13th century, the area around the Bran fortress was placed under the jurisdiction of the royal district of Alba Iulia.

In 1395, Sigismund of Luxembourg, German emperor and king of Hungary, used the Bran castle as the starting point for an incursion into Wallachia to oust the then ruler of Wallachia, Vlad the Usurper, Mircea the Elder’s rival. In 1407, in appreciation of their strong alliance, Sigismund offered Mircea the Elder the Bran and Bologa castles. The Bran castle remained under Wallachia’s jurisdiction until 1419, the year after the death of Mircea the Elder.

In 1427 Bran became the property of the Hungarian crown and underwent upgrading and expansion works. In 1498 the Hungarian royal house leased out the Bran fortress to the city of Brasov. On December 1st, 1920, the Bran Castle was donated by the local administration in the city of Brasov to Queen Maria of Romania, the grandmother to Dominic of Habsburg, in recognition of her contribution to the Great Union of 1918. Until 1927 it underwent upgrading works, under the coordination of the Royal House architect Carol Liman, who designed it as a summer residence.

Also in the inter-war period, a Tea House was erected. It was in that period that the castle was supplied with running water from a wheel 57-meter deep and electricity provided by an electric plant with turbine. Later, in about 1932, this plant would also supply electricity to the villages of Bran, Simon and Moeciu. Queen Maria left the Bran castle to her daughter, princess Ileana, sister of King Carol the 2nd, who owned it until 1948.

It was later seized by the communist regime after the expulsion of the royal family, in 1948, and abandoned. In 1956 the castle was turned into a museum of medieval history and art. The 17 rooms on its four floors hosted collections of ceramics, furniture, weapons and armory. The castle also boasts a small open-air museum of Romanian peasant structures, crafts and traditions. The fame of the Bran Castle is connected to the modern myth that it was once the home of Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia, known as Dracula.

However, there is no historical evidence to support it. In fact, the Irish writer, Bram Stoker, who invented the character of vampire Dracula, placed his residence somewhere in north-eastern Transylvania and not in the south, where the Bran castle is located. The legend has proved more powerful than the historical truth, so the Bran Castle is seen as the place where Vlad the Impaler lived for a while. For that reason, the American film Interview with a Vampire was shot there in 1994.