Built around 1377 by the German settlers in Brasov as a "gorge fortress", Bran Castle, or Dracula's Castle, has stood at the gates of Transylvania for centuries. The building fascinates and frightens with its sober outline and legends woven around its grey walls. The castle that is one of the main tourist attractions in Romania, officially became the private property of Dominic of Habsburg in May. Under the motto "Bran Castle is coming back to life", the new administration is turning the castle into a place that offers more than history and culture, marketing manager Alex Priscu told SETimes.
The castle, which was initially a simple quadrilateral fortress, was expanded over time. The main changes in the structure of the castle were made around 1622 by Principe of Transylvania Gabriel Bethlen, after a devastating fire in 1619. Vlad the Impaler, the former ruler of Wallachia and the central character of the Dracula myth, is said to have been detained for two months in one of the rooms of the castle after losing the throne.
"The undead suffer from the immortality curse, they pass from one epoch into another multiplying their victims, enhancing the evils of the world," Bram Stoker wrote in his book "Dracula". Wraiths and vampires are largely present in Romanian folklore, and some legends have led to superstitions still believed today.
The name of the castle originated from the Slavonic brana meaning gate. The castle was built at the northern exit of a pass, now named Rucar-Bran, linking Barsa County, where the city of Brasov lies, to Wallachia. The Saxons of Brasov were renowned merchants and were trade partners of the Wallachians for centuries.
More than half a million tourists visit the castle yearly, with more than 50% coming from abroad, attracted by the myth of Dracula. In time, Dracula has become a non-official brand of the country and is, in many cases, the first thing that a foreigner associates with Romania.
Between 1883 and 1886, the castle roof was repaired and clad with red tile. But the main restoration works took place after the city of Brasov gave the castle to Queen Mary in 1920. The construction was closely supervised by Royal House architect Karel Liman.
Built primarily with a military purpose, the castle still bears the mark of its original defence role. Over the years, several towers and enforced walls were added. In the summer of 1441, the Bran garrison managed to repel an Ottoman attack, after several successful plundering incursions.
Formerly sober and unfriendly, the rooms were quickly turned into lively ones, such as the big hall, adorned in the German Renaissance style, the music saloon, the Tyrolese room of King Carol II. Many of the artefacts seen in the castle today belonged to the royal family.
When the municipality of Brasov gave Bran Castle to Queen Mary as a sign of gratitude for the role she had in the Great Union of 1918, the castle became the royal family's summer residence. Dominic of Habsburg, the current owner, is the son of Princess Ileana -- Queen Mary and King Ferdinand’s youngest daughter.
Lights and shadows along the narrow corridors make a wonderful and frightening symbiosis. Though many are aware the castle has more a historical past and not a legendary one, one cannot help feeling the castle's energy.
Through the centuries, with the transfer of the border further up into the mountains, the castle lost its military importance and its role as a customs point. Reduced to an administrative purpose, the castleman and the guards were driven from the castle when the pan-European revolution of 1848 reached the country.
Craftsmen outside the castle lure tourists with their handmade creations and souvenirs bearing the mark of Dracula. English speaking peasants and shepherds display fresh cheese, ham and plum brandy.
Queen Mary extended the royal domain by buying pastures and forests around the castle. She built a small flower greenhouse and arranged a park around the castle, willing to give the place a warmer look.