Irishman, Bram Stoker, published his classic Gothic horror novel “Dracula” back in 1897. The cursed count, based in Castle Dracula, Transylvania, was on a mission to reach British shores in search of fresh blood. Van Helsing and a group of upstanding citizens who knew all about vampires, garlic and stakes, did battle with the Count, preventing the vampire’s curse from spreading throughout England. But Bram Stoker didn’t invent vampires. Transylvania isn’t a fictitious location and the Count is thought to have been based on a historical figure. Romania, is vampire central, if you want to explore the vampire legends and history, come visit! We’ve been hanging out over 2 years in Romania, Dracula, vampires, castles and legends have become part of our daily life. So let’s talk about Dracula and Romania.
The Origins of Dracula and Romania
European folklore and stories of vampires influenced Stoker’s creation. His research lead him to an 1885 essay, “Transylvania Superstitions“. In the local villages there is a belief in evil spirits called ghosts or “steregoi”. It was accepted that living people “strigoi” existed, normal by day but at night their souls left their bodies and haunted the village tormenting residents. These evil spirits haunted their prey from midnight until the first cock’s crow, when their power to harm people evaporated. It is thought that Dracula’s character derives from these local myths.
The original name of Stoker’s count was to be “Count Wampyr”. He changed this to “Dracula”, after reading Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them in Whitby library. The name Dracula was carried by the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, Vlad II took the name “Dracul” after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431 (founded by the king of Hungary to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks.)
In Romanian, the word dracul can mean “the dragon” or “the devil”.
Vlad Dracul III was the Transylvanian-born son of Vlad II. During his reign (1456–1462) Vlad Tepes of Wallachia is said to have killed tens of thousands of people, mainly by impaling. The sources depicting these events are records by Saxon settlers in neighbouring Transylvania, who had frequent clashes with Vlad III.
Vlad III is revered as a folk hero by Romanians for driving off the invading Ottoman Turks, many of which, he impaled. The people of Wallachia knew Vlad III as Vlad Țepeș (the Impaler). The name “Dracula” became popular in Romania after publication of the Dracula book. In the novel, Stoker mentions that Dracula fought against the Turks, and was later betrayed by his brother, historical facts which point to Vlad III
It is thought that Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle was inspired by fortifications in England, or an illustration of Bran Castle in a particular book on Transylvania. Stoker was an armchair traveller, he had never visited Transylvania or Romania.
Dracula Related Sites in Romania
In the Dracula novel, Harker visited Bistrita in northern Transylvania and stayed at a fictional hotel. The Dracula Castel Hotel (see below), possibly Romania’s most well-known Dracula themed hotel, is nearby today.
Vlad Tepes actual castle isn’t in Transylvania, it’s in Wallachia. Bran Castle is the only castle, in the right area, that matches Stoker’s description.
The fictional count’s castle was located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania.
“on the very edge of a terrific precipice, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”
Bran Castle, “Dracula’s Castle” is a big tourist draw boasting a Vampire themed market and various small sideshows at its entrance. My children loved visiting, but some find it a little tacky and the interior of the castle disappointing.
Poenari Fortress Ruins
Vlad Tepes’ real castle fortress, perched on a mountaintop in the forbidding Poenari forest. Unfortunately not in Transylvania, in Wallachia.
The Old Princely Court in Bucharest
Palatul Curtea Veche is in the heart of old Bucharest, the site is small but the spooky subterranean chambers are well worth the admission fee. A blood chilling statue of Vlad Tepes stares down menacingly at modern-day visitors.
Snagov Monastery, in Snagov Lake is said to be where Vlad’s remains are buried.
This stunningly beautiful 14th century citadel was the birth place of Vlad Tepes. You can visit the building in which he was born, now a restaurant. Read more about Sighisoara here, it’s a real highlight of any trip to Romania.
The Village of Arefu
A village untouched by time, where Dracula legends are still told. It is allegedly inhabited by descendants of the followers and servants of Vlad Tepes. It is just 6Km from Vlad’s real fortress at Poenari.
Vlad led raids against Saxons merchants from here. It’s a pretty little town and squarely on the tourist map.
We will post more about Brasov soon, it’s one of Romania’s most visited destinations and a good base for exploring Transylvania. You can visit the Romanian Bear Sanctuary just outside Brasov.
Dracula and Vampire Themed Hotels, Restaurants, Tours and Souvenirs.
You will find many, you can drink Vampire Wine and eat Dracula Soup. There are Dracula Hotels and restaurants.
It’s all great fun and something kids, in particular, love.
- Hotel Castel Dracula, Piatra-Fantanele, near Bistrita, Bârgăului Mountains
- Hunter Prince and Dracula Hotel, in Turda, handy for the Turda Salt Mine
- Dracula Adventure Tours Accommodation, Bucharest
- House of Dracula Hotel, Brasov
- Pension Dracula, Transfagarasan
If you’re looking for something unique and special, how about a Dracula themed Halloween tour of Transylvania? Visit many of the places mentioned above before staying in a medieval castle for a Halloween party you will never forget. Read more about Dracula Halloween tours in Transylvania here, they’re a great way to experience Romania’s history and culture, while getting your vampire fix. These tours don’t only run for Halloween, but why not maximise the spooky fun?
Further Reading on Romania, Dracula and Vlad Dracul or Tepes
We have been staying in this village in Romania for over 2 years, learning every day , mostly by watching, as we slowly pick up the language. It’s been a fascinating experience and Romania occupies a special place in our hearts. Find our Main Romania Travel Guide Here