“Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.” So wrote the legendary Irish horror novelist Bram Stoker, whose renowned novel “Dracula” forever put Bran Castle in the spotlight.
Truth be told, Dracula’s castle – like Dracula himself – is a work of fiction, but Stoker’s description so closely mirrors the actual features of Bran Castle that generations of Stoker devotees have assumed Bran Castle was his inspiration. Fittingly, the castle has been given the sobriquet, “Dracula’s Castle.”
The history of Bran Castle
While never taking center stage in a vampiric epic, Bran Castle nonetheless claims a war-scarred history that saw centuries of Austro-Hungarians, Germans, and Turks vying for power and dominance. Located in Transylvania in modern-day Romania, the first iteration of the castle was constructed in 1212 by a Teutonic order of knights, though Mongols quickly sacked and destroyed it. The Saxons, keen on building a defensive outpost to protect themselves against the Ottoman Empire, built Bran Castle v2 in 1377. By the 1400s, the castle served as a customs point in the region, quickly becoming a well-trafficked route for transportation of domestic and foreign goods.
While Bran Castle played a dual military-strategic role through the 19th century, it had become a royal residence for the King and Queen of Romania by the early 20th century. Despite the royals’ clear possession of the property, ownership fell into dispute and legal battles persisted for generations. Ultimately, the castle was declared fully (and legally) the possession of the Hapsburgs, whose ancestors once called Bran Castle home. Today, the restored castle is open to the public as a museum, so designated to help spur Romanian tourism and honor the country’s rich history.
What to see at Bran Castle
Given its striated history, Bran Castle offers several tellings of the castle’s expansive story. For 40 LEI (about $9 USD), you can purchase entry to the castle museum, which will walk you through the many pivotal events that took place in and around the castle. You’ll even get a look at the role Vlad the Impaler played in the castle’s history. Shiver.
For a grizzlier experience, pay an additional 10 LEI (about $2) to get access to the medieval torture exhibit. This one is both fascinating and disturbing – and definitely not for young’uns. You’ll get a first-hand look at the devices used to puncture, crush, break, and skewer prisoners throughout the Middle Ages.
An unusual tack-on to both of these is the Time Tunnel tour. In 1930, ailing Queen Marie had an elevator installed using an old well shaft. While this was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair, excavators have recently restored the tunnel to its former glory – and then some. Visitors can now take the Time Tunnel elevator and experience the castle’s history in multimedia glory: brilliant video, a custom soundtrack, and carefully choreographed lights tell the story of Bran Castle as the elevator whips through the age-old tunnel. It’s a truly moving (see what we did there?) and inventive approach to history education. Tickets cost 20 LEI (about $5 USD).
Halloween at Bran Castle
It’s no surprise that Bran Castle hosts a dynamite Halloween festival every year. In 2020, expect a Wizard Brunch at the Castle’s restaurant, Halloween tours, ghost tours, and a special show in the Time Tunnel. Ticket prices vary depending on what events you’re interested in attending (and what meals you get), but generally run from 20 LEI (about $5 USD) to 550 LEI (about $130 USD). Vampire teeth not included.
For information about Bran Castle and its rich heritage, visit bran-castle.com.