Peleș Castle, Corvin Castle, Cantacuzino Castle, Mogoșoaia Palace, Palace of the Parliament, the Danube Delta, the Bucegi Mountains, where do I start? Romania has so many captivating and enchanting sites that you're spoiled for choice as to what to do during your trip around this welcoming country. One such site that I would recommend that you definitely visit is the spooky and foreboding Bran Castle, which is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia at Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania.
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Always remembered as a gift to Queen Maria
Bran Castle was initially erected as a fortress in 1211 by the Teutonic Knights under the instructions of King Andrew II from Hungary. The foundations were laid on a steep cliff between Magura and Dealul Cetatii. In 1377, King Louis the Great from Hungary then issued a document granting the citizens of Brasov with the honour of converting the fortress into a formal castle. Following this and in 1388, the Castle was completed and was used as a device to stop the Ottoman Empire from expanding. Over the centuries, the ownership of the Castle changed hands frequently; however, in 1920 the citizens of Brasov who finally owned it, offered it as a gift to Queen Maria of Romania.
The Castle became Queen Maria's favourite residence; she invested a significant amount of time in restoring it and subsequently lived in it up until 1932 when it was passed onto her daughter, Princess Ileana. During World War II, Princess Ileana, who was a nurse, converted the Castle into a hospital where she and her colleagues treated soldiers and civilians that were injured. After World War II and in 1948, the Castle was seized by the communist regime. Nevertheless, from 1987 – 1993, there were significant restoration works on the Castle and it was opened in 1993 as a museum for the public to access. The Castle was only formally returned to the surviving descendants of Princess Ileana in 2006.
Allegedly the home of Bram Stoker's, Dracula
Alongside the Castle's already extensive history is an additional layer that has resulted in it being known as "Dracula's Castle". This is primarily, and oddly enough, because of Bram Stoker, an Irish novelist, who wrote the iconic novel, Dracula, which was published in 1897. It has been argued that Dracula was inspired by, Vlad III of Wallachia also known as Vlad the Impaler. The word "Drac Ullah" translated from Gaelic to English means "bad blood" and this connected with Vlad the Impaler's sadistic and infamous treatment of his enemies, for whom he showed no mercy, is what provides the link. From this, it is deduced that Bram Stoker had to have someone in mind when forming his fictional Dracula!
Whilst Vlad the Impaler never owned Bran Castle, it had been believed that he had been associated with it briefly including whilst being trapped within it for two months in 1462 when he was captured by a rival Hungarian King. The descriptions in Dracula are allegedly reminiscent of the structure of the Castle and therefore creating another connection to it. However, historians have argued that Bram Stoker had never actually been to or seen Bran Castle and therefore, it cannot be deduced that Bran Castle really is reflective of Dracula. It sounds more like the fans of Dracula conjured up the idea that this fictional character needed a home and Bran Castle fitted the bill and why wouldn't it? It is a little bit haunted, spooky and enchanting.
Feel like royalty and overlook the picturesque courtyard
The view of the Castle from the observation deck, as shown above, is beautiful and I would certainly recommend that you make sure that you have some time on the observation deck. It will also allow you to see an aerial view of the whitewashed towers and the picturesque courtyard including the 57 metre (187 ft) deep well. As the well was not operating during Queen Maria's time in 1932, she had to have water piped to the Castle from the natural springs across the valley; meaning that the well did not play much a part from an operational perspective. Today, the well is visited by locals and tourists who use the opportunity to throw a coin inside it and make a wish.
The interior of the Castle consists of a number of chambers connected by winding staircases and very narrow and exclusive secret passages. This adds to creating a rather mysterious and haunting feel to the Castle. The contents included in the Castle are an exquisite collection of finely carved furniture, painted icons, statues, ceramics and silverware. Some of these were owned by Queen Maria during her time. There is a really homely feel to the chambers and when you walk through the different rooms, you will definitely get the impression that it was a royal residence.
The buzzing bazaar, entrance fees and issues with accessibility
The views to and from Bran Castle are stunning and include the Moeciu Valley and the Valea Barsei. At the bottom of the fortress is a small but buzzing bazaar selling Romanian souvenirs including and unsurprisingly, Dracula items. In addition, you will find some food stalls in the bazaar that sell items like cheese, bread and sweet treats. I would recommend visiting the bazaar after you have seen the interiors of the Castle. The opening and closing times of the Castle vary during the low and high seasons and the best place to find out the most up to date timings is on its website. The entrance fee for the Castle is contingent on whether one is an adult, a senior (65+), a student (11+) or a pupil (>11). For adults, the cost is 35 LEI (9 USD), for seniors, it is 25 LEI (6 USD), for students, it is 20 LEI (5 USD) and for pupils, it is 7 LEI (2 USD). Evidence of being a senior, student or pupil will be required for the reduced fee.
If you are disabled, you are entitled to access the Castle for free. However, I would warn that individuals with mobility issues would struggle with the steep uphill walk to the Castle and with touring inside the Castle. This is because of the narrow and winding corridors and staircases and the fact that the Castle is very popular, thereby meaning that there is limited space to manoeuvre. If you suffer from claustrophobia, I would also advise that you do not visit the Castle for the reasons mentioned above.
Recommended tour with TravelMaker Bucharest Tours
Bran Castle is a well-presented site, which you can explore and truly enjoy. It will give you a real insight into the life of a fortress. As you walk on the worn stone steps, you will realise immediately how this beautiful establishment was the home to real people so many years ago. You really will get that feel about living and working in as well as defending a fortress. As you enter the Castle, you will also see how it could have been the home of royalty, partially due to the artefacts and objects that have been either preserved or placed in it.
There are a number of organisations that offer organised tours to Bran Castle and I would recommend that you book such a tour with TravelMaker Bucharest Tours. This tour company will take you to see not only Bran Castle but also Peleș Castle in one day from Bucharest for 75 EUR (79 USD) for adults and 39 EUR (41 USD) for children aged between 7 – 12 years old. The amount of an experience with TravelMaker Bucharest Tours includes transportation from Bucharest, entrance fees to the respective Castles and a wonderful multilingual guide. Alternatively, if you are staying in Brasov, the village of Bran is only 45 minutes – 60 minutes away by car, so you could consider taking a taxi or a private vehicle to see this majestic site.