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Romania: Did Dracula Ever Set Foot In Dracula's Castle?

Bran Castle (epa) PRAGUE, May 26, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian authorities today officially handed over Bran Castle in the southern Carpathian Mountains to Dominic of Habsburg, the legal heir to the once privately owned property.

Bran Castle is arguably the country's most famous medieval landmark, as it is often called Dracula's Castle. The castle was even depicted in the 1992 Hollywood film "Bram Stoker's Dracula." That is because Irish author Bram Stoker loosely modeled his vampire Count Dracula on the 15th-century Romanian prince Vlad Draculea.

Vlad is known in Romanian history as Vlad Tepes, that is, Vlad the Impaler, for his penchant for impaling invaders, criminals, and personal enemies alike. Although some of his victims appear to have been German colonists who built Bran Castle at the end of the 14th century, historians have cautioned that there is little or no connection at all between Vlad the Impaler and Bran Castle.

RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc talked to Romanian historian Zoe Petre about the associations between Dracula and Bran Castle and the importance of today's handover of the castle to its ancestral owners.

RFE/RL: Historians say that in the Middle Ages Bran was not a castle for the nobility but one of the important fortifications that German colonist communities in southern Transylvania built on the Hungarian Kingdom's border with the principality of Wallachia. Specialists say Bran Castle was never in the possession of Vlad Tepes, and his connection with the castle is, to say the least, vague. So how did the castle has come to be known as Dracula's Castle?

Zoe Petre: The whole Dracula story is actually based on an imbroglio between Vlad's castles, which were not in Transylvania [since Vlad Draculea was the ruler of the neighboring principality of Wallachia], and the castle where he may have been detained for a while [by the King of Hungary] in Transylvania.

RFE/RL: Not only was he not the owner of the Bran Castle, but it is unclear whether he ever even set foot there. What we know is that he was imprisoned for 12 years in a Budapest fortress by the Hungarian King Matthias. Why Bran Castle then, and not some other castle? Was it somehow necessary to establish a clear connection, even a fictitious one, between Dracula, and Transylvania?

Petre: Bran is the castle with the most medieval look of all the imposing buildings of Transylvania. The Dracula myth itself has a complicated story, which began with some hostile stories [about Vlad the Impaler's extreme cruelty] written by the German colonists of southern Transylvania, who hated Vlad Tepes [because of his attempts to control their trade]. These stories were then adapted by Bram Stoker in the romantic-gothic fashion of the 19th century. Somehow, since the whole story was placed in Transylvania, a location for [the castle] was needed in the same region.

RFE/RL: Although Bram Stoker's book located Dracula's imaginary castle somewhere else in Transylvania, it was still the Romanians, and not very long ago, who began advertising Bran as Dracula's castle. Why?

Petre: In the 1970s, [during communism] Romanians realized, once they had more contacts with the West, that there is a myth of Dracula [different from the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler], and that this myth was somehow connected to Transylvania. They had two conflicting reactions to that: one was to defend Vlad Tepes' true historical identity and the dignity of Romania's past, while the other one was to try to cash in on it. These two types of behavior were present both before the fall of communism in 1989, and after.

RFE/RL: How did Bran Castle end up as part of the heritage of the Romanian royal family?

Petre: The castle personally belonged to Queen Maria [the wife of King Ferdinand of Romania], it was not part of the royal house's properties. Bran Castle was given as a gift to Queen Maria by the local community [of Brasov in 1920], as a reward for her absolutely remarkable role in World War I and in Transylvania's union with Romania [in 1918]. Queen Maria [who had the castle renovated by Czech architect Karel Liman] left Bran Castle to her daughter, Princess Ileana, who married Anton of Habsburg, and today's inheritors are the result of their marriage.

RFE/RL: Under the agreement with the Romanian government, Bran Castle will remain a museum. But the agreement provides for it to remain a museum open to the public for only three years. Do you think this agreement will be extended?

Petre: Bran Castle has become a very visited monument, a venue for cultural tourism, and the noble families who regain such edifices are wisely thinking about continuing the museum tradition in [such] cases. Furthermore, like everywhere else in the world, such castles cannot be maintained as private residences [because of the huge financial costs].

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