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Bran Castle was first documented in 1377 when Louis I of Hungary gave the Saxons of Brasov the right to build the fortress. The castle was initially used as a defensive post against the Ottoman incursion that lasted from 1438 to 1442. Early on, the structure belonged to Hungarian kings, but due to their failure to pay on a loan, the castle was repossessed by the city of Brasov in 1533.Bran Castle
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Vlad Ţepeş, a 15th-century Wallachian ruler famous for his use of impalement against his enemies, is widely believed to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Today, Bran Castle is marketed as "Dracula’s Castle," but in reality, Vlad Ţepeş never ruled over the fortress. In fact, he may have only entered it when he was briefly held as a prisoner there. However, he did often use the nearby Bran Gorge when he was traversing the mountains.Wikimedia Commons
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The entrance to Bran Castle sits atop a large, stone staircase. In 1920, this stronghold became a royal residence for the Kingdom of Romania. Wikimedia Commons
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Bran Castle has been modified and restored many times throughout the years. The courtyard that graces the center of the fortress is one of the more charming features of the building.Susan Sims
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King Ferdinand I became the ruler of Romania in 1914 and reigned until his death in 1927. While on the throne, he split his time between the recently restored Bran Castle and the Peles Castle. Wikimedia Commons
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The citizens of Brasov were the ones who gifted Bran Castle to Queen Marie, the wife of Ferdinand I. The beloved royal adorned the sweeping halls and grand rooms with artwork, finely sculpted cabinetry, and updated hearths. When not decorating, Marie reportedly filled the castle with kindness and laughter until her death in 1938. Wikimedia Commons
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The castle was later seized by the communist regime in 1948 and the royals were forced to flee the region. In the meantime, the fortress was turned into a museum. Communism fell in 1989, but the castle wouldn’t be returned to the royal family until 2005. Interestingly enough, the royals ultimately decided to keep it as a museum.Susan Sims
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Queen Marie's residence was composed of a bedroom, bathroom, dining area, a hall, a dressing room, and two salons. She amassed many sets of china, statues, icons, and books.
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This secret passage in Bran Castle connects the first and third floors of the fortification and was first "discovered" in 1927 during renovations. Another hidden tunnel links the fountain in the interior garden to the castle. Wikimedia Commons
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King Ferdinand I's room features ornate furniture and beautiful views of the commune below. His residence also includes a dining room, a working area, and a variety of royal treasures on display.Wikimedia Commons
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King Ferdinand I's daggers on display in the castle. Susan Sims
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This window looks into a sitting area from a loggia used as a dining room in the summer. Susan Sims
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The round tower of Bran Castle can be seen from the loggia, with the lush Carpathian Mountains providing a stunning backdrop. Susan Sims
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Connected to the king's bedroom, the dining area centers around a hand-painted hearth. For years, Romanian pottery and paintings have been highly valued as key parts of the country's cultural identity. Susan Sims
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Throughout the spacious castle, hand-carved and intricate fixtures adorn the walls and ceilings. Though large, metal door knobs clang and the old, dark wood floors creak, the light from Romanian lanterns and candelabras offers a nice glow. Susan Sims
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On a darker note, Bran Castle features a "torture museum" in a private area on the second floor.Susan Sims
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The torture museum displays an iron maiden, a chair of torture, and a torture rack, among other horrific devices from history.Susan Sims
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Constructed in a strategic location, the castle has a great view of the nearby mountains, countryside, and buildings. Bran, the surrounding commune, is actually comprised of five small villages: Bran, Poarta, Predluţ, Şimon, and Sohodol.Susan Sims
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Back when King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie had control of the castle, they raised some of their eight children there, including Princess Ileana. And during World War II, Ileana turned the grounds of the castle into a hospital to care for the wounded.
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Even today, King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie's presence is felt in Bran Castle. Costumes worn by both royals are still on display, along with suits of armor, ancient weapons, and heraldic banners.Susan Sims
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Outside of Bran Castle sits a dark stone cross with runic writing. Queen Marie joined the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1926, converting from Anglicanism, citing her desire to be closer to her people. But in her later writings, she claimed that the Bahá’í Faith was the true path.Wikimedia Commons
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Set among a palatial garden at the foot of Bran Castle is the tea house. Queen Marie enjoyed her daily tea in this location, nestled among the many trees and shrubs she had planted. Business Insider
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No trip up the mountains in Transylvania is complete without grabbing a kürtőskalács, a sweet, yeast dough treat that is spun around a cone, rolled in sugar, and baked over coals. When it's finished, it can also be rolled in cocoa, nuts, or cinnamon. Wikimedia Commons
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Given the popularity of vampire movies, books, and bands, it's no wonder that the village below Bran Castle takes the opportunity to sell vampire-related items. Thanks to the legend of Vlad Ţepeş and his status as a national hero, one can find vampire mugs, shirts, and posters to buy. The village even has a vampire-themed haunted house attraction. Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
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From a defensive post to a royal residence to a communist holding to a modern museum, Bran Castle has remained a towering example of Romanian fortitude and heritage, bringing in 500,000 visitors a year. A combination of medieval strategy, local construction, and creative ingenuity has blended together to create an icon of Romanian culture: strong, resilient, and proud. Toss in a vampire legend, and the rest is history. Wikimedia Commons
Discover Bran Castle, The Transylvanian Fortress Said To Be The Home Of Dracula
Located on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia in modern-day Romania, Bran Castle stands out among even the other fortresses in the area. Near the village of Bran, the stronghold commands attention as it rises over the Bran Gorge, a historically strategic pass through the Carpathian Mountains. But perhaps most notably, this fortress is known as "Dracula's Castle."
Because of this ominous nickname, many visitors assume that the castle was the home of the "real" Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. A 15th-century Wallachian ruler, Vlad was undeniably brutal. During his reign, he killed some 80,000 people and impaled 20,000 of them. However, Vlad never ruled over Bran Castle, though some sources claim he was once held as a prisoner there.
So how did this fortress become inextricably linked with one of history's most famous fictional vampire? This is the real story of Bran Castle and why it's known as "Dracula's Castle."
The Early History Of Bran Castle
Built during the 14th century, Bran Castle started out as a defensive post for Transylvanian Saxons as they fought back against the Ottomans. From there, the fortress would play a number of roles in the region's tumultuous history, according to Britannica.
Along with being used for defensive purposes, the castle was also utilized as a customs house in its early years. Occasionally, it'd also be used as a place to hold prisoners (potentially including the infamous Vlad the Impaler). And during other times, it'd simply be a place for royals to live.
Wikimedia CommonsBran Castle dates back to medieval times and has played many roles throughout the centuries.
From the 17th century to the 19th century, the structure underwent a variety of modifications and restorations under the orders of various Transylvanian royals and other local authorities. But soon afterward, it began to decay.
In 1920, Queen Marie of Romania took over Bran Castle and restored the fortress once again, transforming it into a beautiful summer residence. But just a couple of decades later, Marie's children would be forced to flee the area when communists took control of the country in the late 1940s.
Interestingly enough, the communist regime chose to turn the castle into a museum. And though communism eventually fell in Romania in the late 1980s, Marie's grandson Archduke Dominic of Habsburg eventually decided to keep the castle a museum, and it's still used in this way today.
How This Fortress Became Known As "Dracula's Castle"
Despite the fascinating and varied history of Bran Castle, most people today visit the fortress due to its connection to Dracula. It's unclear exactly when rumors of this link spread, but according to the castle's official website, it may have all started with the author of Dracula himself.
While there's no proof that Bram Stoker, the Irish writer behind the 1897 novel, ever visited Bran Castle — or anywhere in modern-day Romania — it's believed that he may have had access to a written account of the fortress. This could explain how he potentially based his fictional castle on it.
Wikimedia CommonsThough Bram Stoker may not have visited Bran Castle, it's possible he had access to a written account of it.
As the official website for Bran Castle points out, it's the only fortress in Transylvania that really fits the description of Dracula's castle. That, combined with the fact that the "real" Dracula may have been jailed there, is enough to convince many modern-day tourists that the castle is a must-see.
Though you probably won't see any real vampires walking around the castle grounds if you choose to visit, the fortress does include some chilling features, such as secret passageways and a small "torture museum" that displays various devices like an iron maiden, a chair of torture, and a medieval rack device that stretched victims' limbs until they dislocated.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some tourists say that the torture museum was one of the highlights of their visit to "Dracula's Castle" — such is the dark, enduring legacy of the one-and-only Bran Castle.
After this look at Bran Castle, explore Houska Castle, a Gothic fortress in Prague that has housed mad scientists, Nazis, and perhaps even "demons." Then, check out nine abandoned castles that are haunting shells today.
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.