Set atop the Carpathian Mountains the medieval castle at Bran in Romania awakens the imagination as the possible real castle Dracula, home of the infamous Prince Vlad the Impaler, who later served as the inspiration for the fictional vampire created by Irish writer Bram Stoker at the end of the nineteenth century. This has led many to mistakenly refer to it as Dracula’s Castle.
The history of the fortress dates back to 1211 when Hungarian King Andrew II called on the Teutonic Knights to defend southern Transylvania against the neighboring Cumans, granting them the nearby Bârsa land. One of the three great military crusading orders of the Middle Ages, the Teutonic Knights had been established only a few years earlier, in 1198. With the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 and the debacle of the Fourth Crusade, these defenders of the faith had to look outside the Holy Land for other areas to propagate Catholicism. Thus, they came to the Bârsa land.
German colonists accompanying the Knights founded the city of Brașov around 1215. During this same period Dietrich, a leader of the Knights, established the fortress of Bran, originally known as Dietrichstein, to defend one of the principal mountain passes leading to Cumania. To draw them into the area, the King had granted the Teutonic Knights a series of privileges: they had an autonomous administration, the liberty to setup markets, and the right to build wooden fortresses such as the one at Bran.
In 1377-1378, Hungarian King Louis the Great took measures to strengthen his border defenses; he built a powerful stone fortress at Bran on the site of the wooden fort that the Teutonic Knights had constructed at the beginning the thirteenth century. In the early sixteenth century, the humanist Nicholas Olahus, a Transylvanian native, described Bran as “indescribably strong, like a bolt and gate for Transylvania, located in a steep place from where you enter into Wallachia.” To defend the fortress, also called Terciu by the Hungarians and the Saxons, Louis brought in English archers, the most renowned bowmen in Europe at that time.
The fortress was designed to protect the principal commercial route linking Transylvania and Wallachia. It also served as a customs point for trade between Transylvania and Wallachia. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, it was under the control of Dracula’s grandfather, Mircea the Old, but during the reign of his son and successor Mihail it fell under the control of the principality of Transylvania. It was not under the control of Wallachia during the reigns of Vlad III Dracula (the Impaler) and there is no evidence that he spent time there. The castle was reconstructed in the Renaissance style during the seventeenth century. From 1920 to 1947 it served as a residence of the Hohenzollern family which ruled Romania during that time.
Today, the picturesque Bran Castle is one of Romania’s most frequented tourist attractions. It functions as a museum of medieval art and history and is visited by tourists from throughout the world. The impressive nature of this medieval monument leads visitors invariably to be deceived into believing that it is indeed Dracula’s castle. In reality, however, although his grandfather Mircea the Old controlled the fortress throughout the remainder of his reign, neither his son, Vlad Dracul, nor grandson, Vlad the Impaler, ever had possession of Bran Castle which had reverted to Hungarian control by the time they ruled Wallachia.