The Real Castle Dracula
“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.”
-Jonathan Harker as he approaches Castle Dracula for the first time (Stoker Chapter 1)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula has always brought about inspiration, curiosity, and enchantment to those who have decided to be enthralled by the tale. In the novel, both the Count and his home are described in such detail that one would think that both are real. While it has been shown that the infamous Vlad the Impaler is the Count, arguments still exist about the exact whereabouts of the true Castle Dracula. Two castles, Castle Bran and Castle Poenari, have fought over the title, but only one can be the true Castle Dracula.
As depicted in the novel, Dracula’s castle was located near the Borgo Pass. It was reached by a road that climbed high into the mountains. Jonathon Harker noted a large courtyard, and he was dropped off by an old large door embedded into a stone wall. The wall was worn with age and weathering. Upon further inspection during daylight hours, Harker painted a picture of a castle sitting on a great rock that overlooked a forest with several river gorges (Melton 87).
“The view was magnificent, and from where I stood there was every opportunity of seeing it. The castle is on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests. “
(Stoker Chapter Two)
Harker illustrated the castle further by commenting on its winding staircases, long corridors, and tunnels (Melton 87). With such a portrayal, one can see how easy it would be to get caught up in the notion of Castle Dracula being a real place.
One of the castles presented for being the real Castle Dracula is Castle Bran. Castle Bran is a restored castle in Transylvania, Romania, and the Romanian tourist authority tries to parade the castle as the real deal due to its overall appearance. Legends state that the castle was first built by Basarah, the first prince of Wallachia. Other lore gives credit to the Teutonic knight Deitruch. It also served as a trading post in the Middle Ages. While Vlad Tepes never lived at the castle, he may have sought refuge there during his flight from the Turks in 1462 (Guiley 54). When the castle was donated to Queen Marie of Great Romania in 1920, she undertook a restoration of the castle. Because of those restorations and due to the previous nature of the castle, a team of researchers, Raymond T. McNally and Radu R. Florescu, heralded the place as an almost exact replica of Castle Dracula. Since that time, the castle has switched hands from the royal family to the state and from prosperity to disrepair. It was finally restored again in 1993 and is in fine condition complete with its multilevel battlements, corridors, courtyards, tall water tower, chapel, and underground passageways (55). It is no surprise then why the Romanian tourist authority insists on it being the real thing.
While the Romanian tourist authority may present Castle Bran as Castle Dracula, historians argue that Castle Poenari is a better fit for the title. Castle Poenari overlooks the River Arges near the town of Poenari, in the foothills of the Transylvania Alps (Melton 90). It dates back to the 14th century, and there are several arguments in regards to its origins. It may have been built by a Basarab prince or by a Teutonic knight. By the time Vlad Tepes assumed power in 1456, the castle, along with another in the area, was in ruins. The destruction was caused by assaults by Turks and Tartars. Although the castle was small in size, Vlad chose the location because he admired how it sat strategically in regards to views of the surrounding area. When he made plans to rebuild the castle in 1459, he had an ingenious and devious plan to do so. He was going to use the castle’s construction as a way to exact revenge on his enemies, the elite boyars. The boyars partisans had murdered Vlad’s father and brother and interesting enough, had buried Vlad’s brother alive and facedown to prevent the brother from becoming a vampire. On Easter, Vlad invited these boyers and their families for a feast at his castle in Tirgoviste. The boyars and their wives were immediately taken and impaled on stakes while those in good health were marched immediately to work on the ruins. From these working hands came three towers and walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire. Supposedly, a secret staircase was built through the mountain to the riverbank below for easy escape, but no evidence has ever been found supporting this claim. After the death of the Impaler, the castle fell into ruins once more and was ravaged by acts of nature like earthquakes. Responding to an increase in tourism, the Romanian government carried out a partial reconstruction of the castle and built an astounding 1,531 wooden steps to reach it. (Guiley 57). Thus, Castle Poenari has strong ties to the implicated Count in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and has a location fitting the portrayal of it in the novel as well.
Many would argue that Bram Stoker’s fictional world caused a problem in which people actively sought out a real Castle Dracula. Readers’ fascination with the in depth descriptions led some to believe that Castle Bran or Castle Poenari was the Count’s residence. Castle Bran appeared to be straight out of Stoker’s tale with its underground passageways and courtyards. Castle Poenari, on the other hand, had ties with Vlad and a more fitting location. Either way, both castles are fascinating in their own right, and each adds an understanding to the novel and to Vlad the Impaler.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books, 2005.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Literature.org, The Online Literature Library. Literature.org. 20 May 2009 < http://www.literature.org/authors/stoker-bram/dracula/>.