Bran Castle: The Real Story of a World Famous Attraction
If for you Bran Castle is all about vampires and mythical characters, then you may as well skip this article. Because Bran Castle is ultimately a magnificent medieval fortress that Queen Maria turned into a special royal residence, one of her favorites, in the years after the First World War. While many of the visitors who show up in large numbers, making it the most visited attraction in Romania, go in search of the Dracula legend, the castle itself has nothing to do with Bram Stoker’s famous novel. But it’s instead a great place to imagine centuries of medieval fights and lost times of royal glory when Romania’s most beloved Queen turned it into a home.
The fortress of Bran was first mentioned in the 14th century, but an older construction most likely existed in the same location before the new one was built. Placed on a strategic location, at the border of Transylvania with Southern Romania, the fortress controlled the commercial route that linked the two historical provinces, but also the Ottoman Empire with Central and Western Europe. Considering the risk of attacks over the commercial convoys, but also the constant threat of the Ottoman Empire, the fortress was destined to serve a military function besides its border point role.
Built between 1377 and 1382 by the local Saxons after King Louis I of Anjou granted them this right, the fortress remained for long periods of time under the control of the city of Brasov with a few major exceptions. One of these cases is in the early 1400s when Mircea the Old, the prince of Southern Romania and the grandfather of future prince Vlad the Impaler, gets the right to use the fortress in order to support his anti-Ottoman crusades. His grandson is, nonetheless, less keen on continuing granting the merchants from Brasov commercial privileges. Vlad the Impaler attacks Brasov and kills many Saxon merchants who in return started a strong defamation campaign, comparing him to the devil.
The fortress remains in the possession of the city of Brasov for the following centuries, but its military role gradually becomes less important, and in the last century until 1920 it’s more of an administrative building. Partially ruined, the fortress is offered as a gift to Queen Maria for her key role in the Great Union from 1918. She restored the old citadel, transforming it into one of her favorite royal residences.
Royal times at Bran Castle
Extremely talented and very keen of architecture and decorations, Queen Maria worked with Karel Liman, the chief architect from Peles Castle, to transform the fortress into a true royal castle. Built partially on a rock, with an irregular architecture, the medieval fortresses left, however, little space for ample remodeling. Modern facilities like telephone lines, tap water, electricity and an elevator were installed. The Queen prepared an ample apartment for herself and one for King Ferdinand as well as for her youngest children, Prince Nicolae and Princess Ileana. In the vast garden, she added a Tea House, various traditional houses and even a small wooden church also received as a gift from a village in Transylvania.
After the Queen’s death in 1938, the castle is inherited by her favorite daughter, Princess Ileana, who lived here with the family after 1940 until the communists forced her to leave the country in 1947. During the Second World War she builds a hospital here where she took care of the war victims just like her mother did 30 years before. The heart of Queen Maria, buried in the small church from Balcic Castle, was brought to Bran in 1940 where it remained protected in a rock chapel for decades.
Turned into a museum during communist times and recovered by the children of Princess Ileana in the 21st century, Bran Castle managed in just a few years to become a highlight of Romania’s castles. Before you visit, just remember that its real story has nothing to do with Dracula, but everything to do with a 600 years old past that reached its glory after Queen Maria: had seen it standing in stolid solitude upon its projecting rock, and had imagined what an enchantment it would be to possess that stronghold and turn it into a home’.
Where to stay
For the best experience of the traditional Bran Valley, renowned for its cheese products and mountains landscapes, we warmly recommend you try an authentic accommodation like the Inn on Balaban, a traditional guest house with hand-made decorations and the charming old architecture of the Carpathian villages.
Bran Castle is the most visited attraction in Romania. Expect long queues especially on weekends and summer time. For a more relaxing experience, try being there when the ticket office opens.
While the village itself is too chaotically developed, just a few kilometers away you’ll find breathtaking traditional villages with wooden cottages and goats, sheep and cows grazing peacefully on the rolling hills.
Brasov is the closest city. Don’t miss spending one day or more in this beautiful city.
From Bran, you can also start a few hiking trails to Piatra Craiului National Park and Bucegi Mountains.