Bran Castle: On the Footsteps of Queen Maria and Princess Ileana

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

Are you interested in a day trip from Bucharest to Bran Castle? Check our one day tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

Taking a day tour from Bucharest to Bran Castle is one of the most popular trip options if it’s your first time in Romania’s capital. You should know, however, a few things before you book a tour or plan the day by yourself.

First, Bran Castle is Romania’s most visited landmark. This can only mean crowds, mass tourism and long queues. Try to go as early in the day as possible and buy your ticket online to skip the line.

Second, the monument has nothing to do with the legend of Dracula. The only connections are the China imported souvenirs sold in the bazaar outside the castle. If visiting Dracula’s crib was the main reason for planning this visit, our advice is to rethink your plans.

Bran Castle

Architectural detail, Bran Castle

This is not to say you shouldn’t take a day and travel from Bucharest to Bran Castle. Despite the chaos outside the entrance and the big groups of visitors, this landmark is more than worth your time if you’re curious to discover the stories of two fabulous women, Queen Maria and Princess Ileana, who made it their beloved home.

‘Many years ago, in a trip over the border, I saw it standing in stark loneliness on that cliff and wondered how it would feel to govern such a fortress and to transform it into a home. How wonderful it would be to revive a small medieval castle, a true fairy tale’. (Queen Maria)

Thanks to her efforts and popularity, the monument became a must-see attraction long before the Internet ruled the world.

The queen that saved Bran

Queen Maria of Romania, born Princess of Edinburgh in 1875, received Bran Castle from the local council of Brasov as a gift in 1920 after the Kingdom of Romania united with Transylvania. It was the beginning of the most glamorous age in the history of this medieval fortress mentioned for the first time in the 14th century.

‘And the unbelievable truly happened: two years after the war, the authorities of Braşov came to me in a solemn mission and offered Bran Castle to me, as an absolute gift, to be entirely mine.’ (Queen Maria)

Passionate about architecture, interior design, gardening and generally all forms of art, Queen Maria transformed the centuries-old monument into one of her favorite residences, next to her seashore castle from Balchik.

Bran Castle

The queen’s bedroom

It was a laborious process that lasted over 10 years, coordinated for the most part by Karel Liman, the chief architect of the Royal House. As dedicated as the queen herself, the architect spent the last years of his life adapting the castle to modern life needs while keeping its authenticity untouched. It was an expensive process that costed Queen Maria over 100 million lei in gold at that time.

‘With the assistance of an old and reliable architect, as enthusiastic as myself, I began bringing life to the cold walls, revitalizing the old fortress that had never truly lived. I awakened it from its long slumber, transforming it from a blind object to a home that looks out at the world through its many eyes.’ (Queen Maria)

Respecting the wishes of the queen, the castle kept its narrow corridors and small rooms with uneven walls, the interventions aiming more to make it inhabitable than to alter its original style. Electricity, telephone lines, water and modern facilities were installed for the first time in the old fortress. The nearby villages, otherwise remote and traditional, were also supplied electricity by the power plant of the castle.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle staircase

A small chapel painted by Arthur Verona was arranged inside the castle, a greenhouse was built to supply the vast gardens, an artificial lake was created, even swans were brought from Sinoe Lake and Balchik, an event that turned into a true adventure for the villagers’ dogs.

Opened for public visits every Sunday and on special occasions, Bran Castle impressed the queen’s guests who stopped here during their visits to Romania, one of them writing that it was: ‘the most unreal and fantastic fairy castle which the wit of man could devise. It looked like a page of Hans Andersen, a beautiful tale come true’.

Referring to it as ‘Brana the beloved’, Queen Maria stayed here especially on summer and autumn months, sharing her time between Bran and Balchik. Saddened by her husband’s death and her first-born son repeated abdications from the throne, the queen found her peace and joy in these two places. For her and her favorite daughter, Princess Ileana, the two castles ‘became our cherished place of seclusion. I found my peace in creating as much beauty as possible, and my child filled this beauty with life’.

Bran Castle

The cliff where the queen’s heart was transferred

Queen Maria last visited Bran in September 1937, less than one year before her death in July 1938. She left the castle to Princess Ileana because, in her own words, Bran could only be owned by someone who understood its heart.

As a sad irony of history, the queen’s heart that remained, according to her wishes, in the church from Balchik Castle, was brought to Bran in 1940, just hours before Bulgaria invaded and occupied the southern coast of the Black Sea. First kept in the wooden church from the castle’s gardens, the box with her heart was moved by Princess Ileana in a carved niche inside a solid cliff, close to the hospital she will build and name ‘The Queen’s Heart’.

Bran Castle, the home of Princess Ileana

Born in 1908, Princess Ileana loved Bran as much as her mother. She was constrained by her brother, King Carol the II, to leave Romania shortly after her wedding from 1931 with archduke Anton von Habsburg. After her brother’s abdication from 1940, she divided her time between Romania and Austria and eventually moved with her entire family to Bran. From here, she witnessed the major political changes that transformed Romania into a communist country.

printesa ileana

Princess Ileana

Photo source: www.bran-castle.com

Working as a nurse for the Red Cross Brasov, Princess Ileana continued her mother’s efforts from the First World War. With the financial help of one of Romania’s richest industrialists of the time, she built a war hospital next to Bran Castle. It functioned under her daily administration until she was forced into exile in January 1948, shortly after King Mihai’s abdication.

Her tireless efforts to help the political prisoners and their families had made her even less popular with the newly installed communist government that threatened and followed her actions step by step, even at the hospital from Bran.

Treated like an enemy of the state, Princess Ileana’s last moments at the castle were supervised by communist activists. The nationalization process was beginning and like everyone else, Ileana had no right over her private property anymore. The castle was confiscated and became a museum a decade later. Its original furniture and decorations were transferred, exhibited in other places or simply taken away.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle

Ileana was the only one of Queen Maria’s children that lived to see the end of the communist regime and visited Romania and Bran Castle in 1991, shortly before her death.

The home of two amazing women who gave it a heart and a soul, Bran Castle is a great destination if you scratch the vampire fake surface and look for the real facts and stories that offer much more emotion than any Hollywood created myth.

Have I been able to describe some of the charm of Brana the Beloved? I fear not. The child who loves it best said: You will never be able to make anybody who has not seen it understand what it is really like!(Queen Maria).

Continue reading about the history of Bran Castle.

Are you interested in a day trip from Bucharest to Bran Castle? Check our one day tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

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