When I tell people I went to Romania last spring, often the names of two rather nasty men come up. One was a very real person, who ran the country, spent vast amounts of money on huge buildings and projects, caused so much pain for the residents that his government was overthrown and he was eventually executed.
The other character never existed. However, stories of his blood-thirsty behavior have spawned movies, travel tours and lots of mystical theories.
The dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who ran the country from 1967 to 1989 is known for many things, including the People’s Palace, said to be the largest building in the world by pure mass. He was real.
The other, Count Dracula, was not.
The funny thing about Dracula. He was invented by an Irish writer, Bram Stoker,the Dan Brown of his era, who never ever visited Romania. He was simply looking for a great tale to tell.
In doing research he learned that the Transylvania part of Romania was filled with lore about Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian Prince that ruled the region of Wallachia between 1456 and 1472. He was known for very forceful and gruesome ways of keeping order and defending his people from the attacks from the Ottoman Empire. Romanians think he was a pretty good guy. He kept the peace.
Because of Stoker’s book and subsequent Hollywood movies, Bran Castle has been identified as Dracula’s Castle. No one seems to think that Vlad ever stayed there, but I suppose he could have. It serves as the perfect example of the kind of castle that a Romanian vampire might choose to live in.
In the Pinterest Perfect town of Sighisoara, tourists can find a restaurant claiming to be the location of Vlad’s birth.
But, what the hell. It’s fun. We visited Bran Castle (I like castles) but we didn’t eat at the restaurant. Our guide pooh poohed going there. I got a kick out of the tacky t-shirts that filled the little shops in the area but resisted the temptation to buy one.
Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of cheesy Dracula stuff to be found. The Romanians haven’t really gotten on the vampire trend that is spreading through out the world. Ironic, don’t you think?
Bram Stoker’s golden tale of ghoul has never been out of print since its first publication in 1897. And some say that Transylvania sits on one of the Earth’s strongest magnetic fields and it’s people have extra-sensory perception. Vampires are believed to hang around on St. George’s Day, April 23, and on the Eve of St. Andrew, November 29.
Mostly I got the sense that the Romanians were a bit embarrassed by the Dracula myth and its identification with their beautiful country. They have so many lovely traditions, strong religious practices, such a complex history and many charming people that to be associated with the nastiness of Dracula is perhaps a bit sad.
There’s so much more to Romania than Dracula.