The castle of Vlad the Impaler is strategically placed on the Transylvania side of a cleft between two steep mountains that served as a natural course for movement from East to West. Just outside Brazov a small village lays in a semicircle around Vlad’s palace that has been made more famous through it’s fictional identification with Dracula. Prince Vlad controlled the pass with duty stations and military garrisons. When the Ottoman Turks invaded the Balkans their intention was to use the route for access to the west. To protect his interests and with some degree of Transylvania patriotism, Prince Vlad defended it with vengeance.
The castle sits on a tree-covered rise from where the Prince could maintain watch over the stations at the pass. Hollywood has made it a far gloomier place than that offered by reality. But the vicious response to the Turks by Prince Vlad provided Romanian history with a great tale improved by the myth surrounding it. He lined the road leading to his border with the heads of the invaders on pikes in a long procession to the east of the cleft. This rather alarming strategy prevented a large part of Transylvania from being occupied by the Ottoman Turks.
My wife, Mimi and I visited Romania in 1989. Glasnost had been declared and Perestroika was on its way. We did not chose Romania to visit the rumored castle of the original vampire, instead we believed it may have been our last chance to see the Eastern Block countries before the collapse of Russian domination. But friends and children requested we visit Vlad’s home while in the country.
There was a parking area below the castle with at least four vendor stands. We stopped at the one with reverse paintings on glass of reproductions of old icons and oil paintings of Dracula’s castle. Learning we were Americans, the woman in charge immediately turned a tape deck volume on high. We had been very aware of the peoples fear of Ceausescu. She wanted to talk and she didn’t want anyone close to hear. She told us we were only the second pair of Americans to visit in the years she had maintained her concession.
We were then given a lesson in Romanian political life. Or the lack of it. She was the wife of an aeronautical engineer who was kept under a constant watch to prevent any plans of escape. Her young teen age assistant was serving public service time because he had been apprehended swimming out in the Black Sea in hopes of being picked up by a passing freighter.
When the conversation waned, she offered the young man as a guide to the castle. There were hourly group tours with guides but we had the opportunity to have a private walk through the legendary house of Dracula.
There was little of a threatening feeling to the castle, I couldn’t help but compare it to the palace in Snow White, down to the well in the small courtyard. We walked through rooms devoid of furniture with the explanation that Ceausescu and his wife had commandeered all of it to equip one of their many homes. We looked from movable openings designed to be closed in case of attack but providing narrow slots for archers. We visited the servants quarters in the lower reaches and passed by the dungeon on the way to the dining area. The dungeon was about the size of the inside of a Volkswagen bus and I had a vision of the servant wishing a good morning to the shackled guest when on his way to serve breakfast to Vlad.
When the tour was over, I turned to Mimi and asked her to take a good look at our courteous, smiling young guide. She noted he did, indeed, have large canine teeth.