Carpathian Mountains, Dracula’s Castle and Fortified Churches
Leaving Bucharest, we rented a car at the Airport and heading out towards the Carpathian Mountains and the largest region in Romania, Transylvania. Our end destination on this leg of the trip was Brasov, which is a beautiful medieval city that I will speak more about in a later post. Our visit through the Transylvanian countryside and some of our stops is what I want to focus on now. I’ll be honest I did not know what to expect as we headed out, the word Transylvania, in my head, conjures up thoughts of vampires and storming medieval villagers with pitchforks and torches as seen in Dracula movies and read about in various books. Our initial stop was Bran Castle, made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Our research had tipped us off that this was not really Dracula’s (Vlad the Impaler) castle. We had visited the ruins of his Castle in Bucharest and he was also known to have spent a good amount of time in Brasov, where he was said to have impaled up to 20,000 of his father’s rivals who had taken him down. His father was known as Vlad the Dragon, and "Dracula" is Latin for "son of the Dragon", thus Vlad the Impaler was also known as Dracula.
The road up to Bran Castle was interesting in several facets:
1) Not much traffic, but poor roads and bad drivers led us past numerous accidents.
2) The local farmers plowing the fields took us back in time 100 years, as they were using scythes or sickles to cut the hay and were walking behind horse pulled plows.
3) Driving through the valley and seeing the Carpathian Mountains outline the outskirts of the valley, the landscape was beautiful.
We finally had arrived at the outskirts of the town of Bran as we inched along in traffic slowed by the accidents. You could see the beautiful Castle looking down on the town as we creeped along. The town itself had taken full advantage of the popularity of the castle and lots of the houses had become cheap, touristy souvenir and ice cream shops. Yet, once you got passed that and on to the castle grounds it was a castle worth seeing. The castle acknowledges that Vlad may have been there several times in his lifetime, but he never resided there. Bran Castle, built in the late 1300’s, was a key defense structure as it guarded a pass in the Carpathians that was traveled by incoming foreign forces. Specifically, the Ottomans, Hapsburgs, and Saxons among others who had invaded Romania, after the initial invasion of Romans by The Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century, prior to this castle being built, who had conquered the Dacians and for which Romania takes its name. The views from the upper floors of the castle were spectacular and the inner workings of the castle rooms were very interesting. However, we were there in the height of the summer tourist season and it made it difficult to take our time and enjoy all the relics.
Once out of Bran we stopped at Prejmir Fortified Church. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a great display of how the villagers protected themselves from the invading armies. This was a church built by Germans, inside a fortress with a moat, 5-meter-thick walls and rooms for up to 1600 villagers. The pictures give you an idea of how life was lived then as we were able to climb the stairs and see the rooms where the villagers stayed. Being inside the fortified church had a real medieval feel. If you ever get the chance to travel through Transylvania, I highly recommend stopping off at one of these medieval towns and visiting their fortified churches.
For more awesome pictures of our adventure in Transylvania check out our Instagram.
Find Part 3 here.