Perched on a cliff with a flowing river beneath, Bran Castle, a.k.a Dracula’s Castle, is an iconic landmark in Romania. This is one of the most gorgeous fortresses with a history that spans 6 centuries. The castle played an important role in defending Transylvania’s border and has witnessed a lot of changes and administrations over time. Read on to know more about Bran Castle’s history and its significance.
The history of Bran Castle begins in 1211 when the Teutonic Knights received Burzenland as a gift from the Hungarian King, Andrew II. The main aim of this move was to establish Teutons in this region to defend the Transylvanian border from the southeast. They erected a wooden fortress in Bran which was destroyed by Mongols in 1242.
In 1377, King Louis I of Hungary issued a document that allowed the Saxons of Brasov to build a castle. As a result, the Saxons of Transylvania participated in the construction of a stone castle which was completed in 1388. The castle was built on top of a cliff and offered exceptional views to the residents. It acted as a customs point and a fortress to defend the eastern border of Transylvania from Ottoman Empire expansion.
The King selected the lord of the castle from the Saxons who played an important role in Transylvania’s history.
In the early 15th century, King Sigismund of Hungary gifted Dracula’s Castle to Prince Mircea of Wallachia. The castle could be used by the Prince to escape in case the Turks attacked Wallachia. However, the Romanian Prince died in 1419 due to political instability in his province. This resulted in King Sigismund taking back the castle and entrusting it to the Princes of Transylvania.
The Ottoman Turks raided Transylvania in 1441 but were defeated by John Hunyadi, a.k.a Iancu de Hunedoara, in Bran village. He was the Prince of Transylvania and defended the borders of Transylvania by using Bran Castle as a strategic and military point.
Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, was Bran and Brasov’s ally in 1448 and assisted the Prince of Transylvania in handling anti-Ottoman resistance. However, in early 1459, his army passed Bran to attack Brasov as a conflict resolution between the Saxons and Wallachia Voivode.
Saxons requested higher custom taxes and had supported Vlad Tepes’ opponent for the throne. As a result, he burned Brasov’s suburbs and killed thousands of Saxons. This angered the Saxon community who vowed to take their revenge by mentioning in their reports that Voivode was a ruthless tyrant.
The Saxons of Brasov bought the ownership of Bran Castle for 10 years from King Vladislav II Jagello for 1000 florins. The Hungarian King’s treasury had been emptied due to the earlier war expenses. During the period of the lease, the Saxons also collected the taxes from the customs point of the castle.
Brasov extended the lease on Bran Castle with the Princes of Transylvania many times. This includes the brief period when the Ottoman Empire took over the Hungarian Empire in 1541. But it was in 1651 when the people of Brasov were finally able to sell the castle to George II Rackoczi.
From 1687, Transylvania was a part of the Habsburg Empire, but the promises made by the Princes of Transylvania were confirmed by the Leopold Diploma. This included the promise of sale of Bran Castle in 1651.
Over time, Dracula’s Castle was damaged due to sieges, natural disasters, or sheer negligence by the people residing in it. An explosion in 1563 followed by 1617’s severe storms damaged the roof of the castle. The renovation of the northern tower of Bran Castle was completed in 1723.
As the border between Wallachia and Transylvania was moved to Pajura, Bran Castle lost its military and commercial use by 1836. The castle ceased to be the customs point for Hungary but it was still an important administrative seat.
The castle was greatly damaged during the 1848 Revolution and the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. As a result, the Brasov inhabitants insisted that the authorities repair the damages made to the castle. Extensive restoration work on Bran Castle was carried out between 1883 and 1886, for this reason.
In 1888, Brasov’s administration transferred the castle to the forestry department. As a result, the castle fell into decay for 30 years. During this period, the foresters, forest inspectors, and woodsmen inhabited the castle.
After 1918, Transylvania was a part of Greater Romania. So, in December 1920, the citizens of Brasov offered Bran Castle to Queen Marie of Romania. According to the deed, she was a great queen who was loved by the entire population of the country and spread happiness and blessings wherever she went.
Queen Marie fell in love with the castle and restored and decorated it to be used as the royal residence.
Between 1920 and 1932, Queen Marie converted the castle into a royal summer residence with the help of a Czech architect, Karen Liman. A 57 meter deep well in the castle was connected to natural springs across the valley to transfer the water to the castle. In 1932, a hydroelectric power plant was added on the Turcu stream to light the castle along with the towns of Simon, Moeciu, and Bran.
An English park featuring two ponds and a tea house was built outside the castle. Furthermore, an elevator was installed into the well to offer easy access to the Queen for traveling between the castle and the park. A few other buildings were also added including staff housing, a guesthouse, a wooden church, garage, stables, and so on.
On 18 July 1938, Queen Marie passed away and bequeathed Bran Castle to her favorite, Princess Ileana. In 1931, the Princess was married to the Archduke Anton of Austria and continued working on the castle’s future after Queen Marie’s death.
After Queen Marie’s death, her heart was kept in a silver box that was further placed in an ornate box. This box was wrapped in the flags of Romania and England and then placed in a mobile sarcophagus in the Stella Maris chapel in Balchik’s Palace on the Black Sea.
In 1940 after the Vienna Awards, Romania lost the South Danube territories. Queen Marie’s heart was then brought back to Bran and placed in a crypt chapel across the valley from the castle.
After the bombing of the Red Cross hospital by an American aircraft, Princess Ileana opened a hospital in Bran Castle to treat the wounded Brasov soldiers. The Hospital of the Queen’s Heart continued treating wounded and maimed people of the war after 1945 along with the general population.
Princess Ileana served as a nurse and operated the hospital until 1948.
In 1948, the newly installed communist regime forced Princess Ileana and her family, including her six children, to flee the country. She reached the United States via Switzerland and Argentina in 1950. In the United States, she used the proceeds from her lectures on her life, Romania, and communism to provide food and education for her family.
The communist authorities transformed the castle into a museum with three departments. The Castle department features items from the royal heritage, the Ethnography department displayed traditional houses near the castle, and the third department focused on medieval customs.
Princess Ileana returned to Bran Castle in late 1990, only to witness the damage caused to the castle and other buildings. She died soon after on 21st January 1991 and her body was buried in The Orthodox Monastery of Transfiguration Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. She was the founder and abbess of this monastery.
Upon her burial, a small box containing soil from Bran Castle was placed inside the grave. This soil was collected when she was exiled from the land.
In 1993, the castle’s restoration works were finished and it was reopened as a museum. On 18th May 2006, the castle was legally returned to Princess Ileana’s heirs, but the Romanian government managed the administration of the castle for three more years.
On 1st June 2009, the legal heirs, Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Elisabeth, and Archduchess Maria Magdalena had complete possession of the castle. They opened the first private museum in Romania in Bran Castle to display Queen Marie’s furniture and art collection.
A. In 1226, the Teutons erected a wooden fortress on the cliffside at Țara Bârsei or Burzenland after they received it as a gift. This was destroyed by the Mongols, after which a stone castle was built by the Saxons in 1388.
A. Over time, Bran Castle has switched many roles. At first, it served as a customs point that collected 3% tax for entry into Wallachia. Then, it served as a vantage point to recognize incoming invasions by the Turks. When Princess Ileana owned the castle, it served as a hospital in WW2. Today, the castle is a private museum that displays the King and the Queen’s belongings, along with a glimpse into the castle’s history.
A. In 1377, the Hungarian King Louis I of Anjou issued a document that allowed the people of Brasov to build a castle in Transylvania. The Saxons of Transylvania were urged to participate in the construction as well.
A. The current building of Bran Castle was constructed in 1388 by the Saxons.
A. Bran Castle was constructed in a medieval architectural style.
A. Yes, you can simply buy your Bran Castle tickets online and visit it.
A. Yes, you can go inside Bran Castle, but it is a ticketed attraction, which means that you will have to book Bran Castle tickets to get entry.