The Castles of Transylvania: Bran Castle and Peles Castle
It’s all about imagination. Travelers wander about in castles and palaces in every country they visit, but the more imagination they bring with them, the more they enjoy it. An imaginative traveler can see the waving pennants and hear the cheering crowds and see the war horses clattering past with their armor flashing in the sun, or the torches burning in the courtyard.
Castles in the Transylvania region of Romania are already high on the imagination quotient, especially in places where everyone has read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or seen one of the dozens of movies made about the sinister count. In other places, Transylvania is simply a historical region in central Romania. The Romanians called it Ardeal. Bordered on three sides by mountains, it’s a beautiful place. (Enjoy our Transylvania travel guide.)
Here in Transylvania are two famous castles that fire the imagination, Bran Castle in Brasov, and Peles Castle in Sinaia (which is technically 31 miles from Transylvania, but close enough).
Bran Caste, aka Dracula’s Castle
Transylvania’s Gothic Bran Castle is greatly enhanced by thinking of it as the place 19th century novelist Bram Stoker had in mind when he wrote Dracula.
Here’s how Stoker describes it:
“…a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky…”
Imprisoned by his host in the castle, the novel’s protagonist, English attorney Jonathan Harker, admires the view:
“The castle is on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm.”
As he gazes, a movement below him catches his attention:
“What I saw was the Count’s head coming out from the window…I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings…I saw the fingers and toes grasp the corners of the stones, worn clear of the mortar by the stress of years, and by thus using every projection and inequality move downwards with considerable speed, just as a lizard moves along a wall.” (Italics mine.)
To me, this sums up the appeal of Bran Castle. From the outside, you can almost see that horrible bat-like creature crawling headfirst down the daunting castle wall high above narrow Bran Gorge. And looking out from the castle windows you see the view that the captive attorney saw day after day. Dramatic and beautiful, but definitely creepy.
Inside are low timbered ceilings, plastered walls and Gothic furnishings carved from dark wood. The furniture is a collection of antiques, the wood floors are covered in Persian carpets, and suits of armor line the walls. There are lots and lots of Dracula fans trooping through Bran Castle but there’s plenty of kitschy Dracula swag to go around.
In reality, Bran Castle was not built by Vlad the Impaler, the Wallachian prince upon whom Bram Stoker based his vampire count. The castle was in fact built by the people of Brasov in 1382 to defend the Bran mountain pass against the Turks.
But it’s so much more fun to think of it as Dracula’s Castle.
Note: If you are a dedicated vampire chaser, you can track down at least one of some 100 medieval skeletons unearthed in Bulgaria that show signs of having been subjected to vampire rituals. Whether they were believed to have been vampires or were simply being protected from becoming vampires, their bodies were pinned to their graves with iron plowshares. The most well-known is in Sozopol, Bulgaria at the Sozopol Archaeological Museum.
Peles Castle, unlike Bran, is a place that leaves nothing to your imagination, because the designer thought of it all. Every square inch of it is decorated with frescoes, carvings, tapestries, marble, silver, inlaid paneling of precious woods, paintings, Chinese enamels, damask, stained glass, gilding, a solarium with a pool of carp – you name it. Every beautiful thing in the world at that time was brought here to adorn this royal residence. Here’s a video glimpse of the sumptuous, palatial interior – truly fit for a king, or queen:
It’s one of Romania’s most important museums and the final resting place of several Romanian monarchs, including King Carol I, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria. Inaugurated in 1883, Peles combines elements of the German and Gothic Renaissance that bring to mind the extravagant Bavarian castles of King Ludwig.
The exterior is asymmetrical, with turrets, battlements, timbered walls, a belfry, a slim tower that resembles a minaret, and statuary hidden in the shrubbery of the formal gardens.
Actually, your imagination can enhance this castle as well as Bran, although your imaginings may be more light and airy. No dank and dark stone walls with vampires crawling up and down like cockroaches. You might imagine Cinderella and her prince walking the halls hand in hand, or sipping champagne in the formal dining room. You might imagine yourself sipping champagne in the formal dining room, or enjoying a string quartet in the music room, or ringing for the servants in the cozy king’s quarters. The castle’s 160 rooms make up a dazzling display of royal extravagance, just the way a king’s home should be.
Just the way we imagine it.
Travel to Transylvania with MIR
MIR has more than two decades of Romania travel experience, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust and guides and tour managers that clients rave about.
You can discover the legends and the beauty of Transylvania on this MIR small group tour:
MIR can create a custom, private tour that hits all the highlights of Transylvania, including Bran and Peles castles, or a full tour of the region for travelers cruising the Danube who’d like to get out and take a look around.
Chat with a MIR destination specialist today by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email to start planning your visit to Transylvania.
Want to know more about Romania? Check out:
- Travel Guide to Transylvania: Brasov, Bran and Dracula’s Castle
- Beginner’s Guide to Romania’s Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
- Monument to Excess: Ceausescu’s Romanian Palace
- Drink Up! Fine Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova
Top Photo: Stunning Peles Castle in all its glory; Credit: Michel Behar
PUBLISHED: October 24, 2016