The first ever document mentioning Bran Castle, a national monument and landmark in Romania, is an act issued by King Lajos I of Hungary on 19 November 1377. The act gave the German Saxons of Kronstadt (Brasov) the right to build the stone citadel at their own expense and labour. The settlement of Bran began to develop nearby. Between 1438 and 1442, the castle was used as a fort to defend against the Ottoman Empire and later became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia.
The Wallachian ruler Vlad III Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), 1448-1476, did not seem to have had any significant role in the history of the fortress, although he did pass several times through the Bran Gorge. Bran Castle belonged to the Hungarian monarchs, but due to some failure to repay loans, the city of Brasov gained possession of the fortress in 1533.
New Europe spoke with Archduke Sándor von Habsburg about the famous castle of Bran, which is now owned by his family. Archduke Sándor was in Brussels for an award ceremony organised by Baron Henri Estramant in order to bestow upon President Herman Van Rompuy the prestigious “Flame of Peace Award” from the Association of the Furtherance of Peace to which he serves as the vice president.
Can you tell us how your family came into possession of the castle?
The castle belongs to the town of Bran, but the administration searched for a suitable person who would bring an economic added value to the community. So the decision was to give it to Queen Marie of Romania (née Princess of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), my great-grandmother. She then invested a lot to completely restore the building and make it her permanent summer residence. It became her favourite place in Romania. She was also known in Romania as the “Queen of Hearts” because she wrote a lot of very nice children’s tales when she was in Bran. My father, Archduke Dominic, was there until he was 10 years old in 1947. Then with the abdication of King Mihai I and the introduction of the communist regime, they had to leave the country.
But your family owned the castle from before?
To be precise, before it became property of Queen Marie, the city of Brasov offered it in 1916 as a present to the last king of Hungary Károly IV from the House Habsburg yet from a different line of the dynasty. The problem was that the King asked the city not to register the castle under his name because of the war he didn‘t want to receive such an ostentatious present during a period in which people were suffering. Hence he “officially” accepted the castle as a gift and his personal property, however, it was never registered as such in the property books. In 1919, Transylvania was annexed by Romania, and the last King of Hungary was exiled.
How did the story of Dracula make the castle such a big tourist attraction?
Historically, Bran was brought in conjunction with Dracula and the story of Bram Stoker. As far as we know, Prince Vlad (Princely House Drăculești) who is the inspiration for Count Dracula never lived in the castle. It is believed he was there a couple of nights, but this has made the castle the most famous tourist attraction in Romania, being the only still surviving abode where he allegedly resided.
Today, as in the communist era, it is a museum open 365 days a year. We also open it four times a year free of charge to school children and we organise a children’s festival so they can learn about its history. Most of the famous movie productions were made during the communist era, so this was before our time. But the story of Dracula created a lot of publicity and visitors. According to state officials, today approximately 40% of tax revenues are generated in conjunction to the castle – restaurants, hotels and tourism-related activities – because there are between 3,000 and 5,000 people visiting the area each day.
Which parts of the castle are the most interesting?
The castle has a very homely atmosphere and it holds four apartments in its structure. It has small rooms, small winding staircases and secret staircases in the walls like the one going directly from the second to the fourth floor. You will see a home and a palace, but also I would say it is a sanctuary, a very spiritual place where you can come to reflect. The castle is full of small places where you can contemplate and be alone. In this place, it is possible to see and experience how a royal family really lived in private. The castle which has a very nice garden and a tea house sits up high on top of a [hill], so you can also have a nice view of the Romania-Transylvania border.