Dramatic Bran Castle in Romania

Bran Castle is often referred to as Castle Dracula, but its history has very little to do with Vlad the Impaler who most people associate as being the inspiration of the novel. Apparently, Bram Stoker based his description of Dracula’s castle on a description of Bran Castle that he had read about during the time that he was writing the book. The castle does indeed match his description in that it does sit on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley below. Bram Stoker never actually visited Transylvania, but the illustration of the castle in the original novel is supposed to match Bran Castle pretty closely. The only actual relationship the castle has with Vlad Dracul is that it was where the tax officers resided who collected taxes from the aristocrats of Bran. Vlad was also reportedly held in the castle for two months by the Hungarian’s after being defeated by their armies. Regardless of whether you go to the castle because of its association to Dracula or just because you enjoy historic castles, the visit is certainly worthwhile.

Bran Castle
The Courtyard
Enjoying the Day

We read a lot of complaints about the size of the crowds visiting the castle before our arrival and needless to say, it is true. As with any popular tourist destination, complaining about the crowds is beyond ridiculous, what else would you truly expect. With that said, we were fortunate to be there during the off-season, so it could have definitely been worse. The second thing that we read was that the castle has been refurbished, not restored, so don’t expect what you see to be truly authentic to the period. Although there are some historic pieces of furniture scattered throughout the rooms of the castle, it is the dramatic views and the castle courtyard in the heart of the castle.

Inside of the Castle
Looking Up at the Tower
Inside of the Castle

It is truly a beautiful part of the country and the views from the castle are quite amazing. Although its popularity is based simply on being the inspiration to the castle in Bram Stoker’s novel, it is quite dramatic to see it almost rising out of the rocky cliffs below. Maybe it is the romantic notion of the folklore, the desire to transcend time and live forever, or just to say we have been there, we enjoyed our brief visit to the castle. There are certainly plenty of things to see in the Carpathian Mountain region of Brasov in Transylvania, but any trip there should probably include Bran Castle.

From Inside of the Courtyard
Gorgeous Views
Medieval Architecture

Fascinating Church Fortifications in Romania

If you get the opportunity to visit Transylvania in Romania, there is much more to see than the supposed castle of Dracula. Set in the hills of the Carpathian mountains, there are several peasant church fortifications as well as the Fortress in Rasnov.  We took a day tour out of Brasov and were able to visit these locations, although we weren’t able to get inside of the fortress in Rasnov. Seeing the churches that are surrounded by walls with rooms for the villagers to live in during a siege was truly quite fascinating and different than anything else that we saw in other parts of Europe.

Church in the Fortification in Prejmer
Fortification in Harman
Three Stories of Rooms

The first location that we visited was the fortified church in Prejmer, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the strongest church fortification in Transylvania. Apparently it was attacked about 50 times during its history, but only ever conquered a single time in 1611. Not only has it withstood the ravages of battle, it has also withstood the ravages of time as it is still looks the same today as it did hundreds of years ago dating back to when it was first built back in the early 13th century. If you are willing to walk the old wooden stairs and walkways, there are rooms showing what life would have been like for the peasants who took refuge there.

Prejmer Church
Room Replica
Inside of Prejmer Church

Our second stop was to the fortified church of Harman, which also dates back to the 13th century. It was, however, reinforced over the centuries, making it another resilient stronghold. Although time has taken its toll on the frescos of the church, enough remains to allow you to imagine what it must have been like during the days of its usage. There are also seven towers around the fortress walls, making it quite striking to see from the outside. We were there in the heart of winter and it was extremely cold, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying our time in the fortifications and churches. You can also climb to the top of the bell tower if you would like, but be sure to pay attention to the time as the bells still ring at the top of the hour.

Roof of Church in Harman
Bell Tower
Fortress Tower

The final stop on our tour was the Rasnov Fortress. This was meant to be the highlight of the day as it is a large fortress on top the hillside that remains in excellent condition. We should have known something was up when we arrived and the area where tourists had to park was mostly empty. We were told that we could take a little trolley up the steep hillside, but we decided to go ahead and walk. When we arrived at the top, we found that the ticket office was closed, but there was a security guard nearby, so we asked where we could get tickets. We were told that the fortress was closed as they were filming an “American movie” on the grounds and we weren’t even allowed to go any further than the entrance gate. We took a couple of photos and began walking down the hillside. As we walked the road, several large black SUV’s with tinted windows passed us as well as trucks filled with scaffolding and filming materials. We never did find out what movie was being shot or whether there might have been movie stars in those vehicles, but perhaps we will see the movie one day.

Rasnov Fortress
Rooms in the Harman Fortification
Exterior of the Prejmer Fortification

Despite the cold and the disappointment of not seeing Rasnov Fortress, it really was a very interesting day. The countryside of Transylvania has many different things to see, including the town of Brasov, which have a more tangible connection with real history rather than the myth of a vampire.

Another Room in Prejmer
Another Tower in Harman
Church Entrance in Prejmer

Catherine’s Gate and St. Nicholas Church in Brasov, Romania

Brasov is a wonderful town in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania in Romania. For the people of Romania it is a destination to get away and, depending on the season, either go hiking or go skiing at one of the resorts nearby. There are several interesting sites to see when visiting Brasov and among them are Catherine’s Gate and St. Nicholas Church. They are both located in the same part of the historic area of Brasov and each features some fascinating architectural details.

St. Nicholas Church
Turrets and the Coat of Arms on Catherine’s Gate
Walking Toward St. Nicholas Church and It’s Gated Wall

We walked from our hotel that was located on the town square into the historic area of Brasov in order to see Catherine’s Gate. The gate was built in 1559 after the original gate was destroyed by a flood. St. Catherine’s Monastery was previously on the site, which is how the gate received its name. As with most medieval towns, the gate was there to protect the town from invaders as well as to collect taxes from citizens who entered into the town. The four small corner turrets that surround the central turret symbolize the fact that they had an autonomous judicial system and self-rule. Above the gate is the town’s coat of arms, which is a crown on an oak tree with the roots exposed.

Catherine’s Gate
Murals on the Stone Wall Inside of the Church Gate
St. Nicholas Above the Main Door

We continued on to see St. Nicholas Church, whose bell tower could be seen throughout the old town area. The church sits atop a small hill that is just large enough to let it rise above the other nearby buildings. To get to the church, you pass through a gated wall with murals painted on the inner wall. The church itself was originally established in 1292 and the stone church was erected in the late 1400’s. Above the main door and just below the actual bell tower, is a colorful mural of St. Nicholas, for whom the church is named. Adjacent to the church is a large cemetery with many large headstones.

Cemetery Gate
Church Towers from the Cemetery
Mural of the Church

We really enjoyed our time in Brasov and took the time to get into the countryside to see many interesting historic sites. The people of the town were extremely friendly and we enjoyed walking the streets and eating at some of the many restaurants located there. If you get the opportunity to visit Brasov, you should definitely take time to see Catherine’s Gate and St. Nicholas Church.