If you travel to Romania, Transylvania is the place to visit. The Black Sea figures prominently as a close second, but Transylvania is where history and beauty meet in one place.
I took my husband there in 1999. He absolutely loved it. When we went back a couple of years later, Nicole Kidman’s “Cold Mountain” was being filmed, an interesting tidbit — to see Transylvania depicted as American landscape during the Civil War.
Production companies feel right at home in the Carpathian Mountains. Hollywood is responsible for turning Transylvania into all things vampire-ish after all — a non-stop source of entertainment going back to 1897 and Bram’s Stoker book. But Transylvania couldn’t be more different from what we see on the screen.
Since the region is known for Dracula, let’s clarify a few things.
The story of Dracula is a tale of Romanian folk legends. The name was attached to Vlad Tepes (1456), prince of Wallachia, a historical region of Romania. He was known as Vlad the Impeller due to his method of punishment. He impaled those who broke the law as well as his enemies.
Although his rule was associated with cruelty, Romanian and Bulgarian documents from 1481 onwards portray Vlad as a hero who used harsh yet fair methods to reclaim the country from the corrupt boyars, and who bravely fought the Ottomans.
As I remember it being taught in school, Vlad is viewed as a hero. Enter politics of the time and facts change. Enter Hollywood and everything changes.
As you travel through the region, you learn that Bram Stoker didn’t tell half the story.
The mysterious and scary images give way to history and natural scenery — one of the most sought after destinations in the country.
You see the rural villages, some of which look as if they haven’t been changed since the 18th century. You also see medieval art and architecture, hundreds of years of history preserved and ready to be explored.
It’s common to see groups of backpackers in the area. We met several British and American students and had a good time chatting about their visits.
Like many before them, the tourists are mostly drawn to Sighisoara — a perfectly preserved medieval town, the place Vlad of Wallachia came into the world in 1431.
So, whether hero or bloodsucker, Vlad continues to bring tourists to the region more than 5 centuries after his death. As for the locals, they smile and tell a different story.
Photo credit: Vald Tepes, from mpinteractiv.ro