T is for Transylvania

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.


With family and friends
Outside Bran Castle

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


27 responses to “T is for Transylvania

  1. Hi Sylvia, it’s amazing how much a story can change over centuries. I love the ending of your post.

  2. Hi Silvia .. it does sound a gorgeous place to visit .. and one day I’d love to go. I had a trip to Brno years and years ago in the 70s .. and I’m sure all your region – is spectacularly beautiful with lots of history.

    Thanks for giving us the background to Vlad .. and enticing us to visit Transylvania .. cheers Hilary

  3. I never travelled abroad other than singapore and malaysia
    this palce looks mystic
    its strange how every place has a tale linked to it :)
    thanks for letting me know about a new place

    fellow A to Zer

  4. When I began to read and looked at the encylopedias and travelogues I thought it would be a beautiful place to visit. I still hope I get the chance one day. Did you read Beth Camp’s tribute to Vincent Van Gogh today? It’s lovely, too.

  5. What a fantastic place! I recently became friends with a writer (K.E. Skedgell) who chose this very same setting for her novels because she was so captivated by it. You make it sound even better than you make it look – I really want to see it one day.

  6. What an awesome post. I knew some of Vlad, and much of Dracula. Either way, I’d love to travel there!

  7. wow i did not know that part of good old vlad! love history and how hollywood likes to twist it,

  8. I recall Vlad as being vital in preventing invasion of Europe by Islam and preserving Christianity. Some history channel special, but I was impressed by the Hollywood-isms of history.

  9. Thanks for correcting a lot of what I know about Vlad the Impaler. Horrible story, at least the first part, but a boon to their tourism. Transylvania looks and sounds a lot like the Czech Republic.

  10. Have you read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian? It is a historical fiction vampire novel that goes much further into Vlad and the historical legends than most Vampire novels.

  11. Leave it to Hollywood to make a villain of a hero. I have spent time in the Balkans and former Yugoslavia, such a beautiful part of the world. Your pictures look like this area may be similar. I would love to see the medieval village!

  12. How beautiful.

    Western Europe seems to get so much more coverage than eastern. But there are so many fascinating places to visit in those eastern European countries too, I hope I will get to that area someday.

  13. Sounds like a very interesting place to visit. The history alone is worth the trip, but the scenery is amazing too.

  14. T for Transylvania — lovely! My husband tells a tale of setting up a tent in the dark in those Carpathian Mountains. In the morning, he found his tent perched next to a steep drop-off. A few more steps and he would have plummeted several hundred feet down. I hope to be able to visit one day — your photos and discussion add to my fascination!

  15. The upper middle grade novel I picked for the fairytale group project in my Children’s Lit class this semester is set in the late Middle Ages, in a fictional region of Romania somewhat based on Transylvania. The author explained that she didn’t want to mess with the established, well-known history of real regions of Romania, but she still wanted to give her story and its world some similarities to Transylvania.

  16. Considering the context of the times, Vlad Tepes’s habit of impaling enemies wasn’t particularly remarkable. The British were still using the rack to torture people, and the Spanish Inquisition was seeing people burned at the stake. We tend to forget these things…

    You’re definitely doing your part to convince us all to pay a visit to Transylvania! I think a lot of us have added it to our bucket list now. :)

  17. I would love to see it in person. I think this is a place that sparks the imagination.

  18. Silvia – I’m going to enjoy goIng back through for a mini trip to Romania – always one of those countries that held such allure because it seemed inaccesible as a young American. We haven’t yet made it that far into Eastern Europe but your enthusiasm and pictures read like one of my tour books. I want to sign up!

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