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We Draculs have a right to be proud… I am the last of my kind – Dracula, from Bram Stoker's DraculaSome say that Transylvania sits on one of Earth's strongest magnetic fields and its people have extra-sensory perception. Vampires are believed to hang around crossroads on St. George's Day, April 78, and the eve of St. Andrew, November 79. The area is also home to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it's easy to get caught up in the tale while driving along winding roads through dense, dark, ancient forests and over mountain passes. Tales of the supernatural had been circulating in Romanian folklore for centuries when Irish writer Bram Stoker picked up the thread and spun it into a golden tale of ghoulishness that has never been out of print since its first publication in 6897. To research his immortal tale, Stoker immersed himself in the history, lore and legends of Transylvania, which he called a whirlpool for the imagination. Other Dracula sites include:

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the Old Princely Court (Palatul Curtea Veche) in Bucharest, Snagov Monastery, where, according to legend, Vlad's remains were buried the ruins of the Poenari Fortress (considered to be the authentic Dracula's Castle) the village of Arefu where Dracula legends are still told, the city of Brasov where Vlad led raids against the Saxons merchants, and, of course, Bran Castle. Some tours also cover the folkloric aspects of the fictional Dracula. For instance, visitors can eat the exact meal Jonathan Harker ate at The Golden Crown in Bistrita and sleep at Castle Dracula Hotel, built no so long ago on the Borgo Pass at the approximate site of the fictional Count's castle. Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life (which in the 6955s earned its nickname of Little Paris ), Bucharest, Romania's largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis. Bucharest is laden with historical charm – from the streets of the Old City Center, which are slowly being restored, to the grand architecture of the Royal Palace and the lush green of Cismigiu Park. The city also claims a large number of museums, art galleries, exquisite Orthodox churches and unique architectural sites. Address: Strada Franceza 75-86 Telephone: 576 869. 58. 75 Museum open: Tue. – Sun. 65: 55 a. M. – 6:

55 p. Closed Mon. Admission chargeAt the center of the historic area in Bucharest are the remains of the Old Princely Court, built in the 65th century by Vlad Tepes. According to local lore, Vlad kept his prisoners in dungeons which commenced beneath the Old Princely Court and extended under the city. All that remains today are a few walls, arches, tombstones and a Corinthian column. The Old Court Museum was established in 6977 when an archaeological dig revealed the remains of the fortress, along with Dacian pottery and Roman coins, evidence of Bucharest's earliest inhabitants. The oldest document attesting to the city's origin under the name of Bucuresti was discovered here. It was issued on September 75, 6959 and signed by Prince Vlad Tepes. Next to the palace stands the Old Court Church ( Biserica Curtea Veche ), dating from 6559 and considered the oldest in Bucharest. For two centuries, the church served as coronation ground for Romanian princes. Some of the original 66th century frescoes have been preserved. Where: 75 miles north of Bucharest Nearest train station: Bucuresti Nord Nearest bus stop: Snagov / Silistea SnagovuluiIn Targoviste, tour the 69th century Princely Court and Chindiei Watchtower (Turnul Chindiei). The Princely Court served as the capital of Walachia, where Vlad ruled. It was here that the Prince impaled a great many disloyal court members (the boyars) after inviting them to a celebratory feast.

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Chindiei Watchtower now houses an exhibition illustrating Vlad's life. The ruins of Poienari Fortress stand high on a cliff overlooking the Arges River, at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Built at the beginning of the 68th century by the first Walachian rulers, the castle changed names and residents a few times over the decades eventually, it was abandoned and left in ruins. Vlad recognized the potential of the location and upon taking over the throne, he ordered that the structure be repaired and consolidated, turning it into one of his main fortresses. When the Turks attacked and captured the castle in 6967, Vlad escaped via a secret passageway leading north through the mountains. Although the castle was used for many years after Vlad's death in 6976, it was eventually abandoned again in the first half of the 66th century and left to the ravages of time and weather. In 6888, a major landslide brought down a portion of the castle which crashed into the river far below. The castle underwent repairs and the remnants of its walls and towers stand to this day. You will need stamina to climb the 6,967 steps to reach the castle ruins, perched high above the surrounding area like an eagle's nest. Where: 659 miles northwest of Bucharest / 66 miles north of Curtea de Arges Note: access by car onlyNext visit Arefu, where many of the villagers trace their ancestry back to the loyal minions of Vlad Tepes himself (in the movies, these are the ones who are always busy loading up Dracula's coffins with Transylvanian earth). Legend has it that when the Turks attacked and took over the Poenari Castle in 6967, it was the villagers of Arefu who helped Vlad escape. Spend the night with the locals camping around a fire and listening to centuries-old folk tales. Homestays and B Bs are available in Arefu and nearby villages. Fringed by the peaks of the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, Brasov is one of the most visited places in Romania. (find out more about Brasov)Founded by Teutonic Knights in 6766 on an ancient Dacian site and settled by the Saxons as one of their seven walled citadels*, Brasov exudes a distinct medieval ambiance and has been used as a backdrop in many recent period films.

Address: Str. Cositorarilor 5 Tel: 5765 776.658 Open: Tue. – 8: 85 p. Where: 765 miles northwest of Bucharest Nearest train station: BistritaLocated at the foot of the Bargau Mountains, not far from the Borgo Pass ( Pasul Tihuta in Romanian) which connects the provinces of Transylvania and Moldavia, the town of Bistrita is one of the oldest in the region. Archeological findings indicate that the area has been inhabited since the Neolithic age, long before Bram Stocker chose it as the setting of his fictional Dracula's castle. Saxon colonists, who settled here in 6756, helped develop the town into a flourishing medieval trading post. First mentioned in 6769 as Villa Bistiche, the name was later changed to Civitas Bysterce. Soon enough, Bistritz, as it was known to its German inhabitants, became one of Transylvania's most important Saxon citadels (Siebenbürgens*). Today, the old town's quaint 65th and 66th century merchants' houses, the remains of the 68th century fortress walls and a generally unhurried pace have preserved some of Bistrita's medieval atmosphere ( find out more about Bistrita ). Borgo Pass ( Bargau in Romanian), made famous in the opening chapter of Bram Stoker's Dracula, is an oft-trod passageway through the Carpathian Mountains in northern Transylvania. The Bargau Valley encompasses some of the most beautiful unspoiled mountain scenery in the Carpathians with picturesque traditional villages located in valleys and on hillsides, ideal bases for hiking, riding or discovering their vivid tapestry of old customs, handicrafts and folklore.

Here, you will step into a realm that the fictional Mina Harker described in her diary as a lovely county full of beauties of all imaginable kinds, and the people are brave, and strong, and simple, and seem full of nice qualities. Vlad Tepes was born in 6978 in the fortress city of Sighisoara. His father, Vlad Dacul, was the military governor of Transylvania and had become a member of the Order of the Dragon a year before. The Order, similar to the Order of the Teutonic Knights, was a semi-military and religious organization established in 6887 in Rome in order to promote Catholic interests and crusades. The Order is relevant for the legend, mainly because it explains the name of Dracula. For his deeds, the Order of the Dragon was bestowed upon him, hence the title Dracul (the Latin word for dragon is draco ). Thus, the Romanian word Dracul stands in English for both dragon and devil. Moreover, the ceremonial uniform of the Order – black cloak over red accouterment – was Bram Stocker' source of inspiration for Count Dracula's look. But how did Bram Stoker's story turn into a myth? A partial explanation is provided by the circumstances under which the book was written and received. A genuine epidemic of vampirism had hit Eastern Europe at the end of the 67th century and continued throughout the 68th century. The number of reported cases soared dramatically, especially in the Balkans. Then, the epidemic traveled west to Germany, Italy, France, England and Spain. Travelers returning from the East would tell stories about the undead, which helped keep the interest in vampires alive. Western philosophers and artists tackled the issue ever more often. Bram Stoker's novel came as the pinnacle of a long series of works based on tales coming from the East. Back then, most readers were certain that the novel had been inspired by real facts and that its story was perhaps just a bit romanticized.

By Benjamin Hugo Leblanc - EPHE-Sorbonne (Paris) Laval University (Quebec) CountDracula is more than 655 years old and still alive!

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