Bram Stoker’s Great-Grandnephew and a Dutch Nude Art Photographer Say They’ve Found Dracula’s Castle

Stories from Roads & Kingdoms
Aug. 29 2014 3:18 PM

In the Blood

Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew wants to attract visitors to the remote mountaintop the fictional Dracula may—or may not—have called home.

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Hans de Roos holding his book.

Photo by Pierre Eke

Stoker continues: “Hans found this very scientifically, which is also something Bram would have done. His whole book was scheduled—the timing for carriage drives, the letters, the telegrams—because this is what he did in his regular life for all the people at the Lyceum Theatre. So it stands to reason that this theory is actually correct,” he says, referring to Bram’s job as the manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre, a post he held for 27 years.

Even if experts have their doubts, the scholarship may be strong enough to convince fans. In a country already obscure in the minds of many Westerners, the question of truth usually plays second fiddle to good marketing. Dracula’s Gothic world has long captivated readers, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu published In Search of Dracula, that travelers from abroad really started traveling to Romania to explore the setting for the book.

The book hooked fans by suggesting largely apocryphal links between Count Dracula and Vlad Dracula, the 15th-century ruler of Wallachia, which together with Transylvania to the north and Moldavia to the northeast comprises modern-day Romania.

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Born in 1431, Vlad was posthumously (and aptly) dubbed Vlad the Impaler for his favored method of execution: impaling people on large spikes, a gruesome death suffered by tens of thousands under his rule.

According to Miller, there’s no evidence Stoker knew anything other than Dracula’s name, which, according to library records, he likely read in a passage from 1820’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia before copying into his notebook: “Dracula in the Wallachian language means devil,”—which wasn’t technically the correct translation.

And though bloodthirsty in his own way, the real Dracula has a biography with few parallels with his fictional counterpart. But the lines between the two have been sufficiently blurred to give rise to an awkward Dracula tourism industry in Romania encompassing a mishmash of history, pop culture, clichés, gimmicks, and guided tours.

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Vlad Tepes' fortress, Poenari Castle.

Photo by Shaun Turton

Although popular with tourists and often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle,” Bran Castle in central Romania only has tenuous links to Tepes, with suggestions he may have briefly been held prisoner there.

More closely associated with the historical Dracula is the medieval Transylvanian city of Sighisoara where he was born, his Princely Courts in Bucharest’s old town and in the city of Targoviste and Poenari Castle, his now-ruined mountaintop fortress.

Meanwhile, locations mentioned in the book also draw their share of vampire tourists with places like the Hotel Castle Dracula situated on the Borgo Pass—where Harker first meets the Count in Chapter 1—cashing in on the connection.

De Roos and Stoker certainly aren’t alone in wanting to develop the legend’s economic potential. In the early 2000s, there was a much hyped but never realized effort to build a theme park, Dracula Land, the plans for which disappeared alongside investors’ cash

Last year, the mayor of Tirgu Mures, a city in Transylvania, proposed applying for EU cash to help promote the region using the legend of Dracula. In December, the mayor of Bulgarian coastal town Sozopol—where archaeologists discovered the remains of a 700-year-old man with an iron spike through his chest—suggested creating a vampire trail weaving its way through Romania and Bulgaria.

Whether Dacre Stoker’s name adds weight to de Roos’ theory and helps guidebook sales remains to be seen. The pair has yet to secure a publisher, and guided tours of Izvorul Calimanului may still be a ways off.

Manchester Metropolitan University research fellow Duncan Light, who last year published The Dracula Dilemma: Tourism, Identity and the State in Romania, agrees with Stoker that there is plenty of potential in vampire tourism, but he’s not convinced it will ever be realized.

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Dracula mugs for sale.

Photo by Hans de Roos

On one hand, the conflation of Stoker’s character with a ruler held in high esteem for defending Romania’s independence against the Ottoman Turks (not for his sadistic way of killing people) makes many reluctant to perpetuate the confusion, says Light.

While more broadly, he says the whole “vampire Dracula thing” disrupts the country’s efforts to present itself as a modern European state rather than a backward corner of the continent still ruled by the supernatural.

“That seems to be why, up to now, Romania hasn’t really made any effort to embrace the economic possibilities of Dracula tourism,” Light says.

But Dacre is determined to make the effort for them.

“Nobody wants ferris wheels with Draculas going around and around, but we do think it would be a good thing to have some sort of cultural interpretive center where you could learn about Transylvanian superstitions and what was it that fired up Bram Stoker so much,” he says. “We got in touch with some local mountain guides and asked them to train some people, because we’re going to tell the world about this mountaintop.”

Each Friday, Roads & Kingdoms and Slate publish a new dispatch from around the globe. For more foreign correspondence mixed with food, war, travel, and photography, visit their online magazine or follow @roadskingdoms on Twitter.

Shaun Turton is a reporter based in Bucharest. He works as the Balkans correspondent for the Times of London.