This is part 3 of our Romanian road trip.
The Castle of Hunedoara
1.5 hours west of Sibiu, we arrived in the city of Hunedoara. Today we were finally going to visit the Corvinus Castle or Hunyad Castle, which is one of the best preserved gothic-medieval castles in Europe, complete with torture chambers, banquet halls and watch towers.
This 15th century fortress was built for the ruler Mathias Corvin, but Vlad The Impaler (Dracula) also spent about 7 years as a prisoner in this castle.
We walked up to the castle over a bridge and moat and immediately felt transported back in time. We loved that it was not crowded and we could walk freely through all the rooms, though most of the furniture was gone, along with the decorations and weapons. In the courtyard there is an impressive fountain of 30 m deep which was dug by two Turkish prisoners over a period of 14 years, on the promise of freedom. However, the Lord of the castle broke his promise and executed the prisoners upon completion of the well.
During the years, the castle was used as a movie-set for several Hollywood productions and for any of you interested, know that you can now host your wedding here.
Not far from Hunedoara, we stopped to visit the Dacian capital of Ancient time, Sarmizegetusa. Comprising six citadels, this fortress was an important military, religious and political centre of the Dacian people before the wars with the Roman Empire, some 2000 years ago. It was built out of massive stone blocks over five terraces, on a total area of 30,000 m².
Perhaps the most interesting construction is the circular sanctuary, a setting of timber posts in the shape of a D, surrounded by a timber circle which in turn is surrounded by a low stone kerb, bearing resemblance to other monuments in Europe, like the famed Stonehenge in England. Another important artefact is the “Andesite Sun”, a large rounded slab of rock that seems to have been used as a sundial and that points with millimetric precision towards the magnetic North.
As a people, the Dacians were related to the Thracians and the famous Spartacus, living over an area that covered most of today’s Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Slovakia, Eastern Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Southern Poland. They believed themselves to be immortal and their bravery and skill in battle was unmatched throughout the Ancient world.
We returned for the night in Sibiu and the next day we drove east, towards what is perhaps the most famous castle of Europe, Dracula’s Castle. Built in the 14th century atop a lonely hill, Bran castle was home to many of the country’s rulers, including the beloved Queen Mary of Romania. She loved the castle so much that in her will she asked that when she died, her heart was to be removed from her chest and buried next to the castle.
A guided tour inside the fortress will reveal to you some of its secrets, including the hidden staircase that begins in a fireplace on the first floor and which you can walk trhough in order to reach the third floor. Also, in the inner courtyard there is a well that hides inside it more than just water. While building the well, a secret room was designed at the bottom, as a last resort hideout for when the castle was overtaken by enemies.
So who was Dracula?
Vlad The Impaler, the prince of Wallachia, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. He was called “The Impaler” by the Ottomans after their armies encountered “forests” of impaled victims, cruelly executed by Vlad. The name Dracula actually comes from his father who was called Vlad Dracul (from Dragon-Draco-Dracul).
Estimates of the number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000 and several historic sources portray the Wallachian prince as feasting in a forest of wooden stakes while a nearby executioner cuts apart some of his enemies. It has also been said that the sultan Mehmed II returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad’s capital of Târgoviște.
It is easy to see how so much bloodshed came to inspire and feed the myth of the vampire, which to this day fascinates tourists from all over the world who flock the castle grounds hoping to catch a glimpse of the legend that is Dracula.
Only 1 hour away from Bran we arrived in the town of Sinaia, home to another fascinating Romanian castle. The Peleş Castle was built in a German Neo-Renaissance style by King Carol I. It is surrounded by a beautiful alpine landscape, with gardens and fountains built on terraces at the edge of a dense forest. The castle itself is very impressive both from the outside and from the inside. It has 170 rooms, fully furnished and hosts one of the finest collections of art in Central Europe, consisting of statues, paintings, rare books, weapons and armour, gold, stained glass, china, tapestries, and oriental rugs, spreading over four centuries of history.
It was built in the 19th century and had, even at that time, an interior elevator, vacuum cleaner and central-heating system. The Entrance Hall has a movable glass ceiling, activated by an electric engine, designed as a surprise element for the king’s visitors, who could admire the starry sky on cloudless summer nights. In contrast to other castles that we visited in Europe, Peleş is not decorated with gold, mirrors and crystals but with wood carvings, carpets and statues that grant the place a feeling of warmth and homeyness.
In the vicinity of the castle we also visited Pelișor Castle which was built as a modern and smaller replica of the main building and served as the residence of King Ferdinand I and of Queen Mary.
We spent the rest of the evening in the town of Sinaia, enjoying the fresh mountain air and a good, hearty Romanian supper.
Read more about our road trip in Romania by following the posts in the ‘Romania’ category.