Visiting the real Count Dracula's birthplace

May 6, 2007 (Seattle Times / Carol Pucci / Sighisoara, Romania) -- If I worked as a newspaper writer in Transylvania instead of Seattle, I might be writing this from inside a stone tower built hundreds of years ago as a defense lookout to keep out invading Ottoman Turks. The Sighisoara Reporter and the local radio station have their offices inside the Shoemakers' Tower, one of nine towers that surround the medieval walled city here, each named for groups of German tradesmen -- shoemakers, barbers, locksmiths and rope makers -- recruited to settle in Transylvania by the King of Hungary in the 12th century.

Famous as the birthplace of the 15th century prince, Vlad Tepes, the real Count Dracula, Sighisoara is as much a living town as it is a museum piece.

We're staying with Marius and Lia Adam, owners of the five-room Pensiunea Lia (www.casalia.lx.ro ) in the walled upper town, a jumble of narrow streets lined with leaning buildings, some with fresh coats of bright yellow and blue paint, others with faded facades.

Marius, 46, a software engineer, was born here in a house on the town square. After the revolution that toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, he and Lia, an elementary school teacher, began thinking about opening a guesthouse in her parents' house next to the Shoemakers' Tower.

It was a dream they realized four years ago when they completed a five-room addition.

Marcus wanted to wait until he could speak more English and they had enough money to put private baths in each room (the other four rooms share two bathrooms), but Lea said "do it now," and it turned out to be good advice.

Sighisoara's upper town (a more modern town lies below) is small enough to walk around in a few hours, but it attracts busloads of European tourists.

Rooms in several of the small hotels around the main square go for $65 a night. I originally booked rooms in two, then cancelled both reservations when I found a posting at Virtualtourist.com from another traveler who raved about Pensiunea Lia.

The price is right, of course. We're paying $27 for a large, bright room with private bath -- but my real goal was to find a way to connect with a Romanian family, and Marius, Lea and their two sons made sure that happened on our second night when they invited us share grilled sausages and homemade wine.

They invited their neighbor, Fabiola who paints decorative plates in a factory that exports to Holland. In a country where the average annual income is $400, she earns about $9 a day.

No one's getting rich here, but there's a hint of prosperity in this part of Romania that I hadn't expected to find.

Along with the old, there is much that is new -- good roads, new little concrete houses painted in neon orange and green; a young local crowd on the deck of Concordia Pizza where we had two pizzas, wine and dessert the other night for about $16.

Marius goes out of his way for his guests, offering to meet them at the train station and providing breakfast on request on the days that he and Lea aren't working.

Their business plan calls for adding more rooms as soon as they can afford to.

Get here soon. I think they're onto something.

Transylvania
  • Where: Central Romania, bordered east, south and west by the Carpathian mountains.
  • History: Settlers from Saxony in central Germany were recruited by the Hungarians in the 12th century to protect the borders from Byzantine invaders. They built seven walled towns (called Siebenburgen), visited today of their baroque architecture, castles and walled churches.
  • Transylvania remained under Hungarian rule until after World War I when it became part of Romania. After World War II, the Communists deported Hungarians, Germans and Jews and destroyed architectural treasurers in many of the towns.
  • The Dracula connection: Mostly tourist hype. Irish novelist Bram Stoker never visited Romania. He initially set his 1897 novel in Austria, then shifted the setting to Transylvania, researching his descriptions of the region at the British Library.
  • There's no real-life connection between main character, the blood-sucking vampire Count Dracula, and the Romanian 15th -- century prince Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), also known as Vlad Dracula (son of the dragon, or sometimes also interpreted as son of the devil), after his father, Vlad Dracul.
  • Vampires figured into native folklore, but Romanians remember Tepes as a hero who fought off invading Turks and punished his enemies by impaling them.
  • His castle was not in Transylvania, but in the neighboring region of Wallachia. The Gothic-styled Bran castle near Brasov, touted to tourists as "Dracula's Castle" and featured in film adaptations of the book, was owned by Tepes grandfather.

Sighisoara
  • Sighisoara is one of the best-preserved of seven medieval fortified towns in Transylvania that were settled by the German Saxon craftsmen and merchants in the 12th century.
  • The walled old town is a UNESCO heritage site, and the last citadel in Eastern Europe to be still inhabited.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Fanged Films

Italy, 1964
Castle of Blood / Edgar Allen Poe's Castle of Blood / Castle of Terror
USA, 1963
The Death of P'town

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

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Creepy
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