Dracula: How Transylvania History Influenced Bram Stoker’s Novel

Bran Castle in Bran, Romania: Photo credit: Bran Castle

It has been more than 100 years since the publication of the novel, Dracula, by Irish author Bram Stoker, yet the story continues to intrigue readers. Written in 1897, it is set in a castle in Transylvania high in the Carpathian Mountains. A young lawyer, Jonathan Harker, goes there at the request of the owner, Count Dracula, to help the count finalize a real estate transaction. He learns of the local folklore and villagers’ superstitions. After his arrival at Dracula’s Castle, the strange noises, forbidden rooms, and centuries of history and legends reveal a dark secret about the count.

In real life, Stoker never visited Transylvania. The castle described in the novel was a combination of the author’s imagination, his research, and places he visited in England, Scotland, and his native Ireland. The castle that is most closely associated with the home of Dracula is Bran Castle in Transylvania, a historical region now part of Romania. Like the fictional castle, Bran Castle is in the Carpathian Mountains.

Its history goes back to the 13th century when, in 1211, the Teutonic Knights built a fortress at the entrance of a mountain gorge that was part of a route used by traders. This reinforced the knights’ position as they defended Transylvania from other groups. More than 150 years later, King Louis the Great of Hungary approved the building of a stone castle by the people of Brasov, a city within the region of Transylvania. The castle was under construction from 1377 to 1388 on a jagged cliff, which made it easy to use as a look out and defend the area against invasions by the Ottoman Empire. In addition, it served as a customs office for trade imported and exported to and from Transylvania.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

Before writing the book, Stoker had heard stories about the Carpathian Mountains from the Hungarian writer, Ármin Vámbéry, who not only had traveled extensively but was fluent in several languages. These dark tales further fueled Stoker’s interest in European folklore and stories about vampires. The power of superstition was as predominant in real life as in the novel. Historically, one example of the villagers’ superstitions is of evil spirits called steregoi or ghosts who, during daylight hours, appear to be normal human beings. When night comes and these “humans” fall asleep, their spirits leave their bodies to haunt the villages. The spirits reunite with their bodies at sunrise when the rooster first crows.

The fictional Dracula is both a count and a vampire who is mysterious, intelligent, and evil. His name is from the Order of the Dragon, a 15th-century order founded the King of Hungary for members of the nobility. Two of the members were regional rulers, Vlad II Dracul and his son, Vlad III. Stoker drops obvious hints as to when the count was alive. Since he fought against the Turks, that places him living during the time of Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracula, and later as Vlad the Impaler. The author never suggests that the count is somehow a fictionalized version of Vlad III, only that the two are of the same time period.

Transylvania became part of Romania in the early 20th century. Bran Castle is an international tourist attraction, open year-round as a museum with artwork and furniture from different centuries, and knights’ armor from the Middle Ages. Although Stoker wrote other works, fiction and non-fiction, he is best known his Gothic horror novel, Dracula.

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Bran Castle

Bram Stoker Estate