Located on the western shores of the Black Sea on the Balkan Peninsula, Romania has been becoming a more popular tourist destination since joining the European Union – less commercialized than much of Europe, its the kind of country reminds visitors and locals of an unknown time, some fabled past that lives in the balance between emerging cities and villages hiding fortress ruins. The landscape in Transylvania in particular is alpine and riddled with medieval castles and fortresses, while other regions in the country may boast traditional German villages, caves, deserts and restored landmarks. If you’re in Romania, you better be ready to get Medieval – here are five of the most impressive castles in the country.
Completed in 1388 near the city of Bran, Bran Castle was used as a trading hub (due to its proximity to the border of Transylvania) as well as a fortress against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. However, as the centuries wore on, this clifftop Transylvanian gothic castle carries in itself equal parts history and lore. Closely associated with the story of Dracula, due to the similarities in author Bram Stoker’s descriptions of Dracula’s Castle, as well as its historically tangential relationship with Vlad the Impaler. From 1920 to 1948, the castle was a royal residence for Queen Marie of Romania and her daughter, Princess Ileana. Visitors to castle can marvel at the imposing architecture, encompassing a stone dungeon, 57 rooms and even a secret passageway leading to the watch towers. Four of the floors operate as a museum, showcasing furniture, armoury and other items that belonged to Queen Marie and the Romanian royal family.
Built between 1873 and 1914 on a 1000-hectare estate in Sinaia, the Peles Castle was originally intended to be a summer residence for King Charles I of Romania, the longest serving monarch, though he only lived in it for six months before he passed away and was buried on the premises. The designers and architects on this elegant edifice were German, Viennese and French, which is reflected in the varied architectural style of the building – mostly German Renaissance, with elements of Italian Renaissance, Gothic, German Baroque and French Rococo style. Most visitors and locals recognize the castle by its striking dark red details, turrets and long pointed towers, but far away, it’s hard to see the precise features: gorgeous marble statues, detailed murals and stained glasses depicting German fairy tales, intricate wood carvings inside its opulently designed 160 rooms. Peles Castle was also the first castle in Europe to have central heating and electricity, produced by its own plant.
The stuff of Medieval fairy tales, Corvin Castle is an imposing Gothic stone castle located on a rock above the river Zlasti in Transylvania in the city of Hunedoara. Tall and angular, with pointed towers and parapet-lined balconies and windows, the castle is accessible via very long wooden bridge supported by stone pillars. As the former resident of both kings and criminals, the castle was first the home of John Hunyadi, a leading Hungarian military leader in the 15th century, but quickly proved useful for military gatherings and as a prison – in fact, one of its famous early guests was Vlad III of Wallachia (better known as Vlad the Impaler), who served a seven year term. Inside, visitors get to wander around the sparsely furnished fortress, with spiral staircases, knights’ halls, towers, guard rooms, dungeons and interior guard rooms.
Tucked away behind a ring of trees just off the E-68 highway in Fagaras is a simple, wide-moated stone and brick castle, a feudal citadel that has occupied the space since the late 14th century. Simple and useful, this fortress underwent adaptations and additions, some military and some domestic to suit the princes of Transylvania, as well as briefly serving as a prison for political inmates during the communist regime. However, the outside is fairly pristine, with a white stone exterior, five corner towers and rows of inner walkways surrounding a large courtyard – a perfect medieval castle, surrounded by brick iron walls. Now it’s a general town museum, with government and historical society offices.
Photo via monumenteuitate.org
Out in the assuming outskirts of Cetatea de Balta in Alba County, the Bethlen-Haller Castle was originally built in the 16th century French Renaissance style but was later restored in the Baroque style in the 17th to 18th century. It’s a hotel now, perfect for quiet getaways and pretending to be in another time, with 14 guest rooms and four luxury suites.