Monday, January 8, 2007

Welcome to Dracula's Transylvanian home

The Transylvanian castle of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, is on sale for £40 million.

Bran Castle, near the historic city of Brasov, in central Romania, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations because of its association with 15th-century Prince Vlad Tepes III, also known as the Impaler for his favoured method of executing opponents. According to varied accounts, Vlad either spent several days in the castle or was briefly incarcerated in its dungeons.

The impressive 14th-century fortress last belonged to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Queen Marie of Romania, but in 1956 it was seized by the Communist authorities, who turned it into a museum.

Seven months ago the castle was given back to Queen Marie’s grandson, Dominic von Habsburg, of the former House of Habsburg. The conditions of the restitution agreement included a pledge to keep the castle open as a state-run museum for three years, even if the property was resold.

Mr von Habsburg, 68, a US-based graphic designer, lived in the castle as a child until his family were expelled by the Communist regime in 1948. In a recent interview with The Times he claimed an emotional attachment to his old home, but has now decided to put it on the market for more than £40 million.

Corin Trandafir, his lawyer in Bucharest, said the asking price was realistic, and that the owners would like to see the castle returned to the local community. The local council of Brasov has been given first refusal on the property.

“The castle is one of Romania’s biggest attractions and its value will drastically multiply when the country joins the European Union this January. There is no organised tour of Romania that doesn’t include Bran Castle,” he said.

“The price is by no means exaggerated. The estate includes about seven acres of forest and three smaller buildings. Once the three-year period expires and the museum management becomes private, it will turn into a lucrative source of income for the new owners.

Mr Trandafir said that Mr von Habsburg wanted the castle to be owned by local people, which was why he had offered it to the council. “They have 30 days to review our offer, and then the property will be put on the market,” he added.

Aristotel Cancescu, the council president, confirmed that the local authorities were very interested in acquiring Bran Castle because it was part of Romania’s cultural heritage. “This castle is a major tourist attraction and a great asset for our region, and we need to seriously think about buying it,” he said.

Doors, doors, locked and bolted

“Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky . . . The castle is on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm.

Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests. But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view, I explored further. Doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!”