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History of Bran Castle

The first pages in the history of Bran Castle were written in distant past of the early 13-th century, when invited by Hungarian king Andrew II, the Teutonic Knights appeared in in south-eastern Transylvania tasked with protecting the kingdom borders against invasion of combative peoples of the Pechenegs and the Cumans. The Teutonic Order received considerable judicial and commercial rights within the area of the historical territory of Burzenland, while in return, its knights, who were also relieved of taxes, started building fortifications and earthworks. Several decades later, the independence of German colonialists who also refused to recognise the authority of German bishops became a serious concern for Hungarian aristocracy and, therefore, having returned from the Fifth Crusade, king Andrew III decided to banish The Teutonic Order z Transylvanian lands. At the time when the Teutons were being banished from Hungary in 1226, not far from the town of Kronstadt (at present Brașov), in the valley of the river Turcu, there had already been a keep erected on a stone hill, a predecessor of Bran Castle.

The construction of the true stone castle did not Begin there until 1377, in line with a decree of king Louis I the Great, under which his builders were given various privileges. Among them there were many local residents of Brașov, the so-called Transylvanian Saxons – descendants of the same knights many of which became rich merchants over time. Bran Castle was built in 1388 and its advantageous location (on a tall rock overlooking nearby magnificent valleys), making it an important point of defence of the eastern border of Transylvania, which by that time were threatened by the invasion of the Ottoman Empire. Aside from protective functions, the keep also served as a customs house where taxes used to be collected on a trade route leading through the Rucăr-Bran Pass. The stronghold in Bran was most often owned by the Transylvanian Saxons designated by the Hungarian king, whereas the castle inhabitants comprised mercenaries and soldiers.

In the early 15th century, the keep was given by Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxembourg to Voivode of Wallachia Mircea the Elder for his support in the defence against Turkish invasion. After the Voivode’s death, fights between family members over the throne broke out in Wallachia, as a result of which Sigismund gave the castle to Transylvanian counts. In 1436, the stronghold was sieged for the first time, and in 1441 duke János Hunyady again repulsed Turkish army’s attack at the castle. In mid-15th century, a name of Voivode of Wallachia Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula, came down in the history of Bran Castle. Later, rumours have made this completely real person a semi-mythical protagonist of dark legends about vampires. In reality, Bran Castle has never been a residence of the said repulsive ruler, although the Voivode happened to visit its walls on several occasions, namely, in the said year and in 1459, when Vlad with his troops was heading to Brașov to take a stance against the Transylvanian Saxons who supported his competitor to the throne.

According to some researchers, Voivode Vlad spent several weeks underground the Castle Bran in 1462, when he was arrested on the order of Matthias Corvinus based on false allegations of scheming with the Turks. However, no historical proof that it was Bran where Dracula was taken from to his 12-year-long imprisonment has not been preserved. In 1498, the Transylvanian Saxons of Brașov agreed with king Vladislaus II on a 10-year-long tenancy of the keep. At that time, the royal treasury was empty due to the abolishment of a military tax and so the king agreed to grant tenancy of the profitable castle with a customs house within its premises for only 1 thousand florins. Later, the tenancy of the castle between the Transylvanian counts and the residents of Brașov was prolonged repeatedly until in 1651, the ownership of the building was bestowed to George II Rákóczi. Having driven the Ottoman Turks out of the central Hungary in 1686, Transylvania has become part of the Habsburgian Empire. However, extensive autonomous privileged of Transylvanian members of the court and property rights to castles were discussed in Explanatio Leopoldina – a regulation issued in October 1690 by king Leopold I.

Small renovation works and reconstruction of the existing towers were conducted behind the castle walls in the early 17th and 18th century, allowing the keep to endure the attacks of numerous Turkish troops in 1789. In the 1830s, after the border between Wallachia and Transylvania was shifted, Bran Castle stopped serving as a border crossing and customs house; nonetheless, it continued to serve as the seat of administrative authorities of the region. In the time of the revolution that overtook the Empire of Austria in 1848-49 аnd also during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-78, Bran Castle suffered severe damage. On the initiative of local residents, in 1880s the centuries-old castle was subject to extensive renovation, yet due to being handed over to the regional forestry office, it soon fell into ruin. After world war one, when the Transylvania lands became part of Romania, Brașov residents unanimously decided to give Bran Castle into the hands of queen Maria, for whom this building has become one of the favourite residences.

The reconstruction of the castle took over 10 years, which owing to architect Karel Liman has turned into a comfortable and luxurious summer residence for the royal family. In 1932, the castle was electrified owing to a hydroelectric plant located on river Turcul, which also supplied electricity to the nearby town. In the period from 1920 to 1932, several new buildings appeared in the castle premises, while an English park stretching around the keep. After the death of queen Maria in 1938, the castle was inherited by queen Ileana and her spouse Austrian Archduke Antony. Princess Ileana’s family was forced to leave home country in 1948, after a communist regime overtook Romania. Since 1956, the stronghold in Bran has been made accessible to tourists, with a museum within its walls offering visitors various theme exhibitions and a small ethnographic branch. After restitution laws were adopted in 2006, the castle was returned to Princess Ileana’s descendants.