Many tourists go to Bran Castle, but the true fortress of former Romanian prince Vlad Tepes, more commonly known as Dracula, was Poenari Castle. This ancient, ruined structure was actually used by Vlad the Impaler in the 1400s, and true fans of the Dracula legend can access it by climbing up 1,480 stairs.
At least they could, until a protective mama bear decided to take it upon herself to shut tourism down around this notable Romanian attraction. Although Poenari Castle has been inaccessible by tourists and locals since late May, the Associated Press didn’t break the story worldwide until this weekend.
How Did a Bear Stop Tourism?
Bran Castle may be more popular due to its aesthetic appeal and easier accessibility, but there are still many tourists who flock to Romania primarily to walk in Vlad Tepes’ footsteps at Poenari Castle. Romania has a brown bear population of approximately 6,000, so it’s not surprising that a mama bear decided to take advantage of the area near Poenari Castle to forage for food.
After all, local officials have officially blamed the close proximity of the bears on tourists who leave leftovers behind at picnic spots. The protective mother has three cubs, and she had a few run-ins with Dracula enthusiasts before the government of Romania intervened.
Now, no one is allowed to go to Poenari Castle until the four bears have been caught and relocated. This may drive more tourism to Bran Castle in the short-term, but history and Dracula buffs aren’t likely to spend the time and effort required to visit Romania if they cannot go to both sites during their vacation.
Poenari Castle and the Vlad Tepes Connection
Poenari Castle was built in the 13th century at the behest of the Black King. By the time Vlad Tepes got involved in the 15th century, though, the castle had long since been abandoned. Seeing its potential for scouting and defense, Vlad Tepes ordered Poenari Castle to be rehabilitated and turned into one of his main fortresses.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the region was supportive of the warlord, and he didn’t hesitate to make an example of his enemies. Legend says that Vlad Tepes earned his nickname of Vlad the Impaler by having some of his opponents literally impaled on spikes on Easter. This type of bloodthirsty behavior would later inspire Bram Stoker to write his classic novel, Dracula.
Poenari Castle is also believed to have been the location where Vlad Tepes’ first wife committed suicide. Due to this, a nearby river was renamed The Lady’s River in her honor.
The castle remained functional for a while after the real-life Dracula’s death in 1476, but it would be abandoned for the final time in the 16th century. Strong interest in Dracula prompted Romania to make Poenari Castle more accessible in 1970, and that’s when almost 1,500 stone steps were added.
What About Bran Castle?
Bran Castle is much more eye-catching than Poenari Castle, and it is known that Vlad Tepes traveled near it on several occasions. Other than that, though, the connection between Bran Castle and the Dracula legend is tenuous at best. Despite this, the Romania national monument attracts 560,000 visitors per year.
The Future of Dracula Tourism
As soon as the bears are removed from the land near Poenari Castle, Romania will allow people to resume visiting the historical attraction. Although there are numerous Dracula Tours in the area, the country’s government has had a difficult time getting locals to agree to ideas such as a proposed Dracula theme park. For most Dracula lovers, this means being content with a Romania trip that includes Poenari Castle, Bran Castle, and the gorgeous countryside.
[Featured image by Octavian Tibar/AP Images]