Transylvania, also known as the land beyond the forest, is a historical region located in central Romania and a real paradise for adventure lovers, famous for picturesque sceneries, Carpathian landscapes and traditional village life. It’s also a place that fascinates travellers interested in history and folk culture and myths, thanks to its romantic and idyllic atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve travelled to a world of fairy-tales and legends.
Speaking of legends, not all of them are stories of charming princesses and castles. The region is best known as the mysterious home of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves. Pack your garlic and prepare your investigative skills because Romania is full of secrets and local legends waiting to be discovered – on top of the usual tourist attractions!
Of vampires and their castles
What better story to start your trip in Romania than going on the footsteps of the well-known Dracula figure?
Vlad Tepes, by his real name, was a XVth century Romanian ruler son of Vlad Dracul, later elected knight of the Order of the Dragon by the King of Hungary. Dracula is literally translated in Gaelic as Drac Ullah meaning bad blood. The story of his life has significant traces of blood spilled as he had a reputation of severe cruelty towards his enemies, particularly Turks. Few punishments have cast more terror into the hearts of people than the one he favoured most: impaling opponents and criminals.
The stories around Vlad Tepes inspired Bram Stoker to write the Dracula horror novel in the late XIXth century which later spawned numerous theatrical, film, and television interpretations. Going on the tracks and stories of this mysterious and famous character in Romanian history will be a real adventure!
The legend will lead you to Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, said to have been Vlad Dracula’s residence. Bran is a museum with rooms full of weaponry and one of the country's most famous medieval landmarks and popular tourist attractions. Then, head on to the ruins of Poenari Citadel where Vlad Dracula took refuge when hiding from the Turks and finally at Comana Monastery near Bucharest where he is said to be buried. All of these sights can be visited on tours from Bucharest. There is a wide range of accommodation in Bucharest to choose from and it easy to make a hotel booking online.
A lie detector in Sibiu
The second place surrounded by legends and local stories is a famous landmark of Sibiu, a city just two hours away from Bran Castle. The bridge of lies in the city center is the main actor of not one but four local legends and myths!
According to the first one, the bridge can sense if people crossing it are telling a lie and in response reacts with strange noises almost sounding like it's about to crack and collapse. The second legend says that the bridge targets only men who make love statements and promises to their loved one – which they never intended to keep. Number three is also related to relationships claiming that women who lied about their purity were to fall from the bridge as punishment. Finally, since the bridge is part of Sibiu’s Little Square which was an important trading place for merchants, dishonest businessmen were unmasked and exposed on the bridge in order to set an example.
There are many things to do in Sibiu: visit the Council Tower, the Great Square, the historic churches and narrow streets of the Old Town and last but not least, Brukenthal Palace, one if the oldest and most beautiful museums in Romania. And if you take your time to slowly wander through the old and narrow streets of Sibiu you will notice that houses have eyes. What’s that about?
Dragons and princesses
The third Transylvanian legend is about a place known as the Gradina Zmeilor (roughly translated as Dragon’s Garden) not far from Cluj-Napoca, a geological reservation protected by law stretching almost three hectares. The peculiar landscape and rock formations are the result of a continuous destructive sliding and erosion process of the so-called Sanmihaiu sandstones.
Many local legends were transmitted from generation to generation about this place. One of them talks about a woman who fell in love with a soldier. Her stepmother disagreed with their love story and cursed the girl to turn into stone, which is what supposedly happened when she met her loved one in this place. Another legend says the area was home of dragons who used to steal girls from their families. One day, one of them even stole the sun from the sky but a brave man decided to face them. After he defeated the dragon, he found the sun and threw it back up in the sky. When the other dragons came to the scene they were blinded by the unexpected luminosity. The girls were released and one of them turned the dragons into huge stones with the power of a spell. You may even find villagers with different – or maybe more – stories about this place.
There are several tours from Cluj-Napoca that can take you to visit Gradina Zmeilor and many others in Transylvania. Set up base in this vibrant city with a student heart and go on the trails of Romanian legends!