A Guide to Transylvanian Castles

Some impress by their architectural style. Others attract visitors with all sorts of legends. The Transylvanian castles are important tourist attractions in Romania. They tell the story of this Eastern European land. They revive fascinating characters: beautiful ladies, courageous princes, tough rulers, bloody vampires, kind monarchs, etc. You may not have heard all the names on the following list, but you should certainly have some of them on your bucket list.

1. Bran Castle

Bran CastleOne of the country’s best known and most visited attractions, Bran Castle owes its popularity to Bram Stoker’s legendary hero – Dracula. Despite the lack of any historical proof, it is believed that Bran Castle was once the home of the famous bloody vampire. Perched on a 60 meters high cliff, this imposing building, whose construction works lasted more than a decade (1377 – 1382), has a long story to tell to all visitors.

The original defensive purpose has gradually changed and the castle has undergone many renovations along its history. Thus, it had a Southern tower added in 1622 and an Easter one at the end of the 19th century. However, the major changes were made after 1920, Queen Maria of Romania received the castle as a thank you gift for her contribution to the country’s Great Union.

Nowadays, Bran Castle belongs to the royal family’s descendants. It is open for visitation and it houses a 4 storied museum, whose main exhibits are Queen Maria’s belongings: pieces of furniture, clothes, paintings, etc.

2. Peles Castle

pelesDating from a much recent period than any of the other Romanian castle, Peles has also a distinct history. No military purposes were involved in its construction as it was conceived as a summer residence for the royal family. Started in 1873 and finished in 1914, Peles Castle is situated on the Southern side of the Carpathians.

Although it is not really one of Transylvania’s landmarks, Peles is included in all tours of this Romanian region departing from Bucharest because of its location on the road connecting the capital to this part of the country. The luxury and the refinement of all decorative elements is not the only impressive thing about Peles. The castle was equipped with a central heating system, its own power plant and an elevator – highly advanced technological features for those times.

3. Fagaras Fortress

Fagaras FortressOne of the best preserved landmarks in Romania, the citadel located in the Transylvanian town by the same name was built as a wooden fortress back in the 11th century. Destroyed by a fire in the 13th century, Fagaras Fortress is renovated in 1528-1541 and turned into a defensive landmark under the orders of the local landlord – Stefan Mailat.
Between the 14th and the 16th century, the place undergoes other transformations that provide it with its current size and appearance. Gabriel Bethlen, together with a group of Italian architects were in charge of the renovation work. They are responsible for the Renaissance decorative elements such as the floral motifs, emblems, moldings, open arched loggias, etc.

The landmark’s more recent history made it loose something of its royal sparkle. Used as a military garrison by the Austrian rulers during the 18th century, Fagaras Fortress becomes a prison at the middle of the 20th century (1948-1960), witnessing extreme violence exerted by the communist regime on its political prisoners.

4. Banffy Castle

Banffy CastleThe largest castle in Transylvania, Banffy is located 30 km away from the region’s urban center, Cluj. This Baroque style landmark’s history goes back to the 14th century and is connected to the story of the most important noble families in Transylvania. Donated by King Sigismund of Luxembourg to the family whose name it is known by, Banffy Castle was equipped in 1750 with a water mill and served as headquarters of an equestrian school during the same period.

At the end of WWII, Nazi soldiers burnt the castle, destroying valuable pieces of furniture, books and a worthless gallery of paintings. Several institutions functioned in the castle’s premises during the communist era: a driving school, a children hospital and even an agricultural association.

After reaching an advanced state of decay, this beautiful castle was declared historical monument in 1990 and in 1999 its renovation works started, financed by two non-governmental organizations from England and Romania.

5. Corvinilor Castle

DSC02490Also known as Huniazilor Castle, this Transylvanian landmark has a troubled history, closely connected with that of the region. Maybe this is the reason it was mentioned by Huffington Post as the 2nd scariest building in the world. Or, this position might be explained by the numerous legends that have circulated along the centuries.

One of them talks about the fountain located in the centre of the castle’s yard. It was supposedly dug by three Turkish prisoners who were promised freedom if they reached water while digging. They were killed after 15 years of hard work, but managed to leave a message on the fountain’s walls before they died. The inscription is still visible nowadays.

 

 

6. Lonyai Castle

Lonyai CastleCertainly less famous than other names on this list, Lonyai Castle stands on the right bank of the Somes River, 21 km away from Satu Mare. Once a prestigious landmark in Trnsylvania, the castle succeeds to impress nowadays only the few well informed visitors who go off the beaten track and explore this land thoroughly.

Although the building’s history goes back to the 13th century, it was only around 1630 that Lonyai knew its most glorious days. The current ruins are the remains of a great Rennaissance edifice, consisting of 4 two storied wings, arranged around a central courtyard protected by wedge-shaped bastions.

7. Brukenthal Castle

Built by Jozef von Brukenthal (Samuil von Brukenthal’s brother) in 1750, this castle is a solid edifice in Sambata de Jos. With a total of 35 rooms and walls that can reach 1.2 meters, Bruckenthal Castle has beautifully tiled stoves, oak floors and other impressive decorative elements. However, the legends circulating about the castle and its original owner are much more interesting than its architecture and adornments. One such legend speaks about a passionate relationship between Jozef von Brukenthal and Maria Thereza, who supposedly visited the castle a few times and even spent some summers in this Transylvanian village.

8. Wesselenyi Castle

Located in Jibou, Wesselenyi Castle was built in the 18th century in Baroque style and completed in the 19th with other architectural elements. The castle is surrounded by a botanical garden that covers 30 hectares and boasts an impressive collection of cacti, a Japanese garden, aquarium, a small zoo. Behind the castle there is a small Roman garden, which contributes to landmark’s attractiveness.

9. Kilnoky Castle

Most probably this medieval landmark would have remained unknown if it hadn’t been discovered and popularized by The Prince of Wales. Indeed, this authentic and charming Transylvanian settlement becomes Charle’ residence every time the British royal figure comes to spend his holidays on Dracula’s land. While the famous vampire is far from being Charles’ reason to visit Transylvania so frequently, one thing is sure: the area’s landscape, its traditions and the inhabitants’ hospitality are.
Built by one of the rich families back in the 14th century as a hunting residence, Kalnoky Castle has a Renaissance architectural style. Later renovations (2oth century) followed the lines of classical architecture, but the landmark still has some Renaissance features.

10. Bethlen – Haller Castle

Built in the French Renaissance style between 1615 and 1624 by the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen and renovated in the 17th and 18th centuries with a Baroque style gate by its new owner, Eugene Haller, the Bethlen – Haller Castle has a rectangular plan with circular corner towers. The general architecture reproduces the main body of the Chambord Castle in France. Surrounded by exquisite gardens, the castle has another attraction: the underground tunnels leading to another castle belonging to the same original owner.