The trend for dark tourism has been steadily climbing over the last few years as more of us seek out unusual, scary and downright haunting locations around the world.
Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, has long been a place of interest to those interested in the fear factor.
Lauded as the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula – though historians claim it could have been other Transylvanian great houses too – the imposing medieval building is now a museum and national landmark.
After being renovated by Queen Marie of Romania in the 1920s and then being used as a war hospital in the Second World War, the castle was seized by the communist party.
It was eventually returned to the von Habsburg line in 2005 and they turned it into a museum, including extensive exhibits on Count Dracula.
Stoker's vampire has long inspired fascination in those who find darkness interesting.
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In the novel, Count Dracula hopes to move from Transylvania to England in order to find new blood and spread vampirism.
He slowly drains a beautiful woman of her blood and she too becomes a vampire.
The book sparked many myths about vampires and conventions of vampire fantasy.
The castle is now the centre of Dracula tourism and details some of the history of the castle and the novel.
Here you can explore the hideous history of Vlad the Impaler, thought to be one of the mass murderers to inspire the character.
Vlad the Impaler
Vlad III was Prince of Wallachia from 1448 to 1477 — and the son of Vlad Dracula.
Dracula, which means dragon, was his nickname for centuries, before the Stoker character overtook him in fame.
Thanks to the man’s reputation, the word Dracula has come to mean “the Devil” in modern Romanian.
His epithet, “the impaler”, is due to his favourite execution method – penetrating a person with a stake or spear before driving it up and through the torso.
It is one of the cruelest methods in history.
It is estimated that the prince killed over 40,000 people during his rule.
Contrary to modern belief, he was hailed as a national hero at the time as he punished criminals brutally to strengthen the government.
Peasant stories from the era show they believed only such violence could secure public order in Wallachia.
The cruel prince is now considered to be a serial killer as well as a great ruler.
There is another serial killer who is associated with Dracula, though, and this one a little less expected.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory
Countess Elizabeth Bathory, born in 1560, is one of the most prolific female serial killers in all of history.
Between the years 1585 and 1610, the woman tortured and murdered hundreds of young women at Csejte Castle.
She wasn’t the only terrifying member of her family, either.
One uncle had instructed her in satanism and an aunt in sadomasochism.
When she was married, age 15, her husband built a torture chamber to her specifications.
She was known to jam pins under the nails of her servant girls.
She also smeared them with honey and dyed them down near bee and ant nests.
The Countess became much worse when her husband died in the early 1600s and began abducting peasant girls to murder.
She would often bite chunks of flesh from her victims and even made one cook and eat her own body parts.
Elizabeth believed that human blood would keep her young and was, perhaps, one of history’s first vampires.
Her actions were infamous in the area, but her title and relatives made her untouchable.
The Bathory family ruled Transylvania as an independent principality of Hungary, before it was transferred to Romanian rule, and never faced trial for the murders.
Despite this, she was imprisoned by the authorities until her death after King Matthias discovered she had begun finding victims among the local noble girls.
Her prison had only slits for air and food and she died three years later.
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While the Countess never lived in Bran Castle it is a must-see for any dark tourists looking to trace the violent lineage of the Dracula character.
And serial killer fanatics, of course.
Other places of interest for those seeking to go on a "Dracula Tour" are Csejte Castle, Slovakia, and Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire.
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