Perched atop a towering hill in central Romania, Bran Castle is a medieval fortress with a spooky legacy: Some contend that the site inspired Dracula’s abode in Bram Stoker’s iconic 1897 novel. Now, visitors to the castle can opt to be pricked not by a vampire’s fangs, but by life-saving vaccines. As Stephen McGrath reports for the Associated Press (AP), officials have opened a Covid-19 vaccination center at the attraction known as “Dracula’s Castle.”
The center will be administering free Pfizer-BioNTech shots every weekend throughout May—no appointment needed—as part of a broader initiative encouraging Romanian residents to get vaccinated. Romania, a country of some 19 million people, has logged more than 1 million coronavirus cases and more than 29,300 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Though Romania’s government hopes to have five million people vaccinated by June, a recent survey of Central and Eastern European nations found that 49 percent of Romanian residents would “definitely” or “rather not” receive the vaccine—“one of the highest hesitancy levels in Europe,” per BBC News.
A number of tourist attractions valued by health officials for their large, open spaces—among them Disneyland and Citi Field—have already been transformed into vaccination hubs. Bran Castle, on the other hand, is relying on its connections to a puncture-happy vampire to entice people to get jabbed.
Doctors and nurses working at the site wear fang stickers, and anyone who is vaccinated at the castle receives an illustrated “vaccination diploma” featuring a fanged healthcare worker. Plus, according to the attraction’s Facebook page, vaccinated visitors get free access to an exhibition of medieval torture tools.
“We wanted to show people a different way to get the [vaccine] needle,” Alexandru Priscu, Bran Castle’s marketing manager, tells the AP.
The 14th-century fortress looms over a mountain pass between the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. Associations between the castle and Dracula—which are tenuous at best—arose in part from speculation that Stoker based his blood-sucking monster on the Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes (1431–1476), dubbed “Vlad the Impaler” for his preferred method of disposing of enemies.
Tepes was also known as Vlad III Dracula, “derived from the Latin draco (‘dragon’) after his father’s induction into the Order of the Dragon, created by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund for the defense of Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Stoker did not, however, make any explicit connections between Dracula and Tepes in his notes.
Tepes never ruled over Bran Castle. He may have been imprisoned there, as some sources state, but the evidence is far from clear. Still, similarities exist between Bran Castle and Dracula’s imposing home in the novel, both of which sit on high promontories in the mountains of Transylvania. Stoker never visited the region, but Bran Castle’s website suggests that the author would have had access to a description of the fortress. An etching of the vampire’s castle in the first edition of Dracula, the site contends, is “strikingly similar to Bran Castle and no other in all of Romania.”
Ultimately, though, Bran Castle’s eerie reputation may stem largely from a clever marketing ploy.
“In the 1960s, when Romania was ruled by a communist government, its tourism czars decided it could be advantageous to market a place associated with Vlad Tepes," historian Nicolae Pepene told Amy Alipio of National Geographic in 2018. “They looked around at all of the available castles and decided that this castle at Bran, which guarded the one mountain pass running between Transylvania and Wallachia, looked sufficiently Gothic.”
Though its connections to Dracula may be as mythic as the monster himself, Bran Castle has emerged as one of Romania’s top tourist destinations. Its spine-tingling appeal hasn’t waned during the pandemic: As Priscu, the castle’s marketing manager, tells the AP, nearly 400 people were vaccinated at the castle during the first weekend of the campaign.