If you get the opportunity to visit Transylvania in Romania, there is much more to see than the supposed castle of Dracula. Set in the hills of the Carpathian mountains, there are several peasant church fortifications as well as the Fortress in Rasnov. We took a day tour out of Brasov and were able to visit these locations, although we weren’t able to get inside of the fortress in Rasnov. Seeing the churches that are surrounded by walls with rooms for the villagers to live in during a seige was truly quite fascinating and different than anything else that we saw in other parts of Europe.
The first location that we visited was the fortified church in Prejmer, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the strongest church fortification in Transylvania. Apparently it was attacked about 50 times during its history, but only ever conquered a single time in 1611. Not only has it withstood the ravages of battle, it has also withstood the ravages of time as it is still looks the same today as it did hundreds of years ago dating back to when it was first built back in the early 13th century. If you are willing to walk the old wooden stairs and walkways, there are rooms showing what life would have been like for the peasants who took refuge there.
Our second stop was to the fortified church of Harman, which also dates back to the 13th century. It was, however, reinforced over the centuries, making it another resilient stronghold. Although time has taken its toll on the frescos of the church, enough remains to allow you to imagine what it must have been like during the days of its usage. There are also seven towers around the fortress walls, making it quite striking to see from the outside. We were there in the heart of winter and it was extremely cold, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying our time in the fortifications and churches. You can also climb to the top of the bell tower if you would like, but be sure to pay attention to the time as the bells still ring at the top of the hour.
The final stop on our tour was the Rasnov Fortress. This was meant to be the highlight of the day as it is a large fortress on top the hillside that remains in excellent condition. We should have known something was up when we arrived and the area where tourists had to park was mostly empty. We were told that we could take a little trolley up the steep hillside, but we decided to go ahead and walk. When we arrived at the top, we found that the ticket office was closed, but there was a security guard nearby, so we asked where we could get tickets. We were told that the fortress was closed as they were filming an “American movie” on the grounds and we weren’t even allowed to go any further than the entrance gate. We took a couple of photos and began walking down the hillside. As we walked the road, several large black SUV’s with tinted windows passed us as well as trucks filled with scaffolding and filming materials. We never did find out what movie was being shot or whether there might have been movie stars in those vehicles, but perhaps we will see the movie one day.
Despite the cold and the disappointment of not seeing Rasnov Fortress, it really was a very interesting day. The countryside of Transylvania has many different things to see, including the town of Brasov, which have a more tangible connection with real history rather than the myth of a vampire.