The Real Story Behind The Writing of 'Dracula':
A Vampire from the Calimani Mountains
Photo : Dacre Stoker with Corneliu Tepelus
Photo : Hans de Roos - Netherlands
Photo : Dacre Stoker - Canada
Photo : Corneliu Tepelus - Romania
Photo : The plaque on the Calimani Mountains
As of today, count Dracula, the vampire from Transylvania, still remains the most famous blood-sucker in the world. Being originally created by the Irish writer Bram Stoker in 1897 as the main character of the eponymous novel, Dracula has seen many changes over the years. The book itself is a part of the public domain and has spawned a huge collection of movies, series, books and other products. However, a new perspective on the story of what inspired the author to write ‘Dracula’ was found only recently.
It was assumed there was no exact location of the Dracula castle, but in 2012 Hans de Roos, a Dutch author discovered that Bram Stoker actually had a precise place in mind. It was a huge revelation that Hans found personal documents of Bram Stoker, in the London Library’s books with new information of how the author got inspired to write ‘Dracula’. Nobody knew these documents existed. Because Hans visited Transylvania he recognized some of the places in the notes that Bram Stoker had made while preparing for his novel. He decided to take a closer look and discovered that the pages also contained latitudes and longitudes which pointed to a place in the Saudi Arabian dessert. This made no sense, but by inverting these coordinates it now pointed to the top of a mountain called ‘Izvorul’, located in the Calimani National Park in Romania. This meant that Bram’s notes were all coded. Bram Stoker placed Dracula’s imaginary castle on the top of a giant extinct volcano, which was identified as the Izvorul peak, according to the discovery of Hans de Roos. With this new information Hans contacted Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker.
Dacre, the Canadian-American author/producer and descendant of Bram Stoker was already very much involved in continuing the legacy of his great-granduncle. Over the years he worked on several projects that involved the iconic vampire. Dacre even released a sequel to the original story in 2009. So when Hans contacted him it was certain that they had to do something with this new approach of understanding on how Bram Stoker’s did his research on writing the story of Dracula. Together, they made a tour to Romania in November 2013 and held several press conferences. In 2019, Dacre went to Romania again and contacted Corneliu Tepelus, a filmmaker from Romania. Together they decided to make a documentary to create a visual bridge between the past and present.
It was clear that Bram did a lot of research on vampires. During the time he wrote his book, vampires were a very popular literary topic all over Europe. People really believed in theses scary, evil, blood sucking creatures. They even dug up dead bodies and stabbed them through the heart with pointy sticks. It wasn’t just kids or people with creative minds who believed in vampires; even highly educated people thought they were real!
It took Bram Stoker about seven years of research before the book was ready to be published in 1897. Bram used various sources for creating the character Dracula. One very important book that Bram used as inspiration was ‘The Land Beyond the Forest’ by Emily Gerard. The copy that Bram used was found in the London Library and contained personal notes and multiple markings on the pages. Emily lived in Sibiu and was very interested in myths and legends. Her essay ‘Transylvania Superstitions’ from 1885, which included the myth of a vampire, also was an important source for Bram’s story. For instance, he used parts of the passage about the term Nosferatu, which describes the undead.
Other important books that Bram used as inspiration for Dracula were ‘Romanian Past and Present’ by James Samuelson and ‘An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ by William Wilkinson. Originally Bram planned to name his main character ‘Count Wampyr’ and placed the story in the mountains of Austria. Later he read about the historical figure Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), who got his nickname because of his favourite method of executing his enemies. He was born in 1431, as the third son of Vlad II Dracul, a knight of the Order of the Dragon. Vlad became the ruler of Wallachia during the 15th century. During his battles against the Ottoman Empire, Vlad III Dracula became a legend because of the horrific methods to kill his enemies. Therefore the people who didn’t see him as a hero called him the devil, which translated to his name Dracula in the Wallachian language. It remains a mystery how Vlad the Impaler eventually came to his end. Some people say he was killed during one of his battles, and some say he was killed by betrayal before he could defeat the Turks. Perhaps this gave Bram Stoker the opportunity to mix this historical legend with the vampire stories and make his character for the book.
Dracula’s Castle was based on two castles from different locations. It’s very likely that Bram based the interior of Dracula’s castle on the New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, very close to Cruden Bay where he actually wrote the book. Bram’s description of Dracula’s castle resembles parts of the floor plan, for instance the small octagonal room. Assumingly Bram was very impressed by the castle, which was still intact in his days. Not only did he use the castle for Dracula, he also used the description of Slains Castle in six other novels that he wrote.
The architecture and exterior of the Dracula castle was based on Bran castle, which was actually a fortress to protect the people against the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Vlad III Dracula. Although some sources may say that Vlad spend some time in the Castle, there is no evidence that there is any sort of relation between him and Bran Castle. But because Bram described the castle in so much detail in his book and referred to the surrounding Carpathians, for most people it was a reason to believe that Bran castle was in fact Dracula’s castle. However, Bram actually never visited the castle himself, but got his knowledge from two books that included sketches of Bran Castle. Therefore it’s quite spectacular how accurately Bram described it, because he only had a few sources to know what it looked like.
Discovering the Actual Location
In the time when Bram wrote his book there was no such thing as internet or Google maps, obviously. So to find the information he needed to describe the locations and roots for the characters, Bram used three books that contained detailed maps. Luckily he knew how to work with them and was very good in geography and history.
Even though Bram did so much research it was surprisingly impressive how accurate everything was. Every detail he wrote was true and actually there at that place. So when Dacre and Corneliu travelled to the Calimani mountains in September 2019 to film the documentary about the discovery, they almost couldn’t believe what they found. “His research on Transylvania was amazing. It’s freaky how everything was so accurate”, Corneliu says. The volcanos, the blue lights, the silver mines, the hay stacks, the food, the caverns and the Bistrita river. Bram just knew what was there. A local guide who knew his way through the mountains helped Dacre and Corneliu to find the exact location where Bram placed the imaginary castle of ‘Dracula’, a place Hans de Roos had already visited in 2012. Because of the personal notes that Hans de Roos had found, it was clear that they had to be at the Izvorul Peak in the Calimani National Park in the Calimani mountains, which are located in the northern part of eastern Transylvania, at the border with Moldavia. Even though the castle was something fictional, what they saw was very impressive. They found ruins of something that could possibly have been an actual castle. Did Bram know about this? Was it all just coincidence?
On Sunday, September 8th 2019, a plaque was placed on the Izvorul peak at the Calimani National Park, to mark the area where Bram Stoker had placed Dracula’s imaginary Castle. This would not have been possible without the efforts made by Hans de Roos, Dacre Stoker and Corneliu Tepelus. By the placing of the plaque, the location now also is established as the ‘Dracula trail’. Also it is a part of the ‘Dracula Tourism Map’ since November 2013. The documentary of the discovery of the location made by Dacre Stoker and Corneliu Tepelus will be released this fall.