Transylvania can easily be called “the land of castles” if we think of the great number of vestiges from the medieval period and not only, scattered throughout the region. Though it may seem hard to believe, in Transylvania there are about 100 castles, many of them dating back to the medieval age.
Some are bigger, others smaller, but they all offer indisputable indices about the history of this region. All the castles belonged to the many noble families in Transylvania and built according to different architectural styles and cultural influences. Of course, many of them are just ruins at the moment, but there are some well-preserved castles to this day that can easily compete with the most beautiful castles in Europe. Here are some of the most interesting castles in Transylvania that you should visit.
The history of Peles Castle begins in the summer of 1866 when the new king Carol I visited for the first time the small mountain village that would become the town of Sinaia. Pleased with the beauty of the area, he decided to build a summer residence for his family in these places. For this purpose, he sold a German estate and, in with his own money, he bought in Sinaia in 1872 a 1000-acre land area. The following year, 1873, began the work of sanitation and land stabilization.
The construction of the Peles Castle lasted for 10 years, from 1873 until 1883. In fact, Peles would become a whole building complex, which would eventually include several buildings – such the Pelisor and Foisor castles, a guard corps, an electric plant, and the royal stables. The original plans were sketched by architects Schultz, Benesch and Liman – but over the years, dozens of engineers, architects, and artists, Romanian or foreign, have worked to expand the complex. It should be noted that in the year of its inauguration, in 1883, Peles Castle was very close to the Austro-Hungarian border, which started beyond Predeal. But after the unification of Transylvania in 1918, the royal castle from Peles became the second capital of the country, situated right in the middle of Romania.
After the Parliament Palace in Bucharest and Bran Castle, Peles Castle is the third tourist attraction of Romania – to which a few hundred thousand visitors come annually.
Like any castle, Peles has its legends and mysteries. Some say that during some nights of the year, through the castle park, there are fires floating above the earth, because King Carol I buried several gold coins at the foundation of the building, as the custom was at that time. Others say that on the lanes of the castle, in the moonlit nights, the ghostly shadows of its former masters – the kings and queens of Romania – can be seen. All of these, of course, are legends. One thing is certain: Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu never appreciated this castle – especially after they learned that the wood of the building supposedly had been infected by a fungus. The Ceausescu couple slept here only one night, then avoided ever coming to visit.
Peles is a sumptuous construction, inspired by the German Renaissance, with a great variety of shapes and decorations. It is a royal residence that rivals in beauty with the Miramar castles near Trieste on the Adriatic coast, Neuschwanstein or Berg in the Bavarian Alps.
The Bran Castle is one of the most famous monuments in Romania. Associated with Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, the castle became after the Romanian Revolution an attraction point for tourists around the world, coming here not necessarily for the historical relevance or the beauty of the places, but rather to try to discover some of the secrets of the ”vampire count”.
For centuries, Bran Castle thrived or declined according to its owners, and after in the thirteenth century it came under the jurisdiction of Alba Iulia, it took almost 100 years for the fortress to return under the leadership of the Brasov Chair who took it back in the fourteenth century. From that moment on began a period of restorations and fortifications made under the patronage of the Hungarian Crown.
In 1920, Bran Castle was offered to the Queen Mary of Romania as a gift for her support in the achievement of the Great Union from 1918, when the fate of the Romanian nation was changed forever.
During the communist regime, Bran Castle was turned into a museum, here being sheltered unique exhibits, many of which were former properties of the Crown of Romania. Thus, on four floors, winding through various corridors and rooms, tourists could admire pages from the old or new history of the castle.
If you visit Bran Castle, it would be a pity to leave without going to Queen Mary’s Heart Chapel. This is an almost exact copy of the Stella Maris Chapel in Balchik, where Queen Mary’s heart was placed in a silver box after her death.
Over the last decade, the number of tourists that arrived here has increased but the promotion of the castle as the place of origin of Dracula made its historic importance to be left on the second place, which is too bad, because regardless of Dracula’s legends, Bran Castle has a rich history of more than 600 years, which is worth exploring.
Also known as the Hunyadi Castle, Corvin Castle has a history of more than six centuries and is currently one of the most visited monuments in Romania. Tourists from all corners of the world have been impressed by the beauty and the legends that surround it, but this mysterious medieval building still hides many secrets, unknown to many.
The most important figures in the history of the Corvin Castle are the voivode Ioan of Hunedoara and his son Matia Corvin, king of Hungary. Both Ioan of Hunedoara and Matia spent their childhood in the citadel that was to be transformed after 1440 into an imposing castle.
After Ioan’s death, the castle remained in the care of his wife Elisabeth Szilagyi, who, however, stopped the castle’s extension works in the following years. The works were resumed after Matia ascended to the throne of Hungary, being only 15 years old, in 1458. With the help of some Italian craftsmen, the castle was extended in a Renaissance style. Several rooms are painted and, the Matia Wing is renovated, and the Corvinus coats are placed in place. Many of the decorations have not been preserved until now, but a mysterious fresco can be seen today on the arch of Matia’s wing floor of the castle.
There is a legend according to which Vlad the Impaler would have been kept in the prison of the Corvin Castle for seven years. The legend has been perpetuated over time, becoming even a subject of documentaries for foreign journalists.
Banffy Castle was a jewel of the Transylvanian architecture, located in the commune of Bonida, Cluj County, but unfortunately, it is in a strong state of decay. Dating back to the 1400s, despite its moody state, the castle is unique due to the combination of styles that have made their mark on buildings. Originally, the Banffy Hungarian noble family built it during the Transylvanian Renaissance, then the residence was expanded with Baroque buildings and statues, and in the 1800s romantic influences emerged.
Like in the case of any medieval castle, the Banffy family initially wanted their home to provide some security, so that bastions were added in the four corners of the building. Subsequently, the noble residence was rebuilt in a U shape, on two levels – ground floor and floor.
Unfortunately, during World War II, the castle was confiscated from the initial owners and the castle was used as a military hospital by the German army. At the end of the war, before the Germans fled, they set fire to the entire building. The interior furniture, the family portrait gallery, and the library were irreparably destroyed. During the communist era, part of the castle was used by agricultural production cooperatives, which further increased its decay.
The castle is now being renovated, through the efforts of a foundation, with the agreement of the current owner, Katalin Banffy. If things go as planned, the castle should be returned to its former glory.
Enchanted by the breathtaking view of the Bucegi Mountains, Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino decided to use the place of an old hunting lodge, used as a stopover in the family’s pilgrimage to Brasov, to build a unique castle, like no other edifice in the area. At a time when King Carol I built a summer residence in Sinaia only a few years before, Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino chose this unique place to build a castle designed not only to honor the name of his Cantacuzino ancestors but also to make known to the entire country its Byzantine and princely roots.
The castle is made of stone carved on the outside and with brick on the inside, while the foundation is made of concrete. The construction is U-shaped and is similar to a pavilion. The main stone entrance reminds of the influences of the Brancoveanu style, and the arcades of the windows and the terrace are similar to those of the Mogosoaia Palace.
The splendid decorations blend with both the ancient Celtic symbols and the neo-Romanian architectural symbolism. The pleasant atmosphere of the luxurious interior is characterized by high price decorations. Although in the communist era the wall paintings made by Venetian artists were covered with a thick layer of paint and the castle was transformed from a summer residence into a sanatorium, the interiors of the castle fully reflect the prince’s taste for beauty. The decorations and materials used to build and decorate the castle impress in a special way. The Romanesque mosaic of the first level was preserved, as well as the glazed Italian ceramics in the main hall, the limestone fireplaces decorated with polychrome mosaic and gold leaf, the Carrara marble staircases and the original oak ceilings.
The main attraction of the castle is the gallery of murals made on Córdoba leather. Impressing not only because of the size of the paintings, the gallery contains twelve portraits of the most important members of the Wallachian branch of the Cantacuzino family, making them seem like the twelve apostles. The paintings are made in natural size and are displayed in the salon of honor located at the right of the main salon.
These are some of the most well-known castles of Transylvania, which can easily compete with other more popular edifices throughout the world. However, keep in mind that Transylvania has plenty of other interesting sights and places to offer, you just have to come and discover them all!