August 31, 2008

Myths, Dracula and Transylvania

I have found that many people hear about Transylvania, but they really don't understand the background to the place most associate with Dracula. Not many can describe where one can find the location of Transylvania in terms of place in the world- they will ask where is Transylvania, or is this a real place?

Some people ask where is it- in Europe? Although some will suggest Romania, since they know a bit more of the area of central and Eastern Europe. To this extent they are correct, Transylvania is found in Romania. It is only when people ask is that where Count Dracula comes from that they are incorrect, and this is a long standing myth.

I think it is our North American Gothic culture which promotes this. A lot of people came to Romania- Germans, Roma, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Jews, and Romanians. Queen Marie of Romania, a British princess by birth, was crowned there. At that time in 1922 the area was home to many people of many different races. Some were even related to Vlad Tepes- members of the British Royal Family are related to him, although not any of the Romanian Royal Family.

People are interested when I tell them that my family is German, and also were known as Saxons, from the area.  They will generally ask if I know about Dracula.  Sometimes I answer we didn't. Sometimes I propagate the Count Dracula or werewolf myths. I tell them that howl at the moon. I play the voice of Dracula ('I want to have your blood').

Count Dracula seems to fascinate, but he is a work of fiction. The myth he existed is because of the man he was based upon.

Then I tell them that I am only joking- after all these are myths nothing real. Though it is fun to tell people about my family. It is more fun to tell them about the myths and the reality of what is true.  There is far more interesting facts in the real Transylvania  than any where else.

Vlad Tepes, prince of Wallachia, - real person, Count Dracula - not a real person.

Many people and cultures living in the area -Yes. All in harmony- not exactly.

August 30, 2008

Religion and Culture in Transylvania Romania

Transylvania map
map of Transylvania, Romania
Transylvania, Romania is, or was, a home to Hungarians, Germans, Romanians and other smaller groups, the Roma and Jews the most notable, also held many religions- Romanian Orthodox, Catholic and Lutherans.

People were, before the end of the Second World War, very devout to their personal beliefs and there are stories shared the entire village would follow the religion of the majority of the village. This was not hard since most of the smaller towns and villages were of one culture.

map of Romania
 For most people the fact of different religions is forgotten. This is an area where who you were culturally was as important as which religion you were a part of. People were a part of a 'family' which was an extension of their actual family- and this was the village they lived in. In many of the Saxon villages most of the people were related in some fashion.

The Catholic faith, held by most Hungarians, was strong within this community, when the Reformation came to Transylvania, most Hungarians remained Catholic. The Romanians adhered to the Romanian Orthodox Church- and this defined this culture. The Germans adhered to the Lutheran Church, after the Protestant Reformation made its way to Transylvania, Romania.

 In many villages people remembered that each group had its own village church. This held true even in the cities, and it would be the entire village who would convert to Lutheranism or remained Catholics or Orthodox.

Although each group mingled infrequently, the religions and languages developed and each accepted the other. Almost.

This is the myth, reality is that the people did not have much rights and often times there would be a questions of who was allowed to be where. Many Germans lived in their own villages with few others from different cultures. 

The same held true with the other cultures, it was not common for there to be intermarriages, and if a person had a 'different' last name- a more Italian name as opposed to German the family would take great pains to point out that this person had been a part of a village for centuries and was not Italian or whichever culture it was.

 Looking deeper, it can be noted that in each village there was always a few Romanians or Hungarians or even Italians in a larger German population- and the same would hold true in each village with a predominately Romanian or Hungarian group.

There are stories of how each group would out do the other with festivals and parades. After the First World War things changed and the Romanians would take away much land from the Saxons, Swabians and Hungarians who lived in Transylvania.

This would affect the people for many years, although when Transylvania was a part of Hungary (and the Austrian Empire) the Romanian people did not have the same rights as the others who were Catholic or Hungarian.

August 26, 2008

Cities in Transylvania, Romania

It's important to know there are many cities and towns in Transylvania, Romania, and there are equally as many places to visit and to find out more history than the city of Brasov or the famous Bran Castle, which was where the novel Dracula took place.  There is just as many smaller towns in the area of Transylvania.

Where is Transylvania?

First, and most important when it comes to seeing Transylvania is, many people think Transylvania borders most of Hungary or of the other smaller republics which border Romania.

 Transylvania itself is not as large as people believe, and many place the Banat within Transylvania.

 Transylvania proper is much more central and inside of Romania.  The towns most famous for people outside of Eastern and Central Europe are closer to what was once the border of Moldavia- a county in Romania or in Wallachia. A Concise History of Romania shares much of these facts and figures, and is an important book to read.

Which is not a part of Transylvania?

The counties which are a part of the Banat which borders Hungary are Timis and Caras-Severin, both of whom have played large roles in the politics of Romania in general. The 1989 Romanian Revolution was centered in Timis to begin with.

The smaller area of Bucovina is found in the Eastern part of Romania, and it is not a part of Transylvania.  The city of Alba Iulia is a part of Transylvania proper, and the surrounding towns are and have played important roles in the history of Romania.

Alba Iulia is where Queen Marie and King Ferdinand were crowned as King and Queen of Greater Romania after the First World War, they were crowned nearly ten years after they became monarchs.  This was due to the change in territory between Hungary and Romania.

The black church in Brasov- which is also close to Bran Castle, is an important part of the city.  Its history dates back to the middle ages, and earned its name after a fire nearly burned it all down.

This was also one of the main cities which took part in the Protestant Reformation- because of Johannes Honterus.

August 24, 2008

Changing Territories in Europe and Romania.

People from the area of Transylvania are people who were always on the move- at least in the political sense. They were Hungarian, part of the Austrian Empire and then part of Romania- some even are old enough to have birth certificates from the Empire of Austria. The people who lived during these times never actually moved though, just the area they lived changed hands- or at least the politics changed.

Over the past century Europe, and the countries and territories have changed greatly.  The people of Eastern and Central Europe who were farmers and not powerful in ways which would help them.  Romania, was a young country in comparision to many, but the area around what would become Greater Romania was home to many who were ethically: Romanian, Hungarian or German.  There was already a large population of Romanians in Transylvania, and when the territory changed in 1919, they were pleased to be Romanian.

 However, changing territory did not mean everyone would be pleased, and the Hungarians of Transylvania, Romania were not.  They saw themselves as Hungarian, but politically and nationally they were Romanians.  There are also many who see Romania as home to others- or rathe more mythical people.

Similar to the the land are the myths that grew from the area of Transylvania- more specifically Count Dracula and vampires. Maybe Bram Stoker shouldn't have looked around for the area which he felt would be removed from the way the British viewed life. These days, Transylvania really doesn't look like how he describes, mostly because beyond the fact he saw the territory in Hungary, he also didn't do as much research in a fiction novel. One of the cities in the novel, it does get right, but it was with help from others.  The main character is a myth.  The territory around bran castle- or Dracula's Castle is not quite the territory people think it is.

Vlad Tepes, was a prince of Walachia not of Transylvania.  He was a younger son, but was never a 'count.'  He was a warlord who killed and was eventually killed, but this was the life he lead in the era he lived in.  Count Dracula was more or less immortal, but Stoker based him off of names and some myths he had heard.  Stoker also never visited the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was looking to make money on his book.

Robert Browning, poet of fine regard, though came closer to a truth then a myth.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin is worth the read, especially if you find the long edition of this poepm. The ending if one is strongly interested in the people who came from Germany.  The Saxons are the one mentioned by him as the children whom the Piper takes away.

It would be even more interesting if myths from Hungary became part of Transylvania.... a saint perhaps? or a king?  What about a deeper understanding of how others felt about the changing territories over the last 100 years?

August 22, 2008

Myths and the Transylvanian Saxons

Transylvania, and Romania are both places where myths and legends seem to grow as well as the history and culture of the people who live there.  Not to mention Dracula,  or the famous castle in the area (Bran Castle) which is something some people I've talked to say they never heard of until they came to North America, but then there are the wolves.

Take for instance, the myth of werewolves. They are not really part of the Transylvanian Saxons culture but they are part of the Romanian and Hungarian cultures, which shows how unique and different each of the peoples of Transylvania are. The one thing all three had in common was they all held firm to the belief in the werewolf existed.

I am certain that the Saxons of Transylvania did so as well, but they wouldn't admit to such a thing. Having come from parts of what would become Germany, they saw themselves as hardworking and practical.  The towns and cities bore this out, and even the castles that they helped to build. 

Most people do not like to be told that they are wrong, and this is true with this community.  There is a strong oral tradition which has been passed down over the centuries.  However, when asked, many of the people commented they had never heard of Dracula, but had heard of werewolves and the myth of the man turning into wolves.

Werewolves somehow began to fascinate me- because they are part of many culture's myths and legends, but each one is different. Maybe it is because I like the horror genre, and how Romania came to become the centre for "Gothic" life, or rather its castles and Dracula, the myth, have become interwoven with modern Romania- or Transylvania. 
Maybe the culture in which I live doesn't help me much, again most of these people consider themselves practical and  don't adhere to myths or anything of the sort.  Part of that was a bit of a lie, or a hidden part that people didn't, and wouldn't talk about. I found myself in a disconnect with people from the Saxon areas since they do not look to these myths as something to talk about.

August 6, 2008

Is Count Dracula A Real Person?

Dracula, or Count Dracula is not real.  He is the major character in the Gothic novel by Bram Stoker entitled Dracula .  There is nothing real about vampires, or one Count Dracula- or at least based on what some Gothic horror fans would like.

Most people who are not from Transylvania or Romania, identify with the Count Dracula, and the descriptions of the land of Transylvania as their main guide to what Dracula should be and who he was.

What they tend to forget is this 'person' wasn't real, this is a great work of fiction, which is providing the author's heirs with money they can use to have a better lifestyle. Stoker, was a writer who generally didn't write this type of fiction, and he would be famous for this one book.

This being said however, there is many myths which have grown into money making events for the land of Romania- even several cities in Transylvania boast of 'hotel Dracula' within their city limits.  There is a hotel Dracula, and Bran Castle, which was the home of Queen Marie of Romania after the end of the First World War, is a draw for Gothic lovers worldwide.  In a sense, the very unreal Dracula, is making very real money for Transylvania, and the Romanian economy.

The person whom Stoker based his Dracula on was a composite character- one based on Vlad Tepes, a Wallachian prince, and sometime warlord, who impaled his enemies by driving a stake though them, and Elizabeth Bathory, also known as the Countess of the Blood due to her serial killings of young women and her reported bathing in their blood.  Stoker, however focused on the man- Tepes as his lead character.

It is important however, to see the Count's three helpers were female and were far more blood thirsty than he ever was.  While the Count obsessed with Mina Harker, his Brides of Dracula were far more interested in Jonathan Harker.  This is very similar to Bathory, although it is not acknowledged as such in the novel.

August 4, 2008

Transylvania Is Not About Little Red Riding Hood

The more I hear about Transylvania the more I like about it. It is not about Little Red Riding Hood.

The stories that I am told are unique and at the same time are similar. I spent several hours with people from the area, and have learned a great deal about what, and how they viewed the myths and legends of Transylvania.  Speaking with some of the German Saxons who live nearby, I asked them specifically about the Pied Piper and Dracula.

They all laughed about Count Dracula, many making the long commentary on how Westerners view Transylvania, and what they think it is all about.  Most even said that they didn't know much about Count Dracula, but they had heard of Vlad Tepes, who was the man Bram Stoker based his novel, Dracula on.  

However, upon the mention of the Pied Piper, something I didn't expect happened.  They would pause, think for a moment, and say that Robert Browning might have been correct.

A legend, written by a man who had never set foot in Transylvania, might be true it has helped people whose families lived in the area be able to make connections with others about the land and its people Romania Explained To My Friends Abroad: Take Away Romania helps with the simple explanations  but there is more to this country and this area than simple writing. In the German tradition, the Saxon who lived there were from Hamelin- it is a lovely myth, but not entirely without a grain of truth.  There is an element of history to the legends.

  The Transylvanian Saxon people were not all from Saxony, some of these Germans came from the Rhineland area, and some from other parts which became Germany.  It could have happened that a messenger asked the people to come to Transylvania, and had younger children follow him.  Hungary and Romania would view this land as part of their own country, but the Germans would always be a minority in this area.

However, after these conversations I am beginning to wonder about Count Dracula, Vlad though, still interests me- a man to Impaled people must make quite a story.  Little Red Riding Hood and her fight with the wolf seems to have nothing on these legends.