Dracula's Castle Goes Up for Sale

The imposing Transylvanian castle, where, legend has it, the model for Dracula once lived and was imprisoned, is about to go up for sale. But it's probably already too late for you to get your bid in.

Dominic Habsburg, 69, an architect from Westchester County, N.Y., and the son of Romanian Princess Ileana, said his family hopes to finalize the $78 million deal with the government of Brasov County later this month.

Habsburg and his two sisters, Maria-Magdalena Holzhousen and Elisabeth Sandhofen, who are direct descendants of the Romanian royal family, grew up in the castle -- which is known as Bran Castle -- until Romania's communist government seized it in 1948.

"The government took it away from us overnight. They took everything," said Habsburg, who at the age of 12 was forced to leave the country with the rest of his family.

The Habsburgs' search for a new home was a long one. They first went to Switzerland, but they were unable to gain asylum there. They then fled to Argentina, before finally settling in the United States.

That is where Habsburg learned of the legend that links his family's home to Prince Vlad "The Impaler" -- who punished adversaries by impaling them on stakes. Vlad's cruelty was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula."

Despite the link between the novel and his family home, Habsburg said he has never read the book.

"No. It's not my kind of literature," he said.

Still, the link to the Dracula story has turned the Gothic fortress, perched on a rock and surrounded by mountains, into a popular tourist destination.

Nearly half a million Dracula enthusiasts visit the castle every year.

The local economy, with its Dracula-related souvenir stands and bed and breakfasts, all depend on the visitors.

The Romanian government returned the castle to the Hapsburgs in May 2006, as part of its recent efforts to make restitution for the former communist regime.

The family waited 60 years and engaged in a six-year legal battle to get the castle back.

"It was a wonderful step, and they should be congratulated," said Habsburg, who returned to Romania to reassume ownership of his family's home.

Aside from its legendary ties to Dracula, the castle holds a rich history. It was built in the 14th century to defend the important trading city of Brasov from invaders.

Later, in 1920, the city of Brasov donated it to Habsburg's grandmother, Queen Mary of Romania, as a gift in recognition of her courage during World War I. She helped unify Transylvania and Romania.

The castle is still decorated with the queen's furniture and family pictures.

"Some people would say, why give up your family home?" Habsburg said. "When they took it away, they took more than the building. They took a whole way of life. And we cannot go back."

Habsburg believes that selling the castle to Brasov County -- where it will be maintained as a museum -- will honor his family, even with its legendary link to Dracula.

"We want the castle to represent all that is good and was good about the country," he said.