March 11, 2007 — -- It looms over Transylvania like the set of a Hollywood movie. Its towers are covered in blood-red tiles. Its belfries are as cold as the grave.
Castle Bran, more popularly known as Castle Dracula, is Romania's number one tourist attraction. And it can be yours for the low, low price of $100 million.
Our tour guide at the castle was Alex Priscu, a Transylvania native with a wicked sense of humor.
"We only do take people around during daylight," he told me. "Insurance doesn't cover midnight visits."
He explained that according to local legend, Count Vlad Tepes, also known as "Vlad the Impaler," was once imprisoned in the 13th century castle for two weeks. That's the strongest connection with the Dracula myth.
Interestingly, the place has no basement at all. In other words, no crypt. It is built on solid rock.
The castle has 57 rooms and a secret passageway leading up to the watch towers. But up in the tower that once served as the dungeon there are several Gothic chests that look suspiciously like coffins!
The exhibitions on display make no mention of Count Dracula. Instead they all focus on the history of Romania's former royal family, which lived here until 1948.
The castle was seized by the Communists after World War II. It was only returned to the royal family last summer, after a long restitution process. Almost immediately, they decided to sell it.
The Ministry of Culture in Romania has balked at the asking price. It accuses the Hapsburg family of trying to profit from a national treasure. And they worry the new owners will turn it into the centerpiece of a tacky Dracula theme park.
"If I were a rich man, I would easily give $100 million, hoping the count does not mind," Nikolai Paduraru, the head of the Transylvania Society of Dracula, told us.
Paduraru is one of the few Romanians to realize early on the tourist potential of the Dracula myth. He hosts an annual Dracula Ball, as well as academic symposia on vampires and ghouls.
But, he says, before the collapse of communism, few Romanians had ever heard of Count Dracula.
"The first Dracula movies were shown here in 1992," he said. "It's all from tourists and Hollywood."
Dracula is a creature of capitalism. Now Romanians are beginning to realize there is little chance of escaping him.