BRAŞOV: Medieval Towers and Bran Castle

View of central Brasov as seen from the White Tower. Photo by Richard Varr

View of central Brasov as seen from the White Tower, with massive Black Church in the center.  Photo by Richard Varr

Brasov "Hollywood" sign. Photo by Richard Varr

Brasov “Hollywood” sign. Photo by Richard Varr

Pastel-hued homes line the streets of central Braşov, all sitting at the foot of the 3,264-foot-high Mt. Tampa.  But what catches the eye – particularly from the city’s main square – is a look up the mountainside to see the Brașov sign atop the summit, much like Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood sign.  The center is nestled within a valley, and a quick hike up one slope to see the medieval, so-called Black Tower and semicircular White Tower (both towers are actually white) offering stunning views of the city core.

Brasov cobbled street with Black Church in the background. Photo by Richard Varr

Brasov street with Black Church in the background. Photo by Richard Varr

Rope Street, one of Europe's narrowest streets with Brasov sign seen in the distance atop the mountain. Photo by Richard Varr

Rope Street, one of Europe’s narrowest streets with Brasov sign seen in the distance atop the mountain. Photo by Richard Varr

Imposing Black Church. Photo by Richard Varr

Imposing Black Church. Photo by Richard Varr

Highlights include the medieval 1420 Council House topped with a trumpeter tower within the central square.  A short walk leads to the imposing Black Church, in Gothic design, getting its name after it was blackened by fire in 1689.  Şchei Gate and Ecatherina’s Gate, with their arched entryways, were once part of the old city walls.  What’s left of those walls now sit below Mt. Tampa, where you can hitch a ride to the mountaintop with a cable car for the best views yet.  Walking back to the city center, I squeeze through one of Europe’s narrowest streets called Strada Sforii or Rope Street, more like a tight alleyway between two buildings.

Bran Castle. Photo by Richard Varr

Bran Castle. Photo by Richard Varr

Bran Castle and Râșnov Fortress

One of the most visited sites, Bran Castle, is just a 45-minute to an hour drive from central Braşov.  I hired a cab for the afternoon for a visit to the so-called Dracula’s Castle, where vendors hawk Dracula t-shirts, refrigerator magnets and other tacky souvenirs.  “If you go there and it’s really quiet, and if the wind blows, you can get really scared.  It’s like the sound in horror movies,” says Linda Ehrmann with the Râșnov Tourist Information Office, adding to the mystique of the castle who writer Bram Stoker penned in the late 19th century as home to the vampire Dracula.

Queen Maria's Music Hall and Library in Bran Castle. Photo by Richard Varr

Queen Maria’s Music Hall and Library in Bran Castle. Photo by Richard Varr

Inside, I walk through narrow passageways and twisting stairwells leading to the castle’s many rooms.  The 14th century castle was built by Saxons to defend Bran Pass from conquering Turks, and became the summer royal residence for Queen Maria of Romania starting in 1920.

Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

The mountaintop Râșnov Fortress is also a stop on most day excursions to Bran Castle.  The fortress dates back to the 14th century and was also built to protect the local Saxon people from invaders.  Today, some ruins remain but most of the fortress has been restored with cobbled pathways leading in and around buildings with their chipped stone façades.

Buildings inside Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

Buildings inside Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

“Râșnov was a place of refuge for the city,” says Ehrmann.  “It was also a place of bonding as people were stuck in there a long time.  They had a school and the priest was with them which gave them a sense of community.”  From the fortress’ walls, views stretch deep into the green-belted and snow-capped Carpathian Mountain Range and to the city of Râșnov below.

Wall along Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

Wall along Rasnov Fortress. Photo by Richard Varr

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