Transylvania, the land of vampires, surrounded by mysterious dark mountains covered in fog, where werewolves wait in the shadows for their future victims…
This is what we think when Transylvania is mentioned in the media. Probably most of us would not choose it as a touristic destination because some of us might think it’s fictional or that it would be too dangerous and frightening to even consider. In this article we look at ten false facts people believe about Transylvania.
- Transylvania is fictional
Transylvania has been used for some time as a setting for fictional stories with vampires and werewolves and many people believe that Transylvania goes in the same category with Narnia and Neverland. Some of us believe it is the birthplace of Dracula, thanks to Hollywood movies such as Nosferatu, Van Helsing and Hotel Transylvania, and some think it is the land of dragons, thanks to Harry Potter movies.
To some people’s surprise, Transylvania does exist. It is a region in the central part of Romania and is home of Europe’s best preserved medieval towns, such as Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara. The area is surrounded by the Apuseni Mountain Range which hosts a variety of plant life and wild life. You can find here the largest population of bears (around 5000), Eurasian lynx (1800) and wolves (2500) in Europe (source). That is wolves, not werewolves. Fortunately.
- People speak Transylvanian language or Russian
Most of us believe that people in Transylvania speak Transylvanian or some kind of Russian mainly because it is surrounded by Slavic countries. However, Transylvania is inhabited by Romanians ( 75.9 percent), Hungarians (19.6 percent), Roma (3.3 percent) and German communities( 0.7 percent) which means Romanian is mainly spoken in these areas.
Romanian language however is quite different from Eastern European languages, as it relates more to Italian, French and Spanish than to Slavic languages. Romanian belongs to the Romance languages group or Latin languages which derived from Vulgar Latin. This group includes French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. If you know Italian or Spanish you will probably understand most of Romanian, as it is believed that Romanian vocabulary is very alike to the Italian one. This means Romanian vocabulary is 70% similar to the Italian one, 75% to the French and 71% to the Spanish.
3.There are vampires everywhere
Because of Bram Stoker’s famous novel “ Dracula” and thanks to movies like Van Helsing (2004) and Nosferatu (1992) Transylvania has become known as the homeland of vampires. Writers and movie producers love this setting as vampire books and movies have always been very successful. For example the Twillight series sold over 70 million copies and TV shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries are big hits.
However there is real no connection whatsoever between Transylvania and vampires. The word “vampire” is not even of Romanian origin but of Slavic origin and most stories that mention vampires come from Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Hungary. In fact, Romanians see the “vampire” as a made up monster invented by the Western culture. In conclusion, no, there are no vampires there. Although, people do love blood sausages for lunch.
- A poor third world country
Because Transylvania rarely appears in the media and when it does appear it is mainly as a setting for blockbuster movies, we tend to believe that it is a very underdeveloped area. We believe that all we can see is mountains, broken houses and poor people in horse carts. Novels, movies and media have presented this area as a mysterious, underdeveloped, third world country.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as in terms of development, the region is considered one of the fastest developing economies out of Asia and the sectors of automobiles, IT, oil and gas and food production are very active sectors (link 9). The area is rich in gold, copper, silver, salt, unemployment is relatively low and since Romania has joined EU, only British companies did an average of 6.3 billion euros of business annually there.
5 . It’s a dangerous place run by dangerous mafia groups
There is a general belief that the area of Eastern Europe is generally bad news, as in being controlled by terrifying armed mafia gangs that will either break in your house and rob you at gun point or will kidnap you and sell your organs. Generally, there is a Godfather like scenario that goes in the mind of anyone looking to book a trip to Eastern Europe.
Sounds terrifying but the area of Transylvania and implicitly Romania is one of the safest in the world. Carrying guns is illegal and crime rate is low compared to other countries. In fact you are safer than if you take a trip to Netherlands, UK or Portugal . Usual crimes involve corruption and pick pocketing, but these are crimes you would meet in any other country around Europe or the United States.
- Horse carts are the form of transportation
The most common photograph that represents Romania and Transylvania in the media is that of a peasant in a horse carriage.
It is true that people used horse carts in the past in the countryside mainly for agricultural reasons, just like in most parts of Europe. It is estimated that in 2007 there were about 750,000 carts registered in Romania.
However, today the number has halved as carts were banned by law to go on major roads in 2008. Nowadays most used forms of transportation are cars, buses, trams, trolleys. There are around 45 airports, and in 2011 about 10.8 million passengers travelled through Romanian airports. More than that, there are over 6 million cars registered in Romania and car ownership has risen from 60 cars per 1000 inhabitants in the 1990’s to around 300 cars per 1000 inhabitants.
- Sad orphans
The first images that the world has seen of Romania, in 1990, after the fall of communism, were the shocking images of orphans living in overcrowded and inhumane places. Those images were not forgotten. The high number of orphans was explained through the fact that abortion was illegal during communism as Ceausescu wanted to increase the population. Also many families that could not afford to feed their children, left them temporarily in orphanages.
However since then, things have improved, many charities were formed to aid these children and the government has found a solution by placing children in foster families. Moreover, a child protection system was put in place that supervises children and foster families. In 1990, there were around 100,000 orphans in institutions, but in 2005 this number was reduced to 30,000.49,180 children now live with substitute families and 14,825 are in the care of professional foster caregivers.
- Grey communist buildings and fog covered mysterious countryside
Communism’s legacy can still be seen in the grey immense buildings which were built due to the dictator’s narcissistic ambitions. His idea was to restructure the cities and villages. He basically wanted to show how Romanian communism was great so he demolished parts of the town centres including hospitals and schools because he wanted to compete with North Korea. The idea was to forcefully move people from villages to urban areas and to reduce more than 50 percent of villages to apartment blocks in cities. People thought he was mad.
After the revolution, the area developed, new neighbourhoods, buildings, hotels and city centres were built. Nowadays, cities display a mix of modern architecture such as skyscrapers, business centres and malls and medieval constructions such as castles and fortified churches.
- Dracula was a vampire that terrified the nation
While Dracula did not actually exist, it is said that the character was inspired from a Romanian ruler called Vlad Tepes who lived in the 15th century. This ruler is actually seen by Romanians as a national hero and not as a terrifying blood thirsty tyrant, mainly because under his ruling he protected Romanians from enemies. He became famous for being cruel because he used to impale his enemies. It is estimated that he killed over 80,000 people, among which 20,000 were impaled .
Vlad and his father were members of the order of the Dragon, which was a chivalric order for nobility whose purpose was to defend Christianity from the Ottoman Turks. His reputation inspired many stories across Europe and most probably these stories inspired Bram Stoker to write his famous novel Dracula in 1897. Nowadays it is said that one of its Vlad’s direct descendants might be even prince Charles himself.
Transylvania is often shown as an extremely corrupt area. It gives the impression that as a tourist you will be mugged at every corner or you will be an easy victim for scammers.
However, things are not as bad as they look. Most people are honest as in any other areas. Things also improved as if in the past people used to bribe police officers when they were stopped in traffic for minor violations, nowadays tougher laws have been put in place to stop corruption. At the same time Romania has adopted an National Anticorruption Directorate that only in 2014 has managed to arrest around 24 mayors, 5 ministers of parliament and one former prime minister.