The Romanian government has announced plans to promote Transylvania, a region of the country associated with vampires and Dracula, as their most promising tourist destination.
A press release from the Romanian Federation of Tourism and Service Employers noted that “Transylvania can now finally become a tourism destination internationally renowned, with the benefit not only to the tourism in the region, but to our economy in general, to be huge…The local authorities in six counties in Transylvania could develop, by using European funds, a regional project dubbed ‘Dracula,’ following a proposal of the mayor in Targu Mures (central Romania). The Dracula brand existed for a long time, we only need to exploit it and wrap it properly and then sell it in a modern manner.”
Vampires have been popular for decades in the fiction of Stephenie Meyer, Anne Rice, Stephen King and countless others, though of course the most famous vampire is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who first appeared in the 1897 gothic novel of the same name.
As researcher Sharon Hill of the Doubtful News site noted, Romania “has not done a great job at marketing this idea for tourism. Paranormal/horror/entertainment tourism is big business: consider Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, the witch trial tours in Salem, Massachusetts, and the UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico.” Indeed, compared to many other similar tourism locations, Romania is behind the times.
What took so long? According to the Romanian tourism board,
the biggest problem has been “the hesitation of a certain part of the public opinion in associating Romania with the legend surrounding Vlad Tepes. However, this perception finally changed, so that it is now time we take advantage of a famous myth worldwide and use it to our own benefit.”
Bram Stoker is said to have used Romanian prince Vlad Tepes (1431-1476) as a model for Dracula, so why would Romanians be hesitant to associate him with the world’s most famous vampire? Because though Tepes is also known as “Vlad the Impaler,” the characterization of him as a sadistic, bloodthirsty “vampire” is a Western one; in Romania he is viewed not as a cruel sadist but instead as a national hero who fought for independence against the Ottoman Empire.
Sure, Tepes may have tortured and killed as many as 80,000 people by impaling them on spikes, drawing and quartering them, and other messy (and socially unacceptable) ways. Romanian historians don’t claim that Tepes was the nicest ruler in Europe at the time, nor someone you’d want to spend a weekend hanging out with.
But they do point out that he was by many accounts a brave patriot who was forced into extreme measures to defend his people from oppression, and that many of the worst rumors that circulated about him were the result of a political smear job and not true.
Furthermore, to be fair, such atrocities were fairly common during Middle Ages. The Catholic Church, for example, eagerly used many of the same barbaric tortures against its enemies, burning people alive, disemboweling them, crushing them under rocks, impaling them, and so on.
So the plans will go forth, and Romanians are eager to profit from vampire tourism, even if it means tainting the reputation of a national hero.