It started with the Satanists. The year was 1999, and Bruno Frohlich, a Lutheran pastor in the Romanian town of Sighisoara, had received several phone calls from local Goths interested in renting his parish’s courtyard to use for “religious ceremonies.” Naturally, Bruno turned them down. He considers himself lucky that they bothered to ask permission at all—other Satanist groups had snuck into the cemetery next to the nearby Scholar’s Stairs to perform rituals, sometimes carving swastikas into the hundred-year-old headstones.
Talking about this strange phone call a decade later, Bruno neglected to mention feeling the emotions that would seem most natural if someone asked to perform a Satanist ritual in your backyard: shock, outrage, indignation. He says he politely turned down the Goths’ request, and got on with running the parish and preaching to the local congregation.
You learn to take Satanist rituals in stride, living in the birthplace of Dracula.
At first glance, Sighisoara looks more like the set of a fairy tale than Dracula’s hometown. It has pastel-colored houses, a Baroque clocktower, and echoing cobblestone streets that somehow escaped war, fire, and Communist urban planners. It is known as the Pearl of Transylvania.
To understand how this city gained its reputation as the birthplace of Dracula, it’s necessary to go back to the 1890s, when Bram Stoker sat in the Whitby Library in Yorkshire doing research for the gothic vampire novel he would later title Dracula. During his research, Stoker came across the perfect name of his bloodsucking Transylvanian count.
The name “Dracula” was actually an honorary title given by Emperor Sigismund to a small-fry Wallachian feudal lord, Vlad II, for his resistance against the Ottoman Empire in the 1490s. The title was a 15th century equivalent of the French Legion of Honor, except that Vlad could pass it on to his sons. So Vlad II’s son, Vlad Tepes (or Vlad the Impaler), was also known by his dad’s title—Dracula.
Vlad Tepes’ bloody reign over Wallachia, in modern-day south Romania, has led many scholars to (mistakenly) conclude that his exploits inspired the character of Dracula. In fact, current research indicates, Stoker just liked the sound of his name. But that doesn’t stop busloads of Dracula fans from descending on Vlad’s birthplace, the small town of Sighisoara, every year.
Some of the more hardcore fans were the ones asking to carry out Satanist rituals on Lutheran parish property. As Bruno Frohlich put it, these early Draculisti were “a little batty.”
Batty or not, in 1990 the Goths were ahead of the curve. They had caught on to the significance of Sighisoara as the birthplace of Dracula, the title character of one of the most widely published and translated pieces of literature in the world. It wasn’t until 2000 that Romania’s mainstream tourism business realized that promoting Dracula tourism could bring in much-needed cash. As anyone from Roswell or Loch Ness will tell you, paranormal tourism can be a lucrative business, and the same goes for literary tourism. Dracula tourism has the best of both worlds. If marketed properly, Dracula—a character most Romanians still hadn’t even heard of in 2000—could turn out to be a national treasure.