It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier – for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina – it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it.
Bram Stoker: Dracula. A Mystery Story

Today I completed the translation of Umberto Eco’s History of fabulous lands and places, which was my companion during the past six months in Subotica and Tokaj, Lwów and Odessa, Czernowitz and Kamenets-Podolsk, Berlin and Mallorca, at the source of the Tisa in Subcarpathia and the Hasidic pilgrim places in Podolia, in the wooden churches of Maramureș and the painted monasteries of Bukovina, when climbing up from the Radna mountains to the Nyíres Pass, and descending from the Borgó Pass to Bistritz/Beszterce/Bistrița. The sites he writes about are related with a particular syncopation to the sites where I translated it, the wanderings of Ulysses to the Cheremosh Valley, and the lost continent of Atlantis to Czernowitz, offering such unexpected readings of the books, which I am really sorry to be unable to share with the readers in the form of a continuous translator’s footnote.

The book, which Bompiani will publish in October in several languages at the same time (even after many years of translator’s experience, I read in an amazement the dates from the future in the colophon of a publisher’s pdf), is not just about legendary places in general, about which voluminous encyclopedias have been written, but specifically about imaginary places which were considered existing ones by the readers, who then tried to find them, even for centuries, from Atlantis to the Paradise on Earth, and from the hiding place of the Holy Grail to the unknown Southern Continent, with a special emphasis on twentieth-century mystification, from the Nazi occultism’s Thule and Hpyerborea, through the teachings of the eternal ice and hollow earth, to the stolen rubbish of Dan Brown. And in the last chapter Eco also expounds that existing places have also become the subject of successful novels, and hereby of a veritable cult. He offers a long list of examples, from Robinson’s island through Arsène Lupin’s rock and the prison of the Count of Monte Cristo to Sherlock Holmes’ house at Baker Street and Nero Wolfe’s one in New York, but – as we have already told in the posts on Eratosthenes’ well and the lion’s tail –, he would not be Eco, had he not let a juggler’s ball fall:

“A real person was also the 15th-century voivode Vlad Țepeș, now better known as Dracula after his father’s name, who of course was not a vampire, but became famous by indiscriminately impaling his enemies.”

As to ho how the existing person is mingled with the existing places as a cuckoo’s egg, is just the smaller issue. The bigger issue is that the example is completely wrong: the person is famous for being not linked to any actual place, or perhaps rather to too many places. Eco stuck his hand into a wasps’ nest. In fact, for Vlad Țepeș, Vlad the Impaler, prince of Wallachia, just like for Homerus, seven locations compete. The best known is the impressive fortress of Törcsvár/Bran, where the young Vlad is said to have been imprisoned for a short time, and which since 1920 has been propagated by the Romanian tourist office as Dracula’s castle. This claim was challenged after 1990 by Schäßburg/Segesvár/Sighișoara, in whose fortress Vlad was born in 1431 – his father having fled to Hungary before his pro-Ottoman rivals, and having been admitted in this year to the Order of the Knigths of the Dragon (in Romanian Dracul) founded by Emperor Sigismund –, so that even a decade ago the Mayor of Sighișoara urged the building of a huge Dracula entertainment park around the city, until Prince Charles of England, who after 1990 purchased and started to develop large former Saxon lands in the neighborhood, threatened him to withdraw from the region after such a tastelessness. The third place is the former princely center in Târgoviște, where a plaque and several horrific souvenirs recall his reign. The fourth is Istanbul, where the film Drakula İstanbul’da, “Dracula in Istanbul”, inspired by Stoker’s novel, was shot in 1953, recalling the years spent here by the young Vlad as an Ottoman hostage, and where the characters of Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 bestseller The Historian research the traces of Dracula. The fifth is the fortress of Poienari in the southern Carpathians, which he caused to build by the forced labor of the boyars conspiring against him. The sixth Pécs in southern Hungary, where they recently excavated the palace donated him by King Matthias. And the seventh is of course the Borgó Pass, where the count’s castle stood in Stoker’s novel, and where today the reader crossing the pass will find a Hotel Dracula’s Castle: of course not where the castle stood according to the novel, for it was out of sight, over a few marsh-fires and a wolfs’ adventure, but at the crossroads, where Jonathan Harker, amongst the passengers’ universal crossing of themselves, changes from the Beszterce-Bukovina stagecoach to the cart sent for him by Count Dracula.

Soon we were hemmed in with trees, which in places arched right over the roadway till we passed as through a tunnel. And again great frowning rocks guarded us boldly on either side. Though we were in shelter, we could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the rocks, and the branches of the trees crashed together as we swept along. It grew colder and colder still, and fine, powdery snow began to fall, so that soon we and all around us were covered with a white blanket. The keen wind still carried the howling of the dogs, though this grew fainter as we went on our way. The baying of the wolves sounded nearer and nearer, as though they were closing round on us from every side. I grew dreadfully afraid, and the horses shared my fear. The driver, however, was not in the least disturbed. He kept turning his head to left and right, but I could not see anything through the darkness.

Locations of the Dracula novel from the blog of Gashicsavargó (it is also worth to read his English-language post)

Although if Eco – or rather his editors and students, who deliver an increasingly important part of his ideas and materials – had dug a bit into the Stoker literature, he could have easily found a cult place to Dracula as well. After 1990 the Saxons disappeared from Bistritz, but the Hungarians and Romanians remaining there have made great efforts to preserve and present the past of the city, including the only authentic place in Bram Stoker’s Dracula story.

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Goldene Krone Hotel, which I found, to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country. I was evidently expected, for when I got near the door I faced a cheery-looking elderly woman in the usual peasant dress--white undergarment with a long double apron, front, and back, of coloured stuff fitting almost too tight for modesty. When I came close she bowed and said, “The Herr Englishman?” – “Yes”, I said, “Jonathan Harker.” She smiled, and gave some message to an elderly man in white shirtsleeves, who had followed her to the door. He went, but immediately returned with a letter:

My friend. – Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land. – Your friend,


Place of the former King of Hungary Hotel on the late 18th-century map of Bistritz

The former King of Hungary – between the two world wars Paulini – Hotel today

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