Romania feeds off Dracula’s blood and gore

Reuters, Apr. 7, 2003
http://www.swissinfo.org/
By Dina Kyriakidou

SNAGOV, Romania (Reuters) – “Some blood on the house,” says the waitress at Bucharest’s Club Count Dracula restaurant and puts a red coloured drink on the table.

Guests dine on deep-fried rat — chicken shaped like a large rodent — while an actor playing the bloodthirsty vampire waves his black cape among the tables and sometimes bites a willing victim’s neck.

Such gore is only a glimpse of what’s in store when Romania constructs a Disneyland-style Dracula Park at Snagov, north of the capital, hoping to attract a million visitors a year.

Horror rides, catacombs and a vampirology institute are included in the plans for the $30 million (19.3 million pounds) theme park which will be built on 300 hectares (740 acres) of state land with private funds in an effort to lure tourists to the poor Balkan country.

“It’s an original, non-conventional, even shocking project,” Romania’s Tourism Minister Dan Matei Agathon told Reuters. “I want to use Dracula to promote Romanian tourism.”

Post-communist Romania is just beginning to capitalise on one of its most recognisable names, made world famous by Hollywood movies but virtually unknown locally during four decades behind the Iron Curtain.

Most Romanians know Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler as a 15th century hero who fought off Ottoman invaders and defended Christendom until his death at 49 in 1477. His headless body is supposedly buried at a monastery in the middle of Snagov Lake.

To visit his grave visitors now must walk down a rickety pier and yell at the top of their lungs: “Ana, Ana!”. A jovial woman with thick arms comes to pick them up, rowing a small plastic boat with a shovel.

But Dracula fans will be able to satiate their hunger for the occult without this much fuss in 2004 when the Dracula Park opens its doors nearby.

TORTURING ENEMIES

Although the mediaeval Vlad was no vampire and the undead creatures are not part of Romania’s otherwise rich occult tradition, his cruelty and name inspired the fictional Dracula.

Vlad was notorious for skinning, boiling, burning, frying, blinding, strangling, hanging and maiming his enemies and local criminals, but he was most famous for impaling his Turkish prisoners — hence the name Tepes which means impaler.

Few locals had heard of the vampire count before 1990, when Bram Stoker’s gothic novel was first translated into Romanian.

Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, toppled in a bloody revolt in 1989, had Dracula banned.

Set in the late 1800s, the novel about a vampire who leaves his remote castle in the Borgo Pass near Bistritsa in northern Transylvania to feed in the crowded streets of London has inspired dozens of movies and a cult following.

If promotional literature for the park is any indication, it will rely heavily on the Hollywood idea of Dracula.

“Your knees go weak and as you fall you realise that a strange, tall and cadaverous man is standing in front of you, ready to kiss you,” it reads. “The soft skin of your neck feels the penetration of canines and you endure with pleasure.”

The Transylvanian Society of Dracula, a group that organises historic tours of Romania for Dracula fans from the United States and Britain, said it had mixed feelings about the park.

“The whole of Romania is a Dracula park. By locating it near Bucharest, you stop the flow of visitors from spreading around the country,” society president Nicolae Paduraru told Reuters.

VLAD’S HOMETOWN SPARED

The original planned location in the Carpathian Mountains near the mediaeval town of Sighisoara, Vlad’s birthplace, provoked a strong reaction from UNESCO and conservationists who said the park’s kitsch would spoil the area’s historic atmosphere.

The government hired advisers PricewaterhouseCoopers, which ended the argument by picking the area near Snagov, 17 km (10 miles) from Otopeni airport and 40 km from the centre of the capital of 2.5 million residents, as the most appropriate site.

The Tourism Ministry said it hoped an intense publicity campaign would bring about a million visitors annually by 2006 — 20 percent from abroad.

“After 2006 there is a possibility that the number of foreign tourists will increase,” Agathon said.

For locals, the park is good news. The mayor of Snagov, where Bucharest’s elite has built holiday villas, said the area’s 7,000 permanent residents live off local tourism which boosts the population to 50,000 in the summer.

“The standard of living will rise, services will improve and foreign investors will come,” mayor Teodor Biris told Reuters.

At the state farm where the theme park will be built, impoverished workers say they don’t mind relocating to make way for Dracula if it means jobs.

“I heard some 600 new jobs would be created. That’s great. That’s something beneficial for our area,” said farm guard Gavrila Bledea.

The park is also good news for Ana, who said she wouldn’t mind ferrying more visitors to Snagov’s 16th century monastery, where Vlad’s portrait on a stone slab marks his supposed grave.

An elderly abbot and a lone nun care for the 1521 stone church, a UNESCO heritage building badly damaged by a 1970s earthquake and held up from inside with a wooden poles.

“I hope that when they build the park they’ll also fix our church,” Ana said. “Otherwise, what are tourists going to see here, the scaffolding?”

Agathon, who complained his country was missing out on a huge world market of Dracula-inspired gadgets, said international tour operators had already expressed interest in the park and pledged to begin bringing groups the day it opens.

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