Romania: "Dracula" castle returns to members of former royal family

 New York architect Dominic Habsburg made an emotional return to Romania after 58 years abroad to take formal possession of Bran Castle, where the heart of his grandmother Queen Marie had, quite literally, rested for decades before it was put in a Bucharest museum in 1971.

The community of Bran, which had built the fortress in the 14th century to help stave off invasion, gave it to Queen Marie in 1920 to thank her for her efforts in unifying the country. It had briefly been associated with Prince "Vlad the Impaler," whose cruelty inspired novelist Bram Stoker's creation, the vampire Count Dracula.

In 1938, Princess Ileana, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, inherited the castle, which is perched high on a rock and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

It was confiscated by the communist government in 1948, when the Romanian royals were forced to leave the country. The princess, mother of Habsburg and five other children, died in 1991.

Habsburg and his sisters Maria-Magdalena Holzhousen and Elisabeth Sandhofen took part Friday in a ceremony confirming the castle's return - part of Romania's efforts to repair past injustices and return confiscated properties.

Habsburg said he did not want the castle's name to be associated with Dracula.

On Friday, Habsburg signed an agreement with Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu to keep the castle open to visitors for the next three years.

More than 400,000 visitors a year, over half of them foreign, visit the castle - mainly because of its loose association with the legendary Prince Vlad, who punished wrongdoers or the lazy by impaling them on stakes. He once impaled all the elderly people in a community in an act of revenge following the killing of his father and brother.

Vlad did not own the castle, but is believed to have used it briefly during his incursions in Transylvania. He is also believed to have been imprisoned in the castle for two months in 1462 when he was captured by a rival Hungarian king.

Many in the nearby village earn a living from selling Dracula souvenirs, such as wooden figurines and paintings with Vlad's face and "Vampire" wine, as well as wooden chess sets and hand-knitted sweaters. Locals have opened dozens of small Bed and Breakfasts, as Bran has drawn more tourists since the end of communism in 1990.

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