An excerpt from I Live Again
Ileana, Princess of Romania
Rinehart & Company, New York, 1952, Chapter 15, pp161-163

See: I Live Again by
Ileana, Princess of Romania

THE VILLAGE of Bran lies in the very narrow valley of the Turcu River. Where the river curves there is a rocky promontory, and on this the Teutonic Knights built in the twelfth century a castle to defend the fertile high plateau, Tzara Barsei, against the hordes of Eastern invaders. They built the Castle of Bran out of rock and brick and rubble, and planned it according to the shape of the rocky outcropping. In places the lower walls are nine feet thick, but nearer the top of the castle the thickness decreases to four feet and finally to two.

There are three kinds of openings in these walls. On the lower levels there are the apertures that begin on the inner side of the wall as windowlike spaces large enough for a man to stand in, but narrow toward the center so that only long slits, just wide enough for the use of a bow and arrow, are left in the outer wall; and there are the oblong openings, near the floor, which can be closed by great beams of oak that swivel around on a central pivot, so that when the "window" is "open" the beam sticks out into the room on the inside, and beyond the castle wall on the outside. On higher levels of the castle, where the missiles of any attacking forces could not reach them, are windows of ordinary size, but all are set into walls so thick that window seats have been built, not below the window sills, but along both sides of the window embrasures. Besides these openings there are two in the tower room over the entrance which resemble nothing so much as the magnified ventilating "hoods" sometimes put over kitchen stoves. These are built into the wall at a convenient height so that the castle defenders could remain comfortably protected within the room, while a curved, masonry "hood" formed a sort of small bay, open at the bottom. Through this opening melted lead, boiling oil, and other oddments could be dropped on the heads of the besiegers storming the entrance.

Since the castle was not built for comfort, but for defense, no regard was given to the regularity of rooms. These cling to the rock wherever the natural formation made it easier to locate them, so that they meander up and down at various levels, connected by steps, by long, crooked passages, by archways and balconies, and by frequent irregular stairways, some built inside the very walls themselves. One side of the castle is a thick wall enclosing a small, oddly shaped courtyard in which my mother planted a little, perfect garden, upon which one comes unexpectedly. The towers are built where the rock itself is highest, and the views are magnificent. One side looks down upon the narrow valley of the Turcu and upon most of the village, while the opposite side overlooks the plateau, the Tzara Barsei, with the long, dusty road leading to Brasov, and the eastern Carpathians standing on the far horizon. I used to love to sit in one of the tower windows, watching for the dust cloud on the road that would announce the approach of some awaited guest, and feeling like Sister Anne in the Bluebeard story watching to see her brothers come. As a girl sometimes, waiting for my mother, I took delight in the fact that from the cloud announcing her arrival there came now and then dazzling flashes of light, where the sun touched the bright metal work on the bonnet of the specially designed Rolls-Royce she liked so much.

The town of Brasov presented the castle of Bran to my mother shortly after World War I. She took delight in restoring it, and in her hands it became an enchanting, fairy-tale castle, full of flowers, standing "on the rock where the four winds meet." Because I loved it as she did, she left it to me when she died, and it had for me an importance which had nothing to do with the actual days I was able to spend there physically. As a matter of fact, because of the difficulty of heating it and of keeping the water from freezing, we considered it habitable for only about four months of the year. It took the Russian occupation to teach us that actually a man might live there the year around—if he was sufficiently in desperate fear for his life; but that story comes later.

In the spring of 1944, because the weather was still cold, I had installed the younger children in a pleasant building at the foot of the castle hill. This had once been a customhouse, because Bran was almost on what had been the old frontier between Romania and Austria-Hungary. It was actually two old, one-story houses, joined together by a wide passageway which we used as a dining room. The walls were thick, the ceilings low, the floors made of wide, dark boards, and the whole interior was whitewashed, as are the walls of most Romanian houses. All the windows had flower boxes full of nasturtiums, and the whole place was very pleasant for what we thought of as entirely temporary headquarters.