Transylvania, now part of Romania, is a beautiful land full of picturesque towns and villages, breathtaking mountains and stunning scenery, as described by Stoker in chapter 1:
“Before us lay a green sloping land full of forests and woods, with here and there steep hills, crowned with clumps of trees or with farmhouses” (page 13).
“the straggling ends of pine woods, which here and there ran down the hillside like tongues of flame” (page 13).
“the lofty peaks of the Carpathians themselves. Right and left of us they towered, with the afternoon sun falling full upon them and bringing out all the glorious colours of this beautiful range” (page 13).
“Here and there seemed mighty rifts in the mountains, through which, as the sun began to sink, we saw now and again the white gleam of falling water.” (pages 13-14).
Castle Dracula is a fictional castle in the Borgo Pass, on the borders of three states (Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina) in the midst of the Carpathian Mountains.
Stoker describes it as “a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky” (page 20). There are several real castles that may have inspired Castle Dracula:
Bran Castle is situated on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia. There is evidence that the real Vlad III Dracula used the castle during raids in Transylvania, but there is no indication that Stoker knew about Bran Castle.
The castle is marketed to tourists as Dracula’s castle.
Poenari Castle is a ruined castle in Romania and was used as one of Vlad III Dracula’s main fortresses.
Hunyad Castle in Romania is said to be the place where Vlad III was held prisoner after being deposed in 1462. This is the least likely influence, yet its impressive Gothic appearance comes closest to modern ideas of a ‘typical vampire castle.’
Slains Castle is a ruined castle in Scotland, near Cruden Bay. It stands perched on a cliff looking out over the North Sea. Bram Stoker holidayed at Cruden Bay and was said to be greatly impressed by the castle. Visually, this castle more closely resembles Jonathan Harker's description of Castle Dracula. Local residents affectionately refer to Slains Castle as Dracula’s Castle. Find out more about Slains Castle from aboutaberdeen.com.
Whitby is a picturesque Yorkshire fishing and tourist town on the east coast of Britain. It is situated at the mouth of the River Esk, climbing up steep cliffs at either side. Whitby is famous for its ammonite fossils, jet, and, of course, Dracula!
On the East cliff towers the ruins of Whitby Abbey, looking out over the town and the sea. It can be accessed from the town by climbing the 199 ‘Church Stairs’ to reach the top of the cliff. Also up here is St. Mary’s church, and the churchyard where Mina and Lucy love to sit. The gothic, haunting atmosphere that the ruined abbey and churchyard give the town makes it an ideal setting for strange, magical or ghostly stories.
“It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits” (page 71).
Describing the churchyard, Mina says: “This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into the sea” (page 71).
“The harbour lies below me, with, on the far side, one long granite wall stretching out into the sea, with a curve outwards at the end of it, in the middle of which is a lighthouse. A heavy sea-wall runs along outside of it. On the near side, the sea-wall makes an elbow crooked inversely, and its end too has a lighthouse” (page 72).
Varna is a major port city in Bulgaria. It was well known to Stoker's contemporary readers, having been the base from which British and French troops launched their assault on the Crimea in 1854. At that point it was under Ottoman control, but by the time of Dracula it had been liberated by the Russian army and handed over to the newly independent Bulgarian state.
An ancient city, Varna has important Roman remains, including the largest Roman baths in the Balkans.
Victorian London was a busy, bustling and dirty place, known for its thick smog and stench. The population of the city surged in the 18th century, leading to a sharp contrast between the rich new building projects in affluent areas and the overcrowded slums. Living conditions for the poor were terrible, and the streets were packed with beggars, desperate children, and vendors of everything from flowers and charms to cheap meat. Petty crime such as pick-pocketing was common. New buildings soon became covered in a layer of soot from the many coal fires, and the air was heavy with their smoke. The streets were lit with gas lamps; incandescent electric lights were introduced in some areas of London from 1882.
The wealthier citizens of the city, such as the characters in Dracula, enjoyed large homes with running water, servants, and even electricity. A household would be run by a large staff, including maids, cooks and a butler. Food would be brought by the seller to the servants' entrance of the house, where the cook or housekeeper would make the purchase. Well-to-do Victorian ladies and gentlemen would not need to worry themselves with any of the dirty or menial tasks around the house.
Wealthy Victorians would travel around the city in horse-drawn carriages, and public cabs were available for hire if needed. By the mid-1800s department stores began to appear, such as the famous Harrods, with the idea of encouraging customers to browse at their leisure. Theatres, opera houses and concert halls offered diverse entertainments, and brass bands could be heard playing in bandstands in the parks.
The Royal Albert Hall provided a grand stage for concerts from 1871, and the Great Exhibition of 1851 led to the establishment of the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. The British Museum was also a popular attraction, which Van Helsing visits at one point in the book.
Victorian buildings tended to be tall and impressive, and Victorian furnishings very decorative and embellished. In 1880, the Arts and Crafts movement reacted against these overly ornate styles, and against machine-made items, believing in ‘truth to material’ and often achieving a slightly rustic effect. The Gothic Revival was also popular in the Victorian period, sparking an interest in medieval styles. The Victorian period spanned from 1837 to 1901, with many changing styles and fashions along the way.
More about the Arts and Crafts movement, popular at the time of Dracula
Galați, a city in Romania, is the largest port on the River Danube, lying 50 miles from the Black Sea. It is a centre of international trade and heavy industry, with extensive shipbuilding and steel manufacture. The city had a sizeable and long-standing Jewish community; Galatz is the Yiddish/German name.