Dracula-Land theme park bites the dust

Romania has abandoned plans to build a Count Dracula theme park at the last minute after an international campaign against it led by, among others, the Prince of Wales.

A massive mock Castle Dracula and surrounding vampire rollercoasters will not appear among the hills of Transylvania after all.

The project to cash in on the fiction surrounding the area's most infamous son was meant to attract a million visitors a year and double Romania's paltry tourist income. But the scheme was dogged by controversy. There was international outcry over the planned location, at Sighisoara, one of the outstanding intact medieval citadels of Europe, which is still inhabited.

The Dracula Land theme park would have built its fake Castle Dracula towering over the citadel, with a cable car to carry tourists from the historic city into the theme park.

Prince Charles, who is a patron of a British society that supports the preservation of Romanian heritage, condemned the scheme after visiting Romania earlier this year.

Greenpeace was also critical, saying the theme park would involve the destruction of a forest of ancient oak trees, some believed to be 800 years old. Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, was against the scheme as well – Sighisoara is a Unesco-funded world heritage site.

Despite all the furore, Sighisoara has next to nothing to do with the Count Dracula of Bram Stoker's masterpiece. The link, which is tenuous, is all in a name. Sighisoara was the birthplace of one of Romania's national heroes, Vlad the Impaler. Stoker not only set the opening part of the novel in what is today Romania, he also stole Vlad the Impaler's nickname. The mediaeval prince was known during his lifetime as Dracula, which means "Son of the Dragon" or "Son of the Devil" in Romanian. Contrary to the popular belief that Stoker based his Dracula on the Impaler, scholars argue he just liked the name.

Romania has always agonised over the Stoker connection. The real Vlad the Impaler was a ruthless killer who made Count Dracula pale by comparison. He is accused of numerous atrocities, including impaling thousands alive, such as women with babies at their breasts, and roasting and boiling people alive. He not only impaled his enemy, the Turks, but his own people as well.

But in Romania he is a hero, because he managed to defeat the Turks and retain independence as the Ottoman Empire pushed into Europe. The confusion of their national hero with a bloodthirsty vampire has not always appealed to Romanians, and Dracula Land theme park had its detractors from the start.

But Romania, a desperately poor country that has never recovered from communism, has failed to make much of its massive potential tourist appeal – its stunning natural beauty and historic towns – and the tourism minister, Matei Dan, was determined to change that.

The project also faced problems from a Hollywood studio demanding payment for use of the modern image of Dracula complete with cape and fangs. The Romanian authorities now say they will develop ecologically friendly tourism at Sighisoara and find an alternative site for Dracula Land nearer the capital, Bucharest. That will at least make it easier for tourists to get there. Romania's trains are agonisingly slow and most of the roads are in dire condition.

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