An Eastern European country which has its place on the dark tourism map for basically much the same reasons as other former Eastern Bloc
countries, like e.g. its neighbour Hungary
, namely: a) the Holocaust
and b) the communist
era and its end. In addition the Dracula myth
is mostly associated with Romania too and has generated some specialist dark(-ish) tourism in its own right.
Here are the individual places covered on this website:
In Romania, the Holocaust
mainly took the form of deportations to newly conquered lands in Transnistria
. Some 200,000 Jews and Roma were victims of these rather chaotic measures (at least compared to the systematic and well-organized 'extermination' of Europe's Jewry at the hands of the German Nazis
esp. in Poland
). Most of Romania's surviving Jews left the country after the war, so that its once 800,000 strong Jewish community has now dwindled to just a few thousand. There's a Museum of Jewish History
The first part of the communist era in Romania came with all the brutality of the Stalinist era, with the infamous "Pitesti experiments", a brainwashing and torture programme between 1949 and 1952 (officially a "re-education programme"), its worst excesses. Today only a small memorial pays tribute to the victims at the spot where the prison stood (opposite the military hospital) in the town of Pitesti, 70 miles (114 km) east of Bucharest
Another political prison of a similar nature, namely Sighet Prison
, in the far north of Romania, is today a memorial site and museum. More such memorial sites are likely to be set up in the future.
Better known to the (Western) world is the second half of the communist era in Romania, the reign of the country's own version of a communist cult-of-personality
dictator, namely Nicolae Ceausescu
. In tandem with his scarily influential wife Elena he subjected his country to some craziness that exceeds much of what happened in other totalitarian states of this sort. To pay off national debts he sold the country's produce abroad while allowing his own people to starve and spent exorbitant sums of money on megalomaniacal projects such as the Palace of Parliament
– entire districts of the city were bulldozed to make space for wide boulevards and housing blocks. (Ceausescu allegedly derived his inspiration for this kind of architecture from a visit to North Korea
's capital Pyongyang
– and some of the results do in fact look quite similar …).
In the West, however, Ceausescu was for a while a kind of a darling in the Eastern Bloc
because he refused to stand shoulder to shoulder with the USSR
when the Warsaw Pact
intervened in the CSSR
(ending the Prague Spring
), and also deviated from the Soviet line in some other respects. Internally, though, he was much hated, increasingly so during the 1980s when repression (esp. through the dreaded secret police, the Securitate
), rationing and those ruthless demolition and rebuilding programmes "estranged" him from his people even more.
The end of communism
in Romania was in many ways different to communism's demise in the other former Eastern Bloc
countries. As these one by one shed their communist regimes more or less peacefully, the so-called Romanian revolution of 1989
, in contrast, was a very bloody affair. It's also the only case in the fall of communism which included the execution of the former dictator, after a brief show trial.
Other than Holocaust
-related sites, Romania is of course also home to the Dracula myth
– and its tourism industry tries hard to capitalize on this. If your the concept of dark tourism
includes Dracula-related sites, then Romania is naturally the place to go, although in this respect it may not be as rewarding as one might think.
, about 120 miles (190 km) from Bucharest, is the place most heavily touted as "Dracula's Castle" (though not so much by the castle museum itself). Historically, though, it's a bit dubious. However, the souvenir industry seems convinced enough and visitors apparently are too.
Purists prefer another castle as the "real" one (because it has a clearer link with the historic figure of Vlad Tepes
) – namely Poienari Citadel in the Arges valley, north-east of Bucharest
. But that's little more than some pretty unspectacular ruins (some would say just a bit of rubble) at the top of a strenuous 1480 steps up a mountain to the citadel's cliff-top/crow's nest location.
The Dracula myth is capitalized on elsewhere in Romania too, and if you want it to include your food and drink
then you have to go to Bucharest
's "Count Dracula Club" themed restaurant …