Friday, September 21, 2007

First blood to politicians in 'Dracula' castle row

By Harry de Quetteville, Europe Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:55am BST 21/09/2007

Romanian politicians have launched a battle to seize Bran Castle, known as Dracula castle, from its aristocrat owner only a year after he was recognised as the rightful heir to the Transylvanian bastion. Bran Castle in Transylvania

The 14th century castle that was home to Bram Stoker's fictional count was returned to Archduke Dominic of Austria, Prince of Tuscany, in 2006 after it was held for 50 years by Romania's communist regime.

But now a group of Romanian politicians are claiming the handover was illegal due to procedural errors.The group, led by lawmaker Dumitru Ioan Puchianu, are not challenging the family claim of the Archduke, known as Dominic von Habsburg. But they insist he does not have the right to sell the property, which he has been trying to do.Von Habsburg, an architect based in New York, soon found the legendary castle was not suitable as a home and last year offered to sell it back to the Romanian state for £40 million.

That offer was not taken up and the 69-year-old Archduke has been looking for other buyers.advertisementIn response to the new challenge to his inheritance rights, Von Habsburg has promised to launch a £100 million lawsuit against the "dreadful injustice"."I live once more with the feeling of dread in which I once lived, as a child," he wrote in a letter to the Romanian parliament, "when my family and I were forced out of our home and thrown out into the streets in midwinter."

The castle, built on a mountain pass 600 years ago to ward off Turkish invaders, was used as a royal residence by his grandmother Princess Marie of Edinburgh - a member of the British Royal Family who became Queen of Romania after she married Crown Prince Ferdinand in 1893.It then passed to her daughter, Princess Ileana of Romania, who was detained there by the advancing Russian army at the end of World War Two.Finally it was permanently seized by Romania's post-war communist regime in 1948.

For the next 40 years, as the notoriety of Dracula grew in a huge catalogue of films, the fortunes of the basis for his fictional home fell. In the waning years of Romania's communist regime however, the castle was restored, and after the dramatic fall from power of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in 1989, it began to flourish.Hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to take in the towers and secret passages once rumoured to have harboured Vlad the Impaler.Famous for skewering hordes of victims on a stake and leaving them to die a slow death, he has long been considered the principal model for Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Vlad is thought to have stayed only briefly in the castle, but when it came to writing the book, Stoker thought it the ideal home for his bloodthirsty count.Whoever finally wins ownership of the site is guaranteed a fortune as a result of its tourist appeal.

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