By The Associated Press
posted: 23 May 2006 02:13 pm ET
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP)—More than 60 years after it was seized by communists, the Romanian government is to hand back one of the country's most popular tourist sites, the fabled Dracula Castle, to its former owner, the culture minister said Tuesday.
The hand-over ceremony will take place Friday noon in the 14th century castle's museum deep within the fortress in Transylvania, said minister Adrian Iorgulescu at a news conference.
The castle, worth an estimated US$25 million (euro19.6 million), was owned by the late Queen Marie and bequeathed to her daughter Princess Ileana in 1938. It was confiscated by communists in 1948 and fell into disrepair.
It was inherited by Dominic van Hapsburg, a New York architect who will be at the ceremony on Friday, said Iorgulescu. The Hapsburgs ruled Romania for a period starting in the late 17th century. Under the agreement, the owner will not be allowed to make any changes to the castle for the next three years, Iorgulescu said.
Restoration work began in the late 1980s and was partially completed in 1993. It is now one of Romania's top tourist destinations.
While known and marketed as "Dracula's Castle,'' the Bran Castle never belonged to Prince Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker's Count Dracula character, but the prince is thought to have visited the medieval fortress.
The Gothic fortress, perched on a rock, has appeared in numerous Dracula movies.
At the gates of Bran Castle, peasants sell Dracula sweaters hand-knitted from the thick wool of local sheep, cheesecloth blouses, and Vampire wine. Bran Castle is the most famous of 15 citadels and fortresses in the area, which were built by peasants to keep out marauding armies of Turks and Tartars and cruel local medieval lords.
Another former royal property, the Peles Castle, built in the late 19th century in the mountain town of Sinaia, will be returned to former King Michael, who owned it before it was confiscated by the communist regime in 1948.
Romania passed legislation earlier this year to return property to its former owners and establish a ``property fund'' to pay damages for assets that cannot be returned. The fund includes stock in state-owned companies that are being privatized, such as utility companies, the Romanian postal service, and the Savings Bank.