The flickering, grainy image of a hunched figure creeping up a silhouetted staircase, his claw-like hand extending towards a shadowed door, is an iconic piece of cinema history belonging to the 1922 German Expressionist movie, ‘Nosferatu’ – one of the first Dracula movies ever made. Although the story is set in Romania, the studio actually filmed at Orava Castle in Slovakia.
‘Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror’
Unable to obtain the rights to ‘Dracula’, the cash-strapped studio controversially copied Bram Stoker’s famous novel; admittedly, they changed the characters’ names and some of the narrative, but essentially the story is the same. Bram Stoker’s widow was not impressed at this bold display of plagiarism, in fact she won a court ruling that insisted all copies of ‘Nosferatu’ be destroyed. Her victory bankrupted the small studio. Happily for cinema buffs, a single copy survived and enabled the film ‘Nosferatu’ to become a cult movie today.
Further cost-cutting measures took the film crew to Slovakia – a closer, cheaper alternative to Transylvania, which consequently, is how I came to be standing at the bottom of a large rocky outcrop on a cloudy November morning staring up at the impressively rugged Orava Castle.
It all began many years ago when I studied ‘Nosferatu’ in a Film Studies class. A few years later, I studied ‘Dracula’ in a Literature class. My love of classic vampire fiction is well established on this blog, (You can read about my visit to Transylvania here, my visit to Dracula’s tomb here, and my fascination with Vlad the Impaler here) so when I found out that my most recent travels took me within 30 minutes, I simply had to visit Nosferatu’s castle.
Entering Orava Castle
Orava Castle (Oravský Hrad in Slovak) is a formidable fortress guarding the Orava River not far from the Slovak/Polish border. It is a magnificent feat of architecture; the granite walls of the castle meld perfectly into the limestone karst on which it stands. An attacking army would certainly have approached this place with extreme caution. Looking up at the castle on a dark and stormy winter’s night, a lone traveller could well be haunted by vampire lore even today.
Today, you can only enter Orava Castle as part of a guided tour, and, luckily for us, a tour was just starting when we arrived. Unfortunately, it was with a Slovak language guide only. Having no other option to see inside the vampire’s lair, we decided to join anyway. We paid the entrance fee and passed the large wooden door into the courtyard. After the last guest entered, the guide turned the key, pocketed it, and proceeded to start his tour.
We were locked in!
Not only were we locked in, but an old-fashioned, unharnessed horse trap that waited patiently in the entrance tunnel indicated that Nosferatu was at home.
The Vampire’s Lair
Most of the castle is fairly standard – staterooms are decorated beautifully, portraits of fine-looking men and women adorn the walls, and latticed windows overlook stunning countryside.
But, it was the architecture that interested me most. Looking up at the castle from the courtyard is fantastic; the castle rises steeply from the rock, dramatically culminating in dizzying uppermost turrets.
Most of the tour is an exhilarating upward climb towards the sky, and the view from the top is stunning.
It is clear to see why the studio chose this location for their vampire’s castle; see how this description from Bram Stoker’s Dracula describes Orava perfectly:
“The castle was built on the corner of a great rock, so that on three sides it was quite impregnable, and great windows were placed here where sling, or bow, or culverin could not reach, and consequently light and comfort, impossible to a position which had to be guarded, were secured. To the west was a great valley, and then, rising far away, great jagged mountain fastnesses, rising peak on peak, the sheer rock studded with mountain ash and thorn, whose roots clung in cracks and crevices and crannies of the stone.”
Orava Castle Museum
Orava Castle plays an additional role as a museum showcasing Slovak life throughout the centuries. You can see exhibits of clothing, farming and hunting methods, local wildlife, as well as read explanations of the geographical terrain.
The exhibits are all very interesting, but it was Nosferatu that I had come to see, and I finally met him in the topmost room of the castle. Surprisingly (to me at least), the others in the group barely glanced at him, which meant I got longer to pose with him alone. My journey was complete.
We were pretty hungry by the time we came out of the castle, so after our visit we walked around by the river in order to view the castle more from ground level, before heading into a local restaurant for some Slovak food and a glass of the local soft drink, Kofola.
Obviously, I would absolutely recommend a trip to Orava Castle if you happen to be in the area. It really is worth a few hours of your time. You can see my Snapchat Story from Orava here:
What do you think of this castle, would you like to visit it? Have you ever visited a place based on a book or a movie? Let me know in the comments below, or share the post if you enjoyed it. Thank you!