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!
Oh my god this is just epic what an absolute dream to experience this I just loved it.
Very nice pictures! I didn’t know that the film was not done in Romania!!
I’ve been to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, which is the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Very beautiful! You should consider going there 🙂
I really want to go to Neuschwanstein Castle! I was in Germany in the summer, but we didn’t go quite close enough to get there in the time we had. I absolutely will get there one day – it looks beautiful!
That’s an awesome place to visit! I love mythology and the old gruesome, historical stories of vampires – even though their logic is extremely weird. Like, how does throwing rice or beans on their graves at night to stop them from eating you? lols that would make for a great movie though.
Will definitely have to check out Orava Castle just for the views of the town by the looks of it! And your other two posts about Dracula and Vlad. (:
Yeah – I never really got the garlic thing either, but vampire lore is totally fascinating, for sure!
This looks like such an incredible place to visit – and your writing really brings it to life! I definitely felt like I was there with you for the most part. Such an interesting backstory to the castle! I haven’t watched Nosferatu, nor have I ever read Dracula despite having bought a copy years and years ago, but maybe now I will! And if I ever head back to Slovakia I’ll be sure to make some time for this. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thank you so much. I love Dracula, it’s a great book! And I have a welsh woman to thank for introducing me to Nosferatu, I watched it in a film studies class in Cardiff 😀
I NEED to see this castle and it’s not that far away from CZE so I really should. I love Dracula so this place and other places in Romania are on my travel list! 🙂
I love Dracula too, so Romania is one of my favourite places. Where are you based in CZE?
Wow what a haunting but incredible place to visit! I love visiting places like this 🙂
Thank you. It was an exciting find – I’m so happy that we happened to be nearby.
What an incredible place to visit! It is now on my bucketlist!
The pictures look amazing! Despite this idea being logically silly, I think I like the idea of a ghostly venture on Christmas. Orava Castle is certainly a formidable fortress that I would love to see one day.
I think it would be fun! Apparently, you can stay in Bran Castle (Romania) overnight on Halloween. I’m not sure I’m quite brave enough to do it though – I would be terrified!
I like the idea of a ghostly venture, but I would totally be too scared!
WOW, I love everything that has to do with scary and vampires. Have grown up watching such stuff. Would love to visit this castle and experience it firsthand.
I am completely fascinated by vampires, but I’m not very good at watching scary movies – even Nosferatu scares me to death!
What a wonderful place to visit. I would definitely be spooked! I’ve heard so many great things about Slovakia, would love to visit one day! Love the snowflakes on your page too 🙂 Polly
that looks super cool! Good idea going in the day time…
Ahh! What! Honestly, this is the first time Ive read about this castle and fact that I am obssessed with castles right now made me feel guilty that Ive overlooked this. Its interesting and now I want to go and visit it!;)
I’ve randomly been into Slovakia for a hot minute, would love to go back and check this out. I love places like this!!
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[…] the film’s terrifying atmosphere stems from F.W. Murnau’s use of practical locations. Slovakia was chosen to stand in for "Nosferatu’s" Romanian countryside. But filming in the rough […]