The Real Transylvania

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From the One Thing File

Dracula’s Castle. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

“The One Thing File” is a practice I learned from Econtalk. It’s the practice of writing just one thing (okay, maybe more than one) that I learn from a book, essay, documentary, podcast, whatever.

For younger TDE readers, think of it as Reddit’s “Today I Learned” feature.


The One Thing: William Penn was so impressed by the religious freedom in Transylvania that he almost named his American colony “Transylvania.”

Details: Transylvania is not culturally the same as the rest of Romania.

It lies west of the Carpathian Mountains and was not, unlike the rest of the Balkans, conquered by the Turks during the Middle Ages, meaning it experienced the high Middle Ages like the rest of Central and Western Europe and its cathedrals, Cistercians, Baroque, and the Enlightenment.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula—and its evil-looking and suspicious peasants, howling wolves, and midnight thunderstorms—resembles Moldavia far more than Transylvania (and Dracula himself is based on Vlad the Impaler, whose castle was in Wallachia, not Transylvania).

(Bonus one thing: Bram Stoker never visited Romania.)

Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts.