Romania, home to the mist-shrouded "land beyond the forest" otherwise known as Transylvania, rules the Eastern European vampire tourism circuit for obvious reasons.
Now it would appear that Romania's southerly neighbor, Bulgaria, wants in on a piece of the undead pie as that country's tourism officials position a grisly archaeological find — the skeletal remains of 17 adolescents who, during the 4th century, were nailed to their coffins with iron stakes to prevent them from, you know, rising up and wandering around post-burial — as one its top summertime attractions. Forget the Bulgarian Riviera — the world's largest "vampire funeral" is where it’s at.
Ironically, Romanians (followed by Turks, Greeks and Germans) make up a hefty bulk of Bulgaria's annual visitors. It's safe to assume that a good number of Romanians are likely trying to escape the vampire-driven tourism that, to the chagrin of many, has become unavoidable in their own country thanks to 19th century Irish novelist Bram Stoker and the impalement-happy nobleman Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who supposedly inspired his most famous work. (A descendant of the House of Drăculești, Vlad III, aka Vlad Dracula, is regarded by Romanians as more of a folk hero than a lascivious bloodsucker with Kabuki-style coiffure).
I mean, really, if you live in a place dominated by vampire-related tourism, you're going to want to vacation in a place that has nothing at all to do with vampires, right?
The residents of Forks, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, can likely relate.
Yet despite potential eye-rolling from Romanian tourists, CityLab reports that Bulgaria is moving full-steam ahead with its own vampire-themed tourism scheme. The efforts would center around Deultum, an ancient Roman settlement-turned-archaeological site in the southeastern part of the country where the aforementioned medieval vampire funeral was first unearthed in 2004.
Similar discoveries (read: millennia-old corpses secured to their coffins with stakes or by other means in accordance to pagan burial rites) have been found across Bulgaria in recent years. This includes a 2012 vampire-unearthing excavation near the quaint seaside resort town of Sozopol, which has since become a hotbed of vampire tourism even though the remains of its resident vampire were eventually relocated to the Bulgarian Natural History Museum in the capital of Sofia. Balkan Insight notes that in 2013 the town's mayor announced plans to create a joint "vampire trail" between Sozopol and Sigishoara, the tourist-swamped Transylvanian city believed to be the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler himself.
Whatever the case, Bulgarian Tourism Ministry hopes that further developing and promoting the 17-skeleton-strong site at Deultum will appeal to both Balkan history buffs and aficionados of reanimated corpses that prey on the living.
The ancient Bulgarian coastal resort town of Sozopol is famed for its beaches, film festival and resident vampire, which was unearthed during archaeological excavations in 2012. (Photo: Martin Yanakiev/flickr)
Not surprisingly, officials have opted to cater more to the latter camp, which makes sense considering how the smaller discoveries at archeological digs near Sozopol and other small Bulgarian towns have attracted curiosity-seekers by the busloads. Earlier this summer in an announcement that made clear her intentions to boost tourism figures at Deultium and within the modern day municipality of Sredets, Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova noted that "paying attention to the vampires" would be an integral part of the scheme.
"We all know about the international interest in such findings. With joint efforts, we can popularize what we have here," explained Angelkova, who plans on working with Ivan Zhabov, mayor of Sredets, to construct "a big glass sarcophagus" in which to the stake-affixed human remains.
Not everyone, however, is on board with Angelkova’s plan to transform Sredets and its archaeological site into an international vampire destination a la Bran Castle in Romania, which, despite being the epicenter of eerie Transylvania tourism, is only very loosely linked to Vlad III.
"I have always said I have certain reservations against such vampire topics," the director of Sredets' history museum, Krasimira Kostova, recently explained to told Bulgarian National Radio. "The main accent in Bulgaria should be on its immense cultural heritage as meeting point of different cultures — Thracians, Ancient Greeks, Romans."
In an interesting bit of timing, The New York Times just recently published a gushing travel article on Burgas, the Black Sea-abutting coastal province where both Sredets and Sozopol are located. While the author fondly recalls buckets of "meaty mussels," topless beaches and affordable leather handbags, nowhere is there a mention of skeletons with their teeth plucked out and iron rods driven through their hearts.
Maybe next time.