/ 24 April 2006

Croatian ‘Dracula’ revived to lure tourists

As evening mist slowly embraces the village of Kringa in the heart of Croatia’s picturesque Istrian peninsula, a few young enthusiasts gather in a bar trying to revive the legend of a 17th-century local Dracula.

Sitting in a red velvet chair in the Vampire bar, decorated with garlic wreaths and lamps with crosses, Mladen Rajko explains how local tourist authorities launched a project last year called “Jure Grando, the Vampire from Kringa”.

“No one is claiming that vampires or evil forces exist, all we want is to promote a documented legend in order to boost what we can offer tourists,” says Rajko (28) head of the nearby municipality of Tinjan.

Croatia is already a hotspot destination for foreigners, with some ten million tourists — more than double the local population — visiting the beautiful Adriatic coast of the Balkan country last year.

The first document on Grando, dating back to the 17th century, was written by his contemporary Janez Vajkard Valvasor, a Slovenian travel writer and historian. In his 15-tome work, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, which was published in 1689 in Germany, Valvasor tells the story heard when he visited Kringa.

According to the legend, for 16 years after his death and burial Grando terrorised his former fellow-villagers, notably his widow. At night he wandered the area knocking on the doors of houses, many of whose inhabitants later died, it said. The lustful demon paid regular visits to his widow, forcing her to continue fulfilling her marital duties.

Eventually, in 1672, a group of nine local men decided that they had to put an end to the menace. Upon opening his grave they saw Grando, his body intact, smiling at them.

After the first attempt to drive a hawthorn stake through his corpse failed because the wood rebounded, the bravest of the nine eventually managed to decapitate the body, bringing to an end Grando’s reign of terror, the legend said.

“Grando already has all the characteristics of future literary vampires — who appear some 150 years later — he is a cynic, challenges both civil and church authorities and is sexually active,” explains Boris Peric, a writer who investigated the issue.

“The story was later taken and quoted by various authors from theologians to historians,” he said, adding that German writer Herman Hesse published an account of Grando in an anthology early in the 20th century.

Peric says he believes Grando served as one of the models for his future literary counterparts, possibly even for Irish writer Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is said to be inspired by cruel Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler.

Although the legend of the “Istrian vampire” — in local language called “strigun” — never died, Grando’s name was slowly forgotten, he explained. The story gradually returned to prominence after Croatia’s first edition of Stoker’s Dracula in 1999, as Valvasor’s story was mentioned in a preface written by Peric.

In August last year, eight months after its opening, the Vampire bar hosted the first exhibition linked with the legend. This year, the bar has monthly “Vampire Nights” featuring appearances by horror literature writers, while a science fiction and horror literature festival will be staged in Kringa on August 11.

A plaque to the memory of the nine courageous villagers who defeated the demon will be also unveiled, Rajko says, adding that the event would start with a symbolic blood-donation drive. However, those promoting the legend are aware that they have to do it rather cautiously as they still face opposition in the small conservative community, notably from the elderly and the church.

Kringa, a typical Istrian village whose stone houses fight for space at the top of a hill surrounded by forest trees, is located about a 12km south-west of the central Istrian town of Pazin. The younger generation in Kringa, which has around 300 inhabitants, are the most supportive of the idea to make the village a destination for Dracula fans.

They are already planning to create a range of souvenirs and open apartments for tourists, while middle-aged residents of the village are beginning to change their minds.

“We want to prepare good infrastructure first. Our goal is to make tourists visit Kringa and spend a few interesting hours here,” said Rajko.

One of the first locals to recognise Kringa’s potential for “vampire tourism” was Mirjana Fabris, who is already turning her family house into an inn, offering local specialties. “I believe that I will decorate one room in vampire style — red velvet with a lot of mirrors,” said the 35-year-old.

The production of souvenirs — including garlic-scented candles, sour-cherry “Grandina” brandy and red “Jure Grando” wine — is also to start soon.

Vampire Soul, Vampire Blade or Vampire Orgasm are some of the cocktails already offered in the bar.

Both Rajko and the watering hole’s owner, Robert Hrvatin, express regret that the church has remained completely silent over the issue, saying it might have information on the location of Grando’s grave.

Among locals, there are several versions of what is really behind the legend which is passed from one generation to another.

Some say Grando was a thief who proclaimed himself dead in order to further his business, while some even claim the widow invented the demon in order to cover up her lover. Rajko prefers to quote a late, local priest: “It is proof that one has to admit that there were, there are and there will be things which simply cannot be explained.” — AFP