Church leaders in Romania have condemned government plans for a Dracula Park to encourage tourist interest in Transylvania's legendary vampire.

"The Dracula myth has nothing to do with the Romanian people or its history," said Costel Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church's Bucharest patriarchate. "It gives a false image of our country, deriving from an Irish writer's fantasy."

The Orthodox priest was reacting to a vote last week by Romania's senate, approving a tourism ministry ordinance to set up the park outside the northern town of Sighisoara. He said Orthodox church leaders had not been consulted or notified about the project, against which the church's Alba Iulia archdiocese had formally protested.

The government plans were also denounced by Romania's minority Lutheran church, which said the park would violate environmental regulations and fuel interest in the occult. "We urge you to find other uses for the region's natural, historical and rural resources," the church's superior consistory said in a statement earlier this month.

"Universally known and recognized Christian and humane values are being imperiled by this attempt to promote entertainment and games based on cruelty, horror, occultism and vampirism."

Work on the site, in Sighisoara's Breite national park, was started on November 5 by tourism minister Dan Agathon, as part of a campaign to regenerate tourist interest in Romania. Organizers predicted Dracula Park would attract a million visitors yearly to the medieval town, which appears on UNESCO's world cultural heritage list.

The project has sparked opposition from historians and architects as well as churches.

Stoica said that Dracula Park had been one of several "peculiar ideas" submitted by Agathon, a member of Romania's governing Social Democrat party, who had shown an "unfriendly attitude" to the Orthodox church since taking office.

"Knowing what the Dracula myth means in western countries, he is now trying to profit from it," the Orthodox spokesman said. He argued that such a park would "encourage obsession with the supernatural among young people," he said.

The character of Dracula, created by novelist Bram Stoker in 1897, is believed to be based on the historical 15th-century personage of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Romania's Wallachia province, who was known for brutal treatment of captured Turks, unruly nobility, and Orthodox priests.

The prince's popular name, Dracula, derives from the Order of the Dragon that was created to defend Christendom against the Turks. The prince fortified the future Romanian capital, Bucharest, before being assassinated. In the Stoker novel, Dracula is killed by a knife plunged through the heart.

The Romanian Orthodox Church had no "official viewpoint" concerning Tepes, Stoica said. However, despite the prince's cruelty, he had a positive image in Romanian history as a symbol of justice, fidelity and patriotism. He had resisted foreign rulers and helped to unify Wallachia.

The vicar-general of Romania's Greek Catholic Church, Christian Sabau, also criticized the government, for "making money from a pernicious, untruthful myth," and said Vlad the Impaler's legacy had been "crudely distorted" by the Dracula legend.

Related Elsewhere

Christian Science Monitor writer Lucian Kim and BusinessWeek Online's Mark Andress have written extensive reports on the controversies cursing Translyvania's Dracula Land.

History and appropriateness are not the only controversial elements in the plan to launch Dracula Land. The government in Bucharest has found that it does not own the rights to the image of the legendary vampire—Universal Studios does.

Other articles on Dracula Land:

Dracula goes DisneyThe Times (November 6, 2001)
Dracula park plan gets blood boilingThe Telegraph, London (September 11, 2001)
Devil of a row over Dracula theme parkThe Scotsman (September 5, 2001)
Romania builds Dracula Land — BBC (March 22, 2001)