It looks like a fairy tale castle. And like every story, it has its dark side. What would now be called a setting for princesses and knights just 200 years ago could well have been a shelter for Count Dracula. In fact, he has hosted the filming of a vampire movie. But we’ll get to that… Be that as it may, Vianden Castle has today become a symbol of Luxembourg.

Its silhouette dominates a rocky promontory – the name Vianden, of Gaulish origin, precisely means “rocky” – in the east of the country, near the German border. A must-see for Luxembourg schoolchildren, it is also one of the most popular buildings among tourists.

Without being a particularly large castle – within the walls, it measures 90 meters long – there are around twenty rooms open to the public distributed on two levels. Galleries, halls, kitchens, crypts, two chapels… It is estimated that at the time of the counts of Vianden’s greatest splendor, about 250 people lived here.

Highlights include the upper chapel, consecrated to San Antonio, with colorful decoration; the armory, adorned with halberds, pikes and armor; and the Byzantine gallery, which was used to practice archery. The latter is a particularly airy room, which is surprising given the harshness of winters in Luxembourg. In fact, in several rooms there are large fireplaces and tapestries – or “wall rugs” – that served to retain heat.

The restoration of Vianden Castle was inspired by the Gothic appearance it had before a large fire caused by lightning in 1667. The architects relied mainly on a copper image dated 1643.

The castle has a thousand-year-old past. A first stone construction was built around the year 1000, on the site of an ancient Roman castellum. Decade by decade, century by century, it was expanded until it became one of the largest and most important fortifications in Luxembourg, seat of the influential counts of Vianden. His lineage reached its zenith in the mid-12th century with Henry I, nicknamed Count Sol. His dominions extended into what is now the territory of France, Belgium and Germany.

When the last descendant of the line died in 1417, the castle fell into decay. It was used as a warehouse and its exterior structures were demolished. A century and a half later, in 1566, it was requisitioned by King Philip II of Spain. At that time, the castle was part of the domain of Prince William of Orange.

After William’s uprising against the crown failed – he was the leader of a rebellion that sought to achieve greater power for the Dutch nobility, subject to the control of the Spanish, and put an end to the persecution of Protestants – all his assets were confiscated. The castle then passed into the hands of the governor of Luxembourg and the Spanish Netherlands.

Already in 1820, King William I of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg sold the building for 3,200 florins. And its new owner, the councilor of the municipality of Vianden Wenzer Coster, set about dismantling it piece by piece. Doors, windows, frames, beams, gutters, tiles… all the material was purchased by weight at public auction. Even today it is said that some portals and stairs in the town are built with waste from the castle.

What had been the pride of the counts of Vianden languished among ghostly ruins. Faced with the indignation of the neighbors, William I himself repurchased what was still standing for a sum of 1,100 florins.

The reconstruction of the castle did not begin until 1851, with the recovery of a chapel. But it was not vigorously resumed until more than a century later: starting in 1977, when Grand Duke John I of Luxembourg transferred ownership of the building to the State. The restoration would be completed in 1990.

Now an icon of the country, the castle receives visitors throughout the year. General admission costs ten euros. In June, however, it opens its doors to the public for two days for a medieval festival.

Oh, that. Well, Shadow of the Vampire was filmed at Vianden Castle. A film starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe inspired by the filming of the classic Nosferatu, but where the main actor gets so involved in his role that several of his colleagues suffer the consequences… A gloomy story that earned Dafoe the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor who returned the castle to its most sinister past.