When the creators of the miniseries Dracula searched for the most authentic medieval location, they found a hidden gem in the heart of Slovakia: Banská Štiavnica.
Banská Štiavnica is situated in the middle of a vast caldera created by the collapse of an ancient volcano. The town was an important mining settlement during the Middle Ages, and later saw the raising of Renaissance houses and palaces.
“We were sent many photos of castles and convents. After selecting a shortlist, we flew over to such places from the UK and did a recce,” says Sue Vertue, Producer at Hartswood Films. “The town of Banská Štiavnica perfectly suited the writer’s brief for Dracula.”
The towering fortress of the Old Castle and winding streets of its historic city center are transportive, bringing visitors into times of royalty, horse-drawn carriages, and even vampires.
“All of us have seen Dracula’s castle portrayed many times in quite a lot of movies and series,” says Patrick Horvath, Location Manager at Location Bros. “Everyone imagines the mansion as a ‘castle on the top of a rock’, but castles of this type usually do not offer courtyards that would be suitable for the needs of this particular project. The courtyard in Banská Štiavnica’s Old Castle, which resembles a closed cage thanks to its high walls and cramped, dark disposition, met all the criteria of the creators.”
The production chose a ‘convent’ that had an internal courtyard open to the elements. In one scene of the miniseries, when Dracula appears, the nuns are trapped by terrifying wolves coming from the outside.
“For us, it was obviously important to not only find the most suitable building, but to make sure we could do everything we needed to film the scenes,” says Sue Vertue. “We created a gate, false walls, we lit the castle from a balloon light… All the personnel at Banská Štiavnica were incredibly helpful and I would certainly film there again if the opportunity arose. Everything we wanted, and more, was provided by Banská Štiavnica. Even the snow!”
There is an intrinsic tension in the contrast between the lavish lifestyle of a once prosperous silver-mining town and the ever-present dark cloud of fear cast on it by Turkish invaders, who were attracted to the town’s mineral wealth. This particular atmosphere made Banská Štiavnica the perfect location for the home of the most famous vampire in history.
The town’s surroundings are also charming and somewhat mysterious. The Štiavnica Calvary Complex stands on a steep hill overlooking the town, and has seventeen stations. The ascent is rewarded by great views of Banská Štiavnica and the colourful landscape around it.
Many say that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most beautiful Slovakian town, with well-preserved historical scenes and an ambiance unlike any other in Europe.
“There weren’t too many challenges that we couldn’t overcome while filming,” says Sue Vertue. “The town is beautiful and the hotels were also very nice. The only tiny problem was that we were filming over Valentine’s Day. And so when you have a whole film crew wandering around a town looking for somewhere to eat without a booking – that was tricky – we all ended up with Pizzas!”
“It is always funny for us, location managers, to see how surprised and fascinated the locals are by the number of crew members working on a film,” says Patrick Horvath. “After the shooting of Dracula they kept telling us what an awesome experience it was for them and that they are looking forward to our return and to the next project filmed in Banská Štiavnica.”