BUCHAREST, Romania - The family that owns a Transylvanian castle famous for its connections to the 15th century medieval ruler who inspired "Dracula" said Wednesday it wants to sell the fortress to local authorities for $78 million.
The local council said it was interested in buying Bran Castle, perched high on a rock and surrounded by snowcapped mountains in southern Transylvania. Dominic Habsburg, the owner, insisted his family had honorable intentions for wanting to sell the castle.
"We are trying to find the best way to preserve the castle in the interest of the family and the people of Bran," Habsburg said in a statement made available exclusively to The Associated Press.
The castle was returned to Habsburg, a New York architect, in May. It was confiscated by the Communists from Habsburg's mother, Princess Ileana, in 1948, the year the royals were forced to leave the country.
After the restitution, concerns were raised that the family could sell the castle to a hotel chain and that the site could end up being the centerpiece of a Dracula theme park that would blight the surrounding, pristine countryside some 105 miles north of Bucharest.
More than 400,000 visitors a year visit the castle - mainly because of its loose association with "Vlad the Impaler," the legendary prince whose cruelty inspired novelist Bram Stoker's creation, the vampire Count Dracula.
He punished wrongdoers or the lazy by impaling them on stakes, and once impaled all the elderly people in a community in an act of revenge following the killing of his father and brother.
Vlad did not own the castle, but is believed to have used it briefly during his incursions in Transylvania. He is also believed to have been imprisoned in the castle for two months in 1462 when he was captured by a rival Hungarian king.
Lia Trandafir, an attorney for Habsburg, said local authorities are interested in buying it. "They'd like to see it coming back to the community and they consider it a central pillar of tourism in Brasov county," she said.
Aristotel Cancescu, head of the local city council, is due to travel to Vienna, Austria, on Monday to open discussions about a bank loan. If he manages to secure one, it will need to be approved by local councilors.
Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu has criticized the planned purchase of the castle, saying it is worth only a fourth of Habsburg's asking price.
"I have nothing against the castle being bought by the city council if they are stupid enough to pay this money," he said.
Faced with the enormous expense of the castle's upkeep, Habsburg said he wanted to place the property in the hands of the local council with an eye toward ensuring its historic character is preserved.
"The family has the country and the people in their heart. We are grateful for the restitution as a moral act to amend injustice," the statement from Habsburg said.
But he added, "The way of life cannot be returned and the restitution has come with financial sacrifice. ... We would like Castle Bran to remain a symbol of everything that is honorable and good in Romania."
In recent years, the castle - complete with glimpses of bats floating around its ramparts in the twilight - has attracted moviemakers as a backdrop for films about Dracula and other spooky themes.