Before arriving in Budapest, I read briefly about the Labyrinth under Castle Hill. There are caves and underground tunnels that you can access with tickets or private tours. The caves sounded super interesting and I wanted to visit at least one of them while in town.
After getting to know the city for a couple days, I was a bit jumbled up. I stopped at a tourist stand to ask how to get to the caves or the labyrinth. The guide gave me directions to two different underground tunnels available to tourists. He described “Hospital of the Rock” which was used as a hospital at one time, and a wine cellar during others. When describing the second tunnel available for visit, he said, “Well… I’ll let you find out about that one for yourself.” So cryptic!
When I arrived at the Labyrinth, there were mini posters in front of the ticket stand, describing the different attractions inside. One of them said “Dracula’s Chamber.” I realized this must be what the guide at the tourist stand was hinting at. I’m thinking, awesome! That’s interesting, right? So, I buy my ticket and go ahead inside.
First thoughts – this is super cool. The underground tunnels all connect different cellars and areas to create this long convoluted path. There are different information plaques throughout. The beginning was pretty well-lit but as I continued it got a bit darker.
There is a wax display mocking scenes from a play throughout the beginning. Wax people are a bit creepy to me in general, but I was enjoying reading about the play and having the visual with costumes. A few of the songs from the play were playing in some hallways, creating a feeling of actually seeing scenes from the play.
There are arrows directing how to proceed through this underground maze, which is very helpful considering how dark it is. I remember being cold, surrounded by rock and stone.
Eventually I approach a pitch-black entrance. Next to the empty doorway is a poster that says “Maze of Darkness.” I’m immediately thinking oh #&@§! I slowly read the information plaque, basically just to delay. It says that this maze is to see how hard it is to navigate without any sight, blah blah blah… Until this moment everything was peachy. But the thought of walking blindly into this doorway all by myself in a creepy underground tunnel without knowing how long I’d be in darkness was making me nearly hyperventilate. As my heart continued to race, I read the end of the information plaque that said “If you aren’t ready to go into the maze, continue to the lit area.” THANK GAWD!
I continued through the lit area, thinking this was just a way of procrastinating the dark maze. As I paced a bit, trying to pump myself up and build up the courage to go back to the maze of darkness, I suddenly see the end of the maze coincided with the lit path. Ah-ha! So I didn’t have to walk through the dark maze of doom after all! At this point I could estimate that the pitch black path wasn’t really that long of a walk after all. Even knowing that, I still completely chickened out!
So after the huge relief of realizing that I didn’t have to actually walk through that maze of darkness, I relaxed for a moment. Now, keep in mind I have not seen a single soul in this labyrinth since I bought my ticket and entered. As I keep walking through the halls, I start to see a little fog. Initially, I’m thinking this is really cool. They’ve really set the mood! I must be approaching the “Lair!” How fun! The further I get, the more fog there is. The hall narrows to a doorway and with the black light reflecting on all the fog, it’s getting pretty creepy. My pace has definitely slowed to a crawl by this point.
Once I pass through the iron doorway (pictured above so you can fully appreciate how little I could see), it opens to a wider area and I breath a small sigh of relief. Small spaces, filled with fog, underground, all by yourself? To the right and left are two posters listing “Dracula: Facts” and “Dracula: Legends.” I start trying to read the facts, but I’m so anxious that none of the sentences are registering in my brain! There’s even more fog in this area, so I just took pictures of the posters and moved on to get it over with!!
I continue in the direction of the arrows, and end up nearly walking straight into something. The light was brighter as I had continued, but with so much fog the light actually obstructed my view more than anything. I realize at this point that I am holding my information packet over my mouth as if this will form some type of protection or prevent me from screaming! 😀 As I look to inspect whatever object I’ve almost run into, I find that it is a chain roping off a dang tombstone! This is the moment when I’m full-blown losing it. I try to continue to the exit of the room to hurry up and gtfo! I’m side-stepping along with my back to the wall around the tomb stone… I only find a gate-type thing along the opposite wall. No doorway!
I was so nervous I poked the gate because I couldn’t see if anything was behind it. As the gentle poke did nothing, I pull my phone out to flash a light inside the little gate to see if it is the exit. It is not the exit, but there was some sort of coffin or something behind. As there is no other door, I fly into a panic. I keep saying, “this is a joke! This is a #@$* joke!!” Until that area, all the arrows had been leading to linear passageways or paths.
After 15 long seconds of sheer terror, I’m thinking “$#@% it!!! I’m going backwards to the entrance, I don’t care how far I’ve come! I’ve got to get out of here!”
On the way out of the little tomb stone area, with my eyes bugging out of my head, I see there is another arrow pointing to the rest of the Labyrinth. *Face palm* The tomb was just in a room! That’s why there wasn’t an exit!
At this point, I speed-walk the rest of the way out until I find the exit. Upon opening the exit door which connects back to the ticket stand area, I let out a deep breath. There were definitely tourists about to go inside when I came busting out as if I’d just run from a dang zombie!
After I was out, I thought it was the funniest thing ever. But getting confused about the path out nearly had me in an anxiety attack! I thought I was never going to get out!
Why is the Labyrinth called Dracula’s Lair?
So, according to the info plaques that I took pictures of because I was too anxious to stand and read… Vlad Tepes, son of Vlad Dracul, was imprisoned in the Labyrinth by King Matthias for about a year around 1462 before he was sent to Visegrad. There’s controversy over why he was imprisoned but they believed he was working with the Turkish Sultan. Vlad was murdered after he was released in 1476 and his head was sent to the Turkish Sultan. 😮
There are a lot of legends surrounding the name “Dracula.” There are the legends of Vlad the Impaler, legends surrounding his marriage to the niece of King Matthias, and of course vampirism. Historical records confirm that the Labyrinth under Buda Castle Hill were not only used as a prison, but also a torture chamber. There is no clear record for why Vlad Tepes was ordered to be imprisoned, but it is confirmed that he was held there. After the death of Vlad, stories began to appear – the first of which was published only 9 years later. The vampire legends are said to have evolved from that initial writing.
At the end of the day, whoever that man was, the labyrinth is super cool to see. Also, I feel no shame for being completely creeped out!!! Regardless of the identity of “Dracula” or if he really existed, the caves were used as a torture chamber! It’s fascinating to read about, and it’s still amusing to me that I would never have made it out if it weren’t for the arrows pointing to where to go!
To be fair, it might be significantly less scary if you aren’t touring alone. I recommend a visit if you have the time while visiting Budapest!