The narrow stairway is going steeply down into the insides of an old house in the Castle Hill in Budapest. The thick smell of mold in the air presses against my face when I carefully ascend the wooden, creaking stairs.

These walls around me are so old that they would have a hundred stories to tell about what has happened inside the stone halls during the centuries. It has served as a shelter and hospital during the World War II, and during the Turkish era it was used mainly for military purposes, but some part of it also as a harem.

Today my friend and I are going under the ground of the Castle Hill to this labyrinth with colorful, yet a dark history, which in the 15th century held its most famous prisoner; Vlad Tepes, better known as “Vlad the Impaler” – the paragon of Count Dracula.

The labyrinth is a part of a complex series of caves and cellars beneath the Castle Hill and is about six miles long in total. The part which we can visit today is only a one mile long, though it felt like much longer. The entrance to the “Labirintus” was a bit hard to find, and it eventually was a little doorway behind one corner on the Castle Hill.

Inside the Labyrinth of Dracula

When I managed to mentally get past the play created by the human-sized puppet scenes built around the place, the general atmosphere was quite intense. The corridors were narrow, the sound of the water dripping from the ceilings was everywhere, and the mental pressure created by the sheer nature of the labyrinth cast an intrigued feeling.

I would have left the puppet scenes out. The labyrinth was very sparsely illuminated, and the signs showing the right way were few. The labyrinth has a ghostly atmosphere and the thought “what if I get lost?” did occur to me a few times. For children, this place may be a bit scary, but in a good way. However, I would’ve just loved this place as a kid.

The air was thin and pressing, and the little lights cast dubious shadows around the corners. I caught myself looking in the dark corners a bit more carefully, as I tried to tune myself to see beyond the shadows in my ghost hunting quest. But I had no luck, unfortunately.

There were also short stretches of corridors totally dark, so I grabbed my cell phone to cast some light on my path. However, if you don’t have any light, take walking in the total darkness as an adventure, but step carefully.

Spooky installations in the depths of the labyrinth of Dracula.
Spooky installations in the depths of the labyrinth of Dracula.

The Dark Legends of the Labyrinth of Dracula

There are several legends about this labyrinth. But maybe the most interesting one is the one including Vlad Tepes. He was betrayed by the Hungarian King Matthias, who was supposed to be Vlad’s ally in his task to protect the Christian Europe from the Ottomans. But King Matthias was conspiring with the Turks and abducted and imprisoned Vlad Tepes in the depths of the Castle Hill. It’s uncertain how many years Vlad Tepes was captured in here, varying from a few years to more than ten. Also uncertain is, whether Vlad was tortured here or not, but after his release, he eventually became the impaling and torturing monster of which history reckons him.

Another legend tells that Vlad Tepes died here and that his body is buried in the Buda Labyrinth, but his head elsewhere. So, who knows, maybe under the stone placard where the carving says: “Dracula,” actually rests Vlad the Impaler, guarded by the little Gargoyle.

There are at least five different legends about Vlad the Impaler’s death. However, the actual location of his grave is still unknown. The site said to be his final resting place on an island monastery of Snagov, just outside of Bucharest, houses no human body, only bones of horses.

In the 19th century a ghost named as the “Black Count” reportedly haunted the labyrinth, so maybe there is the connection to Vlad Tepes? Then again, the “Black Count” can also be the spirit of an impoverished count from the 1800s who lived in Budapest and was an ally of bandits, allowing them to hide in the labyrinth for money.

Dive into the depths of Buda Labyrinth with us, if you dare! 

The Restricted, Mysterious Sections of the Buda Labyrinth

There are also sections in the labyrinth that are restricted nowadays. Like a “world shrine” in one cave and a vine-covered fountain, that flows with wine in another. Why the wine flows endlessly in this “Wine Fountain of Mátyás” and why it even exists is a mystery. And even deeper in the labyrinth there are also stone humanoid statues, the most famous one of them is known as the “Shaman of Two Faces.” Are these artifacts extremely strange, or what?

Unfortunately, the sections which hold i.e. the fountain and the humanoid statues are closed to the public. Why? We don’t know. What we do know is, that there was a sudden closure of the labyrinth in the late summer in 2011 when the police reportedly stormed the caves and evacuated the labyrinth without any explanations, why.

Had they found something harrowing in its depths? And if so, what exactly had they found? If some people know, they haven’t told a thing. Also, the whole staff of the labyrinth was replaced after this sudden closure. Very mysterious, I’d say. Since then the caves have been open to the public again but as a very restricted version.

An Entertaining Visit Beyond the Surface of Budapest

Although Vlad Tepes was a prisoner here only for a short time, his legacy has been capitalized in full. But I still felt tingling to see his actual cell in the depths of the labyrinth. And then, on the other hand, the “Coffin of Dracula” or the “grave of Dracula” were a bit too much for me. But I liked the little, white Gargoyle statue guarding his “grave” – it looked just ghoulish enough for the greatest Vampire Count of all time.

The labyrinth is an entertaining way to spend a few hours beneath the ground of Budapest and a little lesson in history on the side. Also, now and then, I couldn’t help of thinking is the labyrinth haunted? With so many centuries behind it, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. I didn’t see anything, but I did walk through a couple of suddenly cold spots during my wandering in the labyrinth. But then they were gone as quickly as they had emerged. Strange, isn’t it?!

However entertaining this visit was to the Buda Labyrinth, I still have to admit that when we ascended the creaky stairs back to the ground level, and into the daylight, I was thrilled to breathe clean air again. And all the mold, dampness, and ghosts down below stayed behind.

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Under the Castle Hill in Budapest lies a labyrinth, over six miles long. These caves have a colorful history, including Vlad Tepes, the paragon of Dracula.

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