Transylvania is a region of the present-day country of Romania. It is located in the center of the country and surrounded to the south and east by the Carpathian mountains. Its name comes from the Latin for "beyond the forest".
The region has changed hands several times over the centuries. For most of the 16th and 17th centuries, it was an independent country ruled by a prince, although the prince of Transylvania accepted the Ottoman sultan as his overlord for most of that time. In 1699, it became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remained so until the empire was dissolved at the end of World War I. Most people in Transylvania today are ethnic Romanians and Romanian is spoken by almost all of its inhabitants. Ethnic Hungarians, most of whom speak Hungarian as their first language, make up about 20% of the population. Transylvania is also home to smaller communities of German-speaking Saxons, Ashkenazi Jews and Roma (Gypsies).
The Transylvanian town of Sighisoara was the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (1437 - 1476), also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracul, a nobleman who was famous for the cruel and bloodthirsty way in which he treated both the invading Ottoman Turks and his own people. Stories of the manner in which Vlad tortured people to death for his own amusement circulated widely in central Europe during his own lifetime. However, the popular association of Transylvania with horror (and by extension with Halloween) only dates back to 1897, when Bram Stoker chose it as the homeland of his vampire villain in his novel Dracula. Stoker took the name of the vampire count from a variation of Vlad Dracul. In the novel, the character Van Helsing speculates that the vampire might be Vlad the Impaler himself.
The Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s, beginning with the 1931 adaptation of Dracula, helped to form the modern popular image of Transylvania. Universal movies which feature Frankenstein's monster and the Wolfman but not Dracula also appear to take place in the same region. It is explicitly stated in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) that the setting is Transylvania. However, Transylvania is never mentioned in Mary Shelley's original novel Frankenstein, most of which takes place in Switzerland.
As depicted in the Universal movies, Transylvania is a region of German architecture where people wear traditional German costumes. It is the home of frightened peasants who gather in the local inn at dusk. Strangers are initially treated warmly but that soon changes if the stranger speaks about going to the castle to see the Count or the Baron. At best, the locals may then mutter cryptic warnings, at worst the stranger may be treated coldly or without outright hostility. Eventually, the peasants may tire of the Count or the Baron's reign of terror and attack the castle, brandishing torches and pitchforks.
Many of the Hammer horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, especially those centered around the characters of Count Dracula or Baron Victor von Frankenstein, take place in a near identical central European setting to that of the Universal movies from thirty years earlier. However, the name "Transylvania" is rarely used in the Hammer films, instead there are references to towns with German names and shop signs and other notices in German often appear in the background.
The kind of fantasy Transylvania depicted by Universal and Hammer amongst others, which may or may not be referred to as "Transylvania" in the movie, book or television program in which it appears, is sometimes referred to by devotees of popular culture as "Uberwald", a name which first appeared in Terry Pratchett's "Discworld' series of novels. "Uberwald" is a bad German translation of "beyond the forest".
The real Transylvania has drawn considerable benefits from its associations with horror, in that it has become a popular tourist destination. Not surprisingly, many people choose to visit the region around the time of Halloween and Halloween parties are often arranged at hotels. Largely as a result of tourism, Transylvania is one of the most developed regions in Romania today.