Kornis Castle, located near the city of Dej, is my favorite abandoned Transylvanian castle to date, though that’s bound to change in the near future as the weather gets better. It’s a bit removed from Dej itself, so if you arrive in the city by train or bus you should find some way to get to the castle by car. I hitchhiked there with little trouble from the giant abandoned factory emblazoned with the outworn slogan “Long Live the Romanian Communist Party” (Trăiască Partidul Comunist Român) in large faded lettering.
One of the defining features of Kornis Castle is the pair of kneeling unicorns guarding its entrance, which is also the best preserved part of the castle. You’re likely to startle a few of the nearby sheep when you enter this area. They like to hang out within the castle quite a bit, as evidenced by the vast scatterings of dung there. Inside the main tower you’ll find Renaissance-era scrawling on the wall that says “Eminem,” “Dr. Dre,” and “2Pac.” I don’t understand a word of Hungarian, so you’ll have to decipher them for yourselves.
There are numerous structures in various states of dereliction that make up the castle, including fairly extensive catacombs that you can explore with little effort. The only problem is that some of the locals like to use the crypt to dump their trash in. The charming fountain in the courtyard similarly acts as a trash heap for pissheads, unfortunately. Despite its rough condition and even rougher treatment, the castle could be cleaned up in small ways and turned into quite a nice tourist destination if the locals willed it.
I didn’t actually come across the catacombs on my own. A few local kids came up to me and asked whether I wanted to know about the castle’s history, and before I could answer, the most loquacious of the three began spouting off names, dates, and events related to the castle, which was pretty impressive. Then they led me to the most interesting parts of the castle—like the catacombs—and discouraged me from other, less interesting parts. They also brought me inside the main tower and told me to look up at one of the corners. Above I could see a now inaccessible spiral staircase leading to the top of the tower, which was pretty cool.
I liked Kornis Castle enough to go there twice—the second time was with a big group of friends—and during that visit I found more catacombs that I hadn’t seen the first time. You could make a day trip out of Dej if you wanted to, as there’s a salt mine on the outskirts with an orthodox church inside (Salina Ocna Dej) and nearby salt baths where you can swim (Parcul Balnear Toroc).
Like at so many other sites in Romania, you’ve got absolute freedom at Kornis Castle: you pay nothing; you get no hassle from anyone; it’s easy to find parking; and there’s a large dilapidated schoolhouse nearby that you can also explore. Find the wooden steps that lead to the rafters and enjoy crawling over the perilous beams in the huge attic. But don’t bother going into the basement because it’s knee-deep with rubbish, sadly. I went only a few meters before I realized that I liked my shoes and pants too much to continue.
So that’s it. Go check it out!