Dracula is well-known as the scary vampire from Transylvania, from the novel and movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Myth surrounding Dracula has continued to grow as modern entertainment remakes and remakes the vampire legend. The tale of Count Dracula is easy to get lost in when driving through the dense ancient forests and over the winding mountainous Transylvanian countryside. The true story of Dracula may be just as horrifying as the legend, if not worse.
Who was Dracula?
Vlad III Tepes (aka Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler) was born c.1431 CE at the fortress of Sighisoara. His father was Vlad II Dracul, a military governor of Transylvania and a member of the Order of the Dragon; an organisation established by the Holy Roman Emperor to protect and promote Catholic interests. Dracul was the name given to Vlad II by the Order, which translates to devil or dragon in Romanian. Dracula is translated to son of the devil or dragon which is fitting for Vlad III. In c.1442 CE the Ottoman Empire helped Vlad II take Wallachia; a region in between the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian Empire, used as a pawn to wage battle against one another.
As a result of this alliance both Dracula and his younger brother Radu were held as political hostages by the Ottoman Empire, likely at Tokat Castle, archaeologists have recently suggested. It is thought that the experience of imprisonment by the Ottoman Empire is the reason for Vlad III’s desire to destroy the Ottoman Empire, and the reason for his sadistic tendencies.
In c.1448 CE Vlad III was released after being told the news that his father had been assassinated and older brother buried alive when the Wallachian people joined with the Hungarian Empire to stage a coup. With the support of Turkish cavalry, Vlad III took back the throne of Wallachia in c.1456. He resided at his family’s fortress in Targoviste and during his first reign he united Wallachia for the first time in a long time through terror.
Over the entirety of his reign in Wallachia, Vlad III came to be known as Vlad the Impaler. He waged war, killed, tortured, and literally worked people to death. An underground system of tunnels at Targoviste was used as a prison and torture chamber that few knew about. Lying, stealing and infidelity for example, were punished by disarticulation, boiling or roasting alive, or skinning. Vlad III’s favourite method of torture was to insert the prisoners on top of wooden spikes and let the force of their own weight slowly impale and kill them. He reportedly impaled 10000+ people alive, including women and children, in an attempt to scare of the Ottoman Empire from attacks. During Vlad III’s reign crime and corruption was eradicated. Poverty was also dying out, although the method of this was questionable – the sick and poor were invited to Vlad III’s fortress where he locked the doors to the hall and set the room on fire. Killing everyone.
His last place of residence was Old Princely Court, Curtea Vecha in modern-day Bucharest, and is likely the reason Bucharest exists today. Vlad III fought the Ottoman Empire for most of his adult life and eventually they got the better of him. The exact details of his death are unknown, however most people agree that he died in battle against the Ottoman Empire. His decapitated head was sent to Constantinople in a barrel of honey as proof of death. His body is said to be buried at Snagov Monastry.
Follow in his footsteps…
This UNESCO World Heritage Listed town consists of perfectly preserved towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses and churches of architectural marvel. It is also the birthplace of Vlad III Tepes and where your journey begins. Vlad III lived here with his father until c.1435 CE when they moved to Targoviste.
Vlad Dracul’s House (Casa Dracula)
Address: Str. Cositorarilor 5, Sighisoara, Romania
Phone: (265) 771.108
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.; Closed Monday
Tokat is a small historic city north of Central Anatolia, Turkey. Tokat Castle, built on a rocky hill, is said to be where Vlad III and his brother Radu were held captive from c.1441 CE to c.1448 CE.
Address: Boyunbaba Sk No:6, Cemalettin Mh., Tokat, Turkey
Targoviste was the capital of Wallachia during Vlad III’s first rule from c.1456 CE. Here you can visit the Princely Court and Chindiei Watchtower. This is the place of the notorious impaling of disloyal court members and criminals. It was from this watchtower that Vlad III watched as he impaled around 10 000+ people to keep the Ottoman Empire from attacking.
Princely Court – (Curtea Domneasca)
Address: Calea Domneasca 181, Targoviste, Romania
Telephone: (245) 613.946
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Closed Monday
Poenari Fortress stand high up on a cliff facing the Arges River. It was build in the 13th C CE by the first of the Wallachian rulers. Vlad III ordered the fortress repaired and forced the people who helped kill his father to expand the fortress. After months of enslavement nobody had survived. An Ottoman Empire army was led here by Vlad III’s brother, Radu, to attack and capture the castle in c.1462 CE. It is around 1500 steps to reach the castle ruins to be prepared for a hike. After you visit the fortress you should spend the night at Arefu where you can sit around a campfire and listen to the centuries old folk tales of Dracula. The legend says that the villagers of Arefu helped Vlad III escape after it was attacked. It can be accessed by car only.
Poenari Fortress (Cetatea Poenari)
Address: Curtea de Arges, Pitesti, Romania
Open: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (summer time)
Admission fee: adults 5 lei ($1.75)
After Vlad III’s escape from Poenari Fortress and his brother, Vlad III is said to have gone to John Hunyadi (a Hungarian military leader) to ask for help. Instead Vlad III was held prisoner from c.1462 CE to c.1469 CE.
Corvin Castle (Castelul Corvinilor)
Address: 0.2km from Strada Castelului, Hunedoara 331141, Romania
Telephone: +40 758 420 387
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 9a.m. – 6p.m.; Monday 9a.m. to 3p.m.
Bucuresti was founded in c.1459 CE by Vlad III. After his release from Corvin Castle, Vlad III returned to Bucuresti where he had built a 10 000 sq foot fortress complete with a market place and royal palace. Vlad III’s successors built over the palace until the 18th C. CE when a new castle was built.
Princely Court (Palatul Curtea Veche)
Address: Strada Franceza 25-31, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (21) 314.03.75
Museum open: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.; Closed Monday
Located on Snagov Island surrounded by lake Snagov is the Snagov Monastry. Vlad III added thick defensive walls and a dungeon to Snagov Monastry c.1458 CE. This is now the presumed location of Vlad III’s remains, as a plaque on the floor inside the church marks it as his grave. This can be accessed via pedestrian bridge or boat.
Address:40km north of Bucharest, Snagov Island, Siliștea Snagovului, Romania
You might also be interested in… The Myth of Count Dracula
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