To set things straight from the start, Dracula is a real thing – in a way. We’ve all heard, read or watched something related to the famous Count Dracula, who is actually the product of Bram Stoker’s imagination, but we may not be sure if he ever existed. He did, although not quite in the way the novelist describes him in his 1897 book. The person who inspired Stoker was actually Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century Voievode of Wallachia, named like this because, oh well, he used to impale people. Lots of them.
His reputation for cruelty grew stronger and stronger, and poets started to write about it and romanticize his character. However, his people consider him a hero and wrote epics about him such as Tiganiada (or the Gypsy Epic) that presents him fighting against boyars and Ottomans, leading an army of gypsies and angels.
Although a character full of controversy, Vlad the Impaler is a truly amazing figure to learn about. Follow in his footsteps in the fairytale land of Transylvania – which yes, is a real place too. Transylvania is a region in central Romania. It’s known for medieval towns and castles like Bran Castle, a Gothic fortress associated with the legend of Dracula.
Sighisoara – where the devil was born
Be prepared to step back in time. Settled by Saxon craftsmen and merchants, Sighisoara is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Transylvania. In the heart of the fortress, on a building next to the Clock Tower, there is a house marked by a black iron dragon – the place where in 1431 one of the most legendary of Vlads was born. Vlad the Impaler was also named Vlad Draculea (the devil), after his father who was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Draculea is the genitive form of Dracul, meaning the son of Dracul. The house is still open today and it operates as a restaurant and weapon museum.
A few steps away there is a torture chamber with a few items on display, along with explanations about some of the most common torture methods used in the area centuries ago. Although, not directly related to any vampires, the Clock Tower is a must visit as it hosts the History Museum and an impressive clock. The slightly creepy figurines around the clock symbolize Peace, Justice and Righteousness, Day and Night, a sinister Executioner and the days of the week through seven figurines embodying representative gods, planets and basic metals.
The Royal Court of Targoviste – the former capital of Wallachia
Following the death of his father and brother, Vlad started his first reign in 1448 with the help of the Ottoman Empire. Although he was forced to live in exile for almost a decade after this first win, his second reign lasted longer, from 1456 to 1462. You can visit the remains of his Royal Court in the beautiful city of Targoviste. Get your medieval princess dress ready, because I promise these places will make you feel like one while strolling along alleys leading to the ruins of the royal houses, the royal palace, the chapel church the Royal Court’s fortifications and the Chindia Tower.
Here’s a description from a Romanian historian, which I came across after visiting Targoviste and absolutely loved:
“One single tower, a relic from the famous royal court rises sad and lonely above these stacks of ruins. This tower is treasured by the Romanians as a monument which speaks them about their time of glory and greatness. He was a witness to so many triumphs. He saw, one by one, Mircea cel Batran, Dracula-voda, Vlad Tepes, Radu cel Mare, Radu de la Afumati, Mihai Viteazul and Mateiu Basarab, all our great voievodes, famous in times of peace and war.” (Nicolae Balcescu)
Top Transylvania Things To Do
The Bran Castle – famous for its bloodthirsty inhabitants (who did not live here)
This one you probably know. If you ever thought of visiting Romania, you must have come across at least one advertisement about the Bran Castle. And honestly, it’s for a good reason. The legendary castle is a magical place in itself, without the vampire legend created around it. Although Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle fits almost perfectly the looks and surroundings of the Bran Castle (please read the book before travelling for an extra chill down your spine), in reality Vlad the Impaler had some connections with it, but did not live here for long.
Supposedly, he was captured and imprisoned in the castle for two months and nothing more. However, it is an amazing place to visit, especially for its lovely and hospitable people who are more than happy to tell you folk horror stories about Strigoi – the evil undead.
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The Poenari Citadel – the real castle of Dracula
Once you got past the obligatory visit to the Bran Castle, you can now focus on the real Castle of Dracula. Don’t think he made it easy for you, so get ready to climb 1,480 concrete stairs before reaching it. Located on a serene plateau, on Mount Cetatea, the citadel is facing the Transfagarasan Highway which is a spectacular road that will take you across the Carpathian Mountains – a Top Gear Favourite. In the 15th century, Vlad consolidated the old citadel and made it his main fortress. The series DaVinci’s Demons used this place in an episode called “The Devil” in which Leonardo goes to Poenari Castle to meet Vlad the Impaler.
Snagov Monastery – here lies the devil
Now that we followed Vlad from his birthplace to the places where he has lived and ruled Wallachia, it is time to stop and contemplate at his resting place.
The Snagov Monastery, located a few miles away from Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, is a monastic establishment right in the middle of an island of Snagov Lake. Few visitors to Romania come to Snagov Monastery. Fewer still have ever heard of it, in spite of its connection to Dracula. It apparently is the resting place of the feared ruler who, according to the legend, was found dead by the monks and brought back to this monastery where he was buried in secret.
With this, I will finish my short account of the real life Dracula, a national hero, an intriguing character who has been haunting Europe long after he was laid to rest. To catch a glimpse of how Romanians still feel about him, I have attached a short fragment from a famous poem written by the most important literary figure of 19th century Romania, Mihai Eminescu:
You must come, O dread Impaler, confound them to your care. Split them in two partitions, here the fools, the rascals there; Shove them into two enclosures from the broad daylight enisle ’em, Then set fire to the prison and the lunatic asylum. The Third Letter (1881)
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