Dracula, the main character of Bram Stoker’s book, has become one of the main tourist attractions from Transylvania region in Romania. Many movies were made, books were written, legends were told but what about the truth? Has Dracula ever existed? Was he truly a vampire? Was the Bran Castle the home of a unmerciful dark prince?
I am not here do deny myths but only to set some facts straight so you know where to look for the great legends. One of the most visited castles in Romania is the Bran Castle (photo below), also known as the home of Dracula. Well, even though Bran is a very impressive construction dating from the 13th century, it was only briefly inhabited by Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), the Wallachian ruler, as he was visiting the area.
Built on impressive cliffs, it is easy to see why the Bran Castle was chosen to represent the dwelling of the most dreadful creatures like Dracula himself. Bran Castle was originally a stronghold built by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 1212. By the late 1200′s, the castle had been overtaken by the Saxons who had used the castle to protect Brasov, an important trade center. In 1370, the fortress was used against invading Turks. It remained an important feudal fortress through out the middle ages.
The castle has four towers. The Powder House Tower is the oldest. It is part of the original castle built in 1212. In the 15th century, during restoration, the Observation Tower and the Eastern Tower were added. The Eastern Tower was built with murder holes that were used by the soldiers to drop hot water and pitch on the castles attackers.
Bran Castle, more of a royal home than the lair of Dracula
In 1622, the Gate Tower was added and the castle’s south wall was strengthened. In 1921, Queen Maria of Romania, brought the royal court architect to Bran Castle for extensive renovations which transformed this “fortress” into a Royal Residence. A fourth floor was added to the tower for the Queen’s Secretary. Queen Maria had an elevator installed in the fountain in the interior courtyard. The elevator descended to a tunnel which opened into the lovely park grounds in the valley below.
So, as you can see, the Bran Castle is more of a royal home than a creepy vampire’s lair.
However, there is in fact a fortress in Romania that resembles much more Bram Stoker’s story about Dracula. I’m talking about Poenari Fortress. This edifice it really was, for a good time, the home of Vlad the Impaler, the historical ruler of Wallachia and the origin of the Dracula myth. His wife committed suicide here and much blood was spilt on its walls, in battles.
As for Dracula the vampire, the legend begins with a wallachian ruler named Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil) and continues with his son Vlad the Impaler who was famous for his cruelty upon his enemies.
Vlad the Devil, the root of the legend of Dracula
Vlad the Devil (photo) was a King who ruled over what we now call the south of Romania, between 1446-1442 and between 1443-1447. On 13th of December 1431 he entered the Order of the Dragon, a military-religious order founded by Sigismund von Luxemburg, King of Hungary. Historians say that his name “Dracul” is in fact a derivative from the word Dragon (name of the order). People those days were more acquainted with the term “Dracul” (the devil) than with the name “Dragon” (the dragon). He was killed in 1447, by the hand of some noblemen. One of his sons, Mircea, died with him. It is said that Mircea was buried alive.
Another son of Vlad Dracul was Vlad the Impaler (photo). He was famous for his cruelty against his enemies. He ruled Wallachia (now southern Romania) in 1448, between 1455-1462, and in 1476. Being the son of Vlad The Devil he was also admitted as a member of the Order of the Dragon. After 5 years of membership his name was erased from the Order’s List as he betrayed the cause.
He was a very cruel man. People feared him so much that, as the legend says, he ordered that every fountain in his kingdom would have golden mugs to drink from. It is said that his wrath was so feared that no one dared to steal those. He was famous for impaling people. It is said that when he captured an enemy or caught someone stealing he ordered that those people would be impaled by sticking a wooden stick along one’s spinal column but carefully omitting any vital organs. Stuck on those poles, people were then put in a public place and left there until they died. This kind of death was most painful but it served as a warning for anyone that would dare to defy the King’s rules.
Many described Vlad the Impaler as a blood thirsty figure. Some say that impaling was not always his first choice in tormenting his enemies or the ones who had broken the law. He sometimes chose to skin people alive, to boil them, to blind, to decapitate, to nail, to bury them alive or to burn them. He despised the poor, the homeless or the ill. There is a legend that says that he invited the homeless people in the kingdom to a big free dinner. After the homeless gathered he burned the house from the grounds with the people inside. No one escaped.
At last, in 1476, at 45 years old, Vlad the Impaler was killed by the Turks. He too was impaled as a sign of revenge. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly what happened to his body. There were some theories about where his grave is but no one could prove anything.
So, regardless of the exact historical truth, Dracula’s legend will go on and Vlad The Impaler will remain one of the most important figures of his time.
FUN FACT: The cape of the vampires we see on TV today has a historical root. That cape, black on the outside, red on the inside, was part of the official costume worn every Friday by the members of the Order of Dragon (photo of symbol below).