Centuries before Bram Stoker found inspiration for his novel Dracula, best-selling stories were circulating in Europe about the fifteenth-century Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad Țepeș, or Vlad the Impaler. Vlad’s favorite punishment for invading Turks, recalcitrant Boyars, and highway robbers alike (around 100,000 total by his own estimate) was impalement through the stomach on a stake driven into the earth.

It was said that Mehmet II, the Ottoman Sultan and Vlad’s arch-enemy, was so sickened on one invasion by the sight of 20,000 of his advance troops impaled on the banks of the Danube, that he turned around and went home. Not that Mehmet was much of a humanist either–he just preferred more pleasant fates like beheading (for his enemies) and strangulation or testicle-crushing (for his relatives).

Incidentally, the Dragon Society was formed in the fifteenth century to defend Christianity against the Moslem Turkish horde. Vlad’s father, Vlad I, took the sobriquet Dracul to signify his membership, so Vlad added Dracula to his own name. Three castles in the Romanian back-country are as associated with Vlad as the tourist trade will allow. This one at Bran has the most tenuous connection (he might have stayed here one night), but it fits better with Stoker’s gruesome hero than the fighting castles Vlad actually inhabited.

Ordinary Romanians remember Vlad as a freedom-fighter and despise the Dracula association (along with the thousands of ghoulish visitors it brings to the country every Halloween), but can’t resist taking all the tourist gold. They like to redirect the more gruesome imagination to the story of the true Dracula, one Elizabeth of Bathori, a wildly promiscuous Hungarian (not Romanian) Princess of Slovakian (not Romanian) residence, who discovered the secret of eternal youth in bathing in a mixture of milk and virgin blood. After murdering 650 local virgins, the Princess was walled up in her (not Romanian) castle and allowed to wither away.

Or so the stories all go…


Categories: Europe, Romania