Draculas Homep

Vlad Dracula


My first trip to Romania took place in 1994. It was the result of my growing interest in Dracula, the novel by Bram Stoker, and the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. The tour that I took that summer was a package offered by Carpati International in New York. It included the sites associated with Vlad: Tirgoviste, Poenari, Brasov, Sighisoara, and Snagov, as well as the Stoker locations (Bistritz and the Borgo Pass). As a further attraction, it took in the Painted Monasteries of Moldavia, the city of Suceava, the Bicaz Gorge, Sibiu, and Bucharest.

Since that summer, I have returned to Romania five more times. In 1995, I was a guest of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (with headquarters in Bucharest) for its first World Dracula Congress, a conference which attracted scholars from around the world and included a tour along with the presentation of papers. In 1996 I attended a Dracula Symposium and visited the Maramures region of northeastern Transylvania, and spent some extra time in the Poenari region (Curtes-de-Arges and Arefu). In 1997, my primary destination was Cluj, where I gave a paper at the International Congress of Romanian Studies. In 1998, I returned to some of my favorite locations: Arefu, Poenari, Sighisoara, Bostritz and Borgo Pass. Then lat year (2000) I attended tthe 2nd World Dracula Congress and joined the post-Congress tour.

While Romania has much more to offer the visitor than Dracula sites (for example, the Painted Monasteries of Moldavia), my intention here is to focus on those locations clearly identified with the historical Dracula, whose name Bram Stoker borrowed for his world-famous vampire Count.

I have combined the experiences from all visits and divided my account into two sections. All of the photos in this section are my own.

For a more complete discussion of the issues related to Romanian tourism focusing on Dracula, I refer you to Chapter 5 of my book REFLECTIONS ON DRACULA.

First it is important to note that in Romania, Vlad is usually referred to as Vlad Tepes ("Tepes" meaning "the Impaler") rather than Vlad Dracula (though the name "Dracula" was used in several historical documents including a few written by Vlad himself). He is for many Romanians an important figure in their history, indeed a hero, primarily because of his successful military exploits against the Ottoman Turks who overran much of southeastern Europe.

Vlad Monument

There are streets named after him (I saw two - one in Brasov and one in Ploesti), there are monuments to him such as this one located at Corbeni near Poenari (in the Arges district). Others include one at Tirgoviste, and an impressive bust in the main foyer of the National History Museum in Bucharest, and so forth). In fact, the Museum in Bucharest has a room devoted to Vlad. In 1976, the Romanian government issued a commemorative stamp on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Vlad's death, while in 1978 a Romanian studio released a feature film entitled "Vlad Tepes".

For details on the life of Vlad Tepes, I recommend the following books:

Radu Florescu & Raymond McNally, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces

Nicolae Stoicescu, Vlad Tepes

Kurt Treptow (ed), Dracula: Essays on the Life and Times of Vlad Tepes

And now for the sites, arranged in historical sequence.


Cozia is a small village in a beautiful location in the Olt Valley, on the main highway linking Transylvania and Wallachia (between Sibiu and Rimnicu Vilcea). It is famous for its monastery, a Byzantine structure which was built in 1386 by Mircea the Old, grandfather of Vlad Tepes. Inside the church is the tomb of Mircea and a fresco which depicts him and one of his sons. The son on the fresco is Mihail, the only one of Mircea's brood who was "legitimate" (Vlad, our Dracula's father, was one of many "illegitimate" sons).

Mircea is considered one of the earliest prominent princes of Wallachia, a member of the Basarab family, of distinguished lineage. He (Mircea) did his share of fighting against the Turks, but was finally forced to recognize Turkish supremacy. However, he was able to retain a degree of autonomy for his principality and is thus still regarded a national hero. He died in 1418 and is buried at Cozia. His bust is also on display along with that of his grandson (Vlad Tepes) at the National History Museum in Bucharest.


The visit to Sighisoara was one of the highlights of my trips. This Romanian town has a very well preserved medieval citadel which contains in its main square the house where Vlad Tepes was born (on photo "Casa Vlad Dracul" is the yellow/brown house on the left of the courtyard). On the outside of the house is a plaque which reads (in translation): "In this house lived between the years 1431 -1435 the ruler of Wallachia Vlad Dracul son of Mircea the Old". The upstairs portion of the house where there was once the Receiving Room has been converted into a restaurant. There is a fascinating thing on the upper corner of one of the walls - a part of a mural that was recently discovered under another layer of covering. It shows a figure that experts believe is Vlad Dracul. If this is so, it is the only known visual representation of him. Eventually work will be continued to see how extensive this old mural is. It was also in 1431 that Vlad (the father) was awarded the Order of the Dragon and became known by the sobriquet "Dracul". At that time he was military governor of Transylvania but was later to become prince (voivode) of Wallachia, the position that had formerly been held by his father Mircea.


When Vlad Dracula first became Voivode of Wallachia (briefly) in 1448, the capital of the principality was Tirgoviste. About 80 km northwest of Bucharest, Tirgoviste is of great interest to the Dracula enthusiast because of the remains of Vlad's palace that can still be seen there. It was at Tirgoviste, during Vlad's longest period in power (from 1456-62) that he committed many of the atrocities attributed to him in various historical documents. [One needs to bear in mind that many of these accounts were written by his enemies and therefore could have been exaggerated.]


The best known episode associated with the palace at Tirgoviste is the seizing of the "boyars" at the Easter celebrations. Vlad blamed the nobles of Tirgoviste for the death of his older brother (Mircea had been buried alive by some of the citizens several years earlier). He invited all the nobles and their family to an Easter feast, after which he seized them, impaled the old and the very young, and put the rest into forced labor building his fortified castle on the Arges River (more about that castle later). There is a tower among the ruins at the Tirgoviste palace, on which is the lookout ledge where Vlad Tepes would watch the impalements in the courtyard below. Other events associated with that palace include the nailing of caps to the heads of the two ambassadors, the incident of the extra ducat, and the golden cup - and numerous others.

Quite near the palace ruins, on the side of a main street in Tirgoviste, is a bust of Vlad Tepes, an indication of his important place in history. And it was at Tirgoviste that the former Communist dictator of Romania (Ceaucescu) and his wife were executed in December of 1989.


Bran Castle is the most famous "Dracula" site having no significant connection with Dracula! I am including it because so many visitors to Romania have been (and still are) under the impression that it is "Dracula's Castle". Located near the city of Brasov, in the southern range of the Carpathians, it is an impressive medieval castle. But there is only a minimal connection between this castle and Vlad Tepes (he may have stayed there briefly on one of his excursions into Transylvania or may even have been held there briefly by Matthias Corvinus, but it certainly was not his castle and he never lived there. As for any connection with the Count Dracula of Stoker's novel, there is absolutely none.

As for the reasons for this confusion, I suspect there are two: Bran Castle is a complete edifice that LOOKS like it should be Dracula's Castle (while the real one, as we shall see, is a ruin); and Bran is near the main tourist trade - near Poiana Brasov etc (while the real one is in a much more inaccessible location). At the World Dracula Congress in 1995, the curator at Bran offered another explanation. The castle was for decades presented to western tourists who came to Romania insisting on seeing "Dracula's Castle". This is what they were presented with. The misconception lingers to this day and is reinforced by the fact that the merchandise stalls at the foot of Bran are the best source of Dracula souvenirs in Romania! Of course, Bran attracts hundreds of visitors a day (it is on all of the standard tour routes) while the actual castle/fortress of Vlad (at Poenari), off the beaten track, draws only a few.


If there is an edifice that can be labelled Vlad Dracula's castle, it is the ruins of Poenari. Actually, this is a fortress ("cetate" in Romanian) rather than a castle, located at the entrance to the gorge of the Arges River, north of the town of Curtea de Arges. As you leave Curtea de Arges (itself an interesting town with fortifications dating back to the 13th century and Basarab 1), you drive over a secondary road through several little villages, proceeding up the Arges valley towards the base of the Carpathian range.The road reaches the base of a group of high, heavily wooded mountains and there on the rocky top of one of them is Cetatea Poenari - Dracula's Castle. Even from the road below it is a forbidding sight. What strikes one is its inaccessibility, high on a mountain top and the entrance to the gorges of the river (the river, by the way, has been diverted by a hydro-electric project). Poenari was the castle fortification that Vlad Tepes forced the nobles of Tirgoviste to build. The nobles were forced to walk the distance from Tirgoviste to the Arges (quite considerable by road - probably about 60 km overland) and then drag the material up that mountain to build the castle.

Foot BridgeTo get to the top, one has to walk up almost 1500 steps. But the effort is certainly worth it. As you approach the magnificent ruin (last 50 steps or so) the scene is totally Gothic. There is the outline of the castle perched on the top of this rock, seeming to grow out of the very mountain itself. It covers the full space at the top, has a sheer drop on three sides, and is barely accessible by a small bridge near the top of the steps.

I have returned to this site three times, as it is one of my favorite places in Romania: not only because of the sense of history but the magnificent scenery. One particular view (looking northwest) is spectacular - just the way you might picture the landscape around Dracula's Castle in Stoker's novel (though Stoker knew nothing about this place).

This is the route that, according to local legend, Vlad took in order to escape into Transylvania from the Turks in 1462. He was assisted in his efforts by the villagers of nearby Arefu, where many narratives about Vlad still live in their oral culture.
PassThen there is the southern wall of the castle - a sheer drop!
Southern Wall

This is where, according to another local legend, Vlad Tepes' first wife flung herself, committing suicide rather than being taken captive by the advancing Turks. This castle is where Vlad would go for refuge in the face of advancing enemies. And from its towers he had a commanding view of anyone approaching from any direction. It was practically impenetrable.


Lake Snagov is located just about 20 miles or so north of Bucharest. The monastery is on an island in the middle of the lake, accessible only by boat. The Snagov Monastery is traditionally believed to be the burial place of Vlad Tepes., though there is not complete agreement about whether this is the case.

Monestary According to some historical accounts, his headless body was taken to the monastery and buried in front of the altar. The spot is clearly marked with a small portrait of Vlad, and a vase of fresh flowers - another indication of his stature as a national hero. This was the site that was excavated in 1931 by Rosetti & Florescu, only to find that there was no coffin, no body, only a few animal bones! Where was (is) Vlad Tepes? There are two main theories. One is that his body was later moved to a place near the entrance of the chapel where a body was actually found, though positive identification was difficult. This body has since disappeared. Another theory is that he is in the original place (near the altar) but further down. There is talk of another excavation. But for now, the whereabouts of Vlad's remains is a mystery.


Arefu A portrait of Vlad Tepes hangs on the wall of a classroom at the village school in Arefu. This is a reminder of the fact that he is considered to be one of the heroes of the country's history. While many in the West may find this strange, we need to keep in mind that Vlad defended his small principality of Wallachia from the mighty armies of the Sultan of Turkey (Vlad was, in essence, a David fighting a Goliath) at a time when the Ottoman Empire was a powerful force in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

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COPYRIGHT©2005 Dr. Elizabeth Miller