Sighișoara, Vlad the Impaler (Dracula)’s hometown
Sighișoara is not only famous for its old historic center, but also for being Vlad the Impaler’s place of birth. Built in the 12th century by Saxon settlers, the old city still wears the medieval savor, reason the citadel was designated in 1999 a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The strenuous path going up to the Citadel was soon forgotten once we were in the middle of the old walls and buildings. This is one of the few fortified towns that is still inhabited in Eastern Europe, well preserved houses showing the main features of a craftsmen’s town. It is estimated that Sighișoara had about 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Although some of the guilts’ buildings are still nestled within the remnants of the old walls, the house where Vlad II lived in exile in the town from 1431 to 1435, captured my attention.
Who is Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler
Troubled by the turbulent times, Transylvania, as well as the southern sovereign state of Walachia, suffered severe transitions to the actual land, which is known today as Romania.
Vlad III, son of Vlad II (the ruler of Walachia, one of important regions south of Carpathian Mountains) had a troublesome childhood. He was about 11 years old when he was given to the Ottoman Empire in 1442, along with his younger brother, as hostage to secure their father’s loyalty. He was not only deprived of his family love, or the company of his friends, but he has been held captive for years in dungeons, as it has been recently discovered due to some restoration work in the Tokat Castle, Turkey. After five years of captivity, in 1448, he was released to come back, but only because his father Vlad II and his eldest brother were murdered after the regent-governor of Hungary invaded his country.
Fighting for independence
In a world of wars, full of treachery, duplicity, and hostility, when treaties were made and unmade, when the regional power was moving from a ruler to another, from an empire to another, Vlad returned to his native land, yearning for so many years to regain his ancestor’s lands, and to claim his legit title.
At the age of 17, in 1448, Vlad III returns to Walachia to claim his father throne. But he is thrown away immediately, looking refuge in the Ottoman Empire for 6 more years. He returns in force in 1456, taking over the reign of the native lands. It is said that his revenge desire was powered after hearing the stories of how his family was tortured. This was the time when he started punishing and killing all traitors, and boyars who had participated in the murder, or plotting against him. Then he continued with the ones not following the laws, with merchants who were trying to steal, and cheat. He had big plans, big vision of what the country can do, a vision that lived over hundreds of years after his grievous murder.
The trouble started when he refused to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire, wanting and fighting for independence. As a vassal state, Walachia was required to send regularly tribute to the Ottoman
Empire, as a token of submission. All tribute paid by the Romanian rulers to the Ottoman Empire from 1395 to 1858 is estimated to 200 kg of gold, beside other gifts, bribes, food convoys, and hundreds of children which the Ottoman Empire was demanding from all The Balkans yearly, to train them as future soldiers for their army, especially as salaried janissaries, or bureaucrats as devshirme.
One of the most famous invasions during Vlad the Impaler’s reign is from 1462. Vlad, with only 30,000 men defended Walachia from over 120,000 disciplined and ruthless soldiers, plus 175 ships, Mehmed II army, only second in size after the battle from Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). It is said he killed 20,000+ Turks, impaling most of them along the roads and around the capital. His devastation tactics and the attempt to the sultan life itself were the best methods Vlad could fight against such a great army. This might sound a lot, but nothing to compare with other campaigns from same times, like Timur’s campaign which caused the deaths of 17 million people (about 5% of the world population at the time).
Vlad III fights for independence with all his might for few short years, killing al the traitors along the way. His horrendous way of making justice becomes famous in Europe, and many stories, a mixture of facts and fiction are found in German and Slavic stories of the times. This was the time when he was nicknamed Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad Dracula came actually from his father’s nickname Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon, because he was a member of the Orden of the Dragon, founded in 1408 by Sigismund of Luxembourg, and Dracula simply means he is the son of Dracul (or the Dragon).
What it has turned into 400 years later is another story. Bram Stoker knew better.
Nobody really knows where the legends start, or end. Not even where his body laid, after his death in 1476, when his head was sent to the sultan, and impaled in front of everyone, after the victim’s method.
The story of the golden goblet
The most notorious story of Vlad Dracula is about a golden goblet that was set upon a fountain in Târgoviște. Everyone was allowed to use the golden cup to drink water from the fountain, and nobody would steal it. So strict was his authority.
One day the goblet was gone. This way everyone knew Vlad was dead.
Tip(s) of the day:
- Comfortable footwear is recommended, as the walk to the citadel is uphill and quite steep;
- Many festivals take place during the summer time, so check them in advance when planning your visit;
- The medieval citadel is quite small and compact, but you still need few hours to walk around and read the signs where the handicrafts and guilds operated, including the towers, and churches on the hill.
~ visited in August 2011