Romania: Where Fact is Far More Terrifying Than Fiction

Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film.
Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film.

Romania, home of Dracula – both the legendary vampire and the real-life ruler – is a country with a long and bloody past. Located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, it is wrapped in mystery and legend. Romania’s Bran Castle is the only Gothic fortress in all of Transylvania that perfectly meets Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle: “… on the very edge of a terrific precipice… with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.” The Irish writer described Dracula’s Castle in his 1897 publication using elements from the illustration of the Bran Castle in the 1865 Charles Boner’s book, “Transylvania: Its Products and Its People.”

Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle, Romania

The fictional vampire monster in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” novel was inspired by the 15th-century prince of lands in Wallachia, Romania, Vlad III Dracula (Vlad Son of the Dragon). In 1448 and at only seventeen years of age Vlad Dracula, also nicknamed Vlad Tepes, took the throne and went on to become one of the most infamous rulers in history.

“He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cold and terrible appearance, a strong and aquiline nose, swollen nostrils, a thin reddish face in which very long eyelashes framed large wide-open green eyes; the bushy black eyebrows made them appear threatening. His face and chin were shaven, but for a mustache,” a bishop once shared in a description about the Wallachian ruler.

Vlad Dracula's portrait
Vlad Dracula’s portrait

Although he was actually in power for only seven years, Vlad managed to unite the province of Wallachia for the first time in centuries, leaving behind a legacy of terror. The man is famous for using the most brutal and barbaric punishments ever seen, which in turn gave him the name “Vlad The Impaler.”

The notorious ruler used inflicted impalement on foreign and domestic enemies alike, including innocent women and children, offering them a slow and painful death. The stake which was inserted into his victims was usually oiled, and its point wasn’t too sharp so they wouldn’t die immediately. Furthermore, Vlad used to punish people by cutting off limbs and other body parts, mutilating organs, scalping, skinning, boiling or roasting his victims alive. Vlad was so ruthless that his master bedroom in Poenari Castle was above a punishing room. From there, he could hear the cries and pleas of his prisoners only a few feet below him.

Although Vlad Tepes killed between 40,000 – 100,000 people, crime, and corruption during his reign were wiped out. Nowadays, many Romanians remember Vlad as a folklore hero, and not a murderous madman, mainly for his efforts against Ottoman encroachment.

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