In search of Dracula – Transylvania, Romania
Count Dracula is more than 100 years old .. and still alive! We’ve all heard stories of Count Dracula during our youth, some more than others, but much less is known about the figure from whom Bram Stoker drew his inspiration for his novel. Being a scary cat myself, I must admit to avoiding any movies or television shows where there’s any element of Dracular in them.
Vlad Tepes was born in December 1431 in the fortress of Sighisoara, Romania. Vlad’s father was the Governor of Transylvania and had been inducted into the Order of the Dragon about a year before Vlad’s birth. The order was a semi-military and religious society, comparable to the Knights of the Hospital of St. John or even to the Teutonic Order of Knights. The Holy Roman Emperor and his second wife, Barbara Cilli, originally created this secret fraternal order of the knights in 1387, mainly to protect the interests of Christianity and to crusade against the Turks. However, the boyars, who were the nobles of Romania, believed that the dragon is associated with the Devil and decided to call Vlad’s father “Dracul” which in Romanian language, means “devil” and “Dracula” has the equivalent of “the son of the Devil.”
When Dracul became prince of Wallachia (one of three Romanian provinces) in the winter of 1436-1437, he took up residence at the palace of Tirgoviste, its princely capital. Vlad followed his father and lived for six years at the princely court. One version of the story is that in 1442, in order to keep the Turks at bay, Dracul sent his son Vlad and his younger brother Radu, to Constantinople, as hostages of the Sultan Murad II. Young Vlad was held there until 1448 and his Turkish captivity was a major influence in Vlad’s upbringing and his ultimate sadistic tendencies. He adopted a very dark view of life and learned the Turkish method of impalement on stakes. Eventually, the Turks set Vlad free after informing him of his father’s assassination in 1447. Young Vlad also learned about his older brother’s death and how he had been tortured and buried alive by the boyars of Tirgoviste.
When Vlad was 17 years old, he made his first major move towards seizing the Wallachian throne. He had support from the pasha Mustafa Hassan who lent him a force of Turkish cavalry and a contingent of troops. Vlad became the ruler of Wallachia in July of 1456. During his six-year reign he committed many atrocities, and hence established his controversial reputation of Vlad the Impaler.