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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Castle Dracula

When most people hear of Castle Dracula, an image of a dark, many-towered castle perched upon a mountaintop with bats flying about and wolves howling in the distance is what usually comes to mind. Often there is a drawbridge with a great gorge beneath it, wind howling ready to take one off and impale them upon the craggy rocks below, vultures swirling in wait, and a nearby village of peasants (who you wonder why they just don't pack up and move) in constant fear of the castle's resident. You know, something like this:


An artist's (not mine) portrayal of Castle Dracula.














That is the image of Bram Stoker's vampire Dracula's castle often portrayed in the movies and video games. Romania, home to the historical Dracula, Vlad Țepeș (the Impaler), wants you to believe this is the real Castle Dracula:


Bran Castle, in all its restored medieval glory.


Bran Castle, located outside of the town of Bran in southeastern Transylvania, or central Romania within the cusp of the Transylvanian Alps. Nearby city of Brașov is located 30km (about 18 miles) northeast of the castle. There is no evidence the castle was ever in Vlad Dracula's possession, considering during this time much of the residents of the area were German and he and the Germans were not the best of friends. It is very conceivable he had visited and stayed at the castle during political negotiations with the boyars while campaigning for the Walachian throne for the third time, and at the end of his second reign when he had been taken prisoner by the Hungarian king Mátyás Corvin. The original wooden castle built in 1212 by Teutonic knights had been destroyed in 1242 by the Mongols. In 1377, the castle as we see it (with some additions) was built by the Saxons of Brașov (Kronstadt) with the Hungarian king Louis I blessing. From 1920 to 1957 the castle had become the favored home of Queen Marie of Romania and enjoyed renovations and some new additions. Now it is a museum showcasing some of the queen's furniture and other collectables.

Queen Marie at Bran Castle.

As prince (voivode), Vlad Dracula would have had access to stay at many castles during his reigns, in particular his second reign, but it didn't mean he owned them, including Bran. The palace in Tîrgoviște had seen renovations during his time as prince, as well as many churches and monasteries, including Snagov monastery where it is thought his body may have lay at one time, but excavations in the 1930's to find his body came up fruitless. His most notorious renovation was that of his fortress alongside the Argeș River (where a good portion of the setting of my novel takes place) in the south-central portion of the Transylvanian Alps, surrounded by small villages and often referred to as Poenari Castle.

The partially restored walls of Poenari Castle, the Castle Dracula.



It is said the castle, or fortress, was built by the boyars Vlad Dracula had imprisoned on a fateful Easter Sunday, and worked them until the clothes fell off their backs. Those who hadn't died from fatigue and starvation were killed after the completion of the castle. The youngest children and the elderly were put to death, men and women with able bodies were chained and taken from
Tîrgoviște, still in their Easter finery from the festivities of the day, and sent to where the ruins of two castles that sat along either side of the Argeș River across one another, 80 km (50 miles) away. The bricks of one castle were used to help build up the other, new towers were added to the existing foundation, and the fortifications strengthened. Vlad Dracula had a penchant for thick walls, and Poenari was no exception, with the walls near 2-3 meters (6-9 ft) thick. In my novel I write of the early morning attack on the castle by the Turks, led by Vlad Dracula's brother Radu cel Frumos (the Beautiful or Handsome), of which Vlad and his young son, Vlad, my main character, escape from. Several years later during his third campaign for prince of Walachia, I have him return to the castle to survey the damage, which was minimal due to the thick walls and the advantageous situation of the castle upon a mountaintop. After Vlad Dracula's death in 1476, the castle still held residency for others but was soon abandoned. In my novel, I have his son claim the castle in 1485 which had been given to him by his father but hadn't taken up residency until then, and it is where he remains until his death.

Poenari is accessible and tours are offered, though the site is not often visited (which would be to a tourist's advantage). The climb to the castle consists of over 1400 steps, and from the pictures I've seen the view is spectacular, and must have been even more so back in Vlad's day without the modern highway and power lines to mar the view. The river I think would also had to have been wider before the construction of
Vidraru Dam to the north. In times of drought, the river dries up completely. It is, without doubt, one of the places I have to visit if I were to ever go to Romania. It is a place that screams the Impaler, and has a great importance in my novel, and to the main character of my novel, Vlad.


View from Poenari looking north.



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