In Search of Dracula

All countries have their heroes. Romania's most celebrated are the two princes of Wallachia who battled the Ottoman empire. The first is Michael the Brave who reigned from 1558 until his assassination in 1601.


Vlad III TepesThe second, and more controversial figure, is Vlad Tepes (1431-1476), the basis for the Dracula legend -- who, despite his barbaric cruelty, is respected in Romanian history as one who fought Turkish oppression so fiercely.

And the name Dracula? The Holy Roman Emperor's secret society to uphold Christianity had admitted Vlad's father Vlad II in 1410 to the Order of the Dragon. The word for dragon in Romanian is "drac" and "ul" is the definitive; thus, the most famous Vlad became Vlad Dracul or, sometimes, Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler.

Romania has a love-hate relationship with Bram Stoker's novel. Entrepreneurs once even considered a Dracula Park near Sighisoara, where he was born, but, mercifully, this World Heritage site fought the concept and prevailed.

Nevertheless, as curious tourists, we wandered Wallachia and Transylvania in search of Dracula -- and a good story.

We rode the trains for 4½ hours from Bucharest to Sighisoara, a hill town with all its 14th century walls, nine towers, and cobbled streets. We visited Casa Dracula, a restaurant in the house where Vlad lived for his first four years. We found his statue hiding around the corner behind the Church of the Dominican Monastery.

But even without vampire legends this is a fascinating place, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. The clock tower, with its 1648 clock, dominates the tiny main square, the Piata Cetatii. There, in ancient days, were farmers' markets, craft fairs, and public executions, which included impalement (those were cruel times).

The Torture Room Museum was, thank goodness, closed during our visit but the History Museum, accessible as visitors climb up into the tower, had absorbing exhibits, including a collection of antique medical instruments.

The attraction of Dracula's Castle in Bran, halfway between Sighisoara and Bucharest seems less authentic than Sighisoara. It certainly brings in tourists, but Vlad's connection there is improbable.

His real fortress lies, destroyed, on a high peak in Poenari to the north. Remoteness and the 1,300 steps required to reach its courtyard diminish the passion of many who might search for Dracula there.

A shorter tour from Bucharest, however, brought us to the island monastery in Lake Snagov, about an hour beyond the capital, where Vlad's headless body was buried. Headless? His head was sent to Constantinople to satisfy Sultan Mehmed II of his death, but where the body lies now is another story, the best one being Elizabeth Kostova's stylish 2005 novel, The Historian.

Back in Bucharest we found two other traces of Dracula, one in the excavations of the ruined 15th century Prince's Palace, the prince in question being Vlad himself. His bust stands mounted on a tall column -- the way he sometimes spiked the heads of his enemies -- when he hadn't time to impale their bodies.

The second attraction is less authentic but more fun: the Count Dracula Club, a touristy, over-priced restaurant (bloody steaks a presumed delicacy) at 8A Splaiul Independentei Street. As the evening advances, so does a black-cloaked, candelabra-bearing Dracula -- lurking among diners and paying especial attention to female guests.

Although the Lonely Planet publishes Romania & Moldova, North America has few guidebooks to Eastern Europe. Romania's tourist infrastructure isn't well developed but the New York office is helpful (www.romaniatourism.com).

We stayed at the Rembrandt Hotel (www.rembrandt.ro), a great Bucharest location at 11 Smardan Street. We paid about $160 a night through Expedia, but booking with the hotel direct would have been cheaper.

Our first class rail tickets were $40 each, round trip to Sighisoara. There we found clean, modest lodgings right inside the Citadel at 21 Euros a night with Marius Adam (Tel 40-265-771-203, marius_adam@yahoo.com).

Tripadvisor.com has much useful tourist information.

Source: written By Eric Anderson, M.D. and Nancy Allen, R.N.

 

 

Fanged Films

Mexico, 1963
La Huella Macabra
France, 1896
The Devil's Castle / The Devil's Manor / The Manor of the Devil / Le Chateau Haunte / The Haunted Chateau / The House of the Devil

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

Vol. 1 No. 1
Richard Matheson's I Am Legend #nn 1991
Vol. 1 No. 21
The Fiend of Changsha!