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Deep in the Carpathian Mountains, in the heart of rural Romania is Transylvania, where perched atop a rocky peak, there has been a fortress of some kind for nearly 1,000 years and the fortress that stands here today is now known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ (the actual Castle Dracula is in ruin on a secluded site near the Arges River). Bran Castle was originally a stronghold built by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in 1212. At that time it was called Dietrichstein. By the late 1200’s the castle had been overtaken by the Saxons who had used the castle to protect Brasov, an important trade center. In 1370 the fortress was used against invading Turks. It remained an important feudal fortress through out the middle ages, its role was the defence against invasion. The castle has four towers, the Powder House Tower is the oldest, it is part of the original castle built in 1212. It houses the Cannon’s Gallery, the Gunner’s Room, and was also where the castles gunpowder was stored. In the 15th century during restoration of the castle the Observation Tower and the Eastern Tower were added. The Eastern Tower was built with murder holes that were used by the soldiers to drop hot water and pitch on the castles attackers. In 1622 the Gate Tower was added and the castle’s south wall was strengthened to 11 ft. thickness to withstand cannon fire. In 1921, Queen Maria of Romania, brought the royal court architect to Bran Castle for extensive renovations which transformed this "fortress" into a Royal Residence. The ancient Gunner’s Room became the Royal Chapel, the defense gallery of the tower was remodeled into apartments for the Queen’s ladies in waiting. A fourth floor was added to the tower for the Queen’s Secretary. Queen Maria had an elevator installed in the fountain which is in the interior court. The elevator descended 197 ft. to a tunnel which opened onto the lovely park grounds in the valley below. Bran Castle has been opened to the public for at least 40 years, a museum, it offers glimpses into the past, such as the Chancellor’s Office, the Council Hall and the Garrison Rooms. Also on display are lovely examples of feudal art, weapons, statuary, furniture and hunting trophies.
THE PRINCES OF WALLACHIA OF THE HOUSE OF BASARAB:
Wallachia emerged politically in the late 13th century as a result of the confusion that followed the crumbling of the Eastern Roman Empire. The first Prince of Wallachia was Basarab the Great (1310-1352), an ancestor of Dracula. The family had split into two rival clans. The members of the House of Basarab governed Wallachia until the principality was reduced to the status of a client state by the Ottomans. Dracula was the last Prince of Wallachia to retain any measure of independence. The throne of Wallachia was hereditary but not necessarily by primogeniture. The boyars, or great nobles, had the right to elect the voivode from among the eligible members of the royal family. Like all elective monarchies during the Middle Ages the power tended to be dissipated among the nobility as various ruling members vied for the throne. Among the Wallachia, family politics tended to be extremely bloody. Elimination of a rival family member was a common occurrence and for many of the princes, their lives cut short violently and prematurely. In the late 15th century the House of Basarab had two branches, the descendants of Prince Dan and the descendants of Prince Mircea the Old (1386-1418), who was Dracula’s grandfather, were bitter rivals. His father, Vlad II Dracul (1436-1442;1443-1447) and Dracula himself, both murdered their rivals of the Danesti clan upon decedent to the throne.
VLAD III DRACUL , TEPES - The Impaler (Dracula), Prince of Wallachia (1448, 1456-1462, 1476) is probably one of most infamous in history for his inhuman cruelty. Dracula’s preferred method of torture and execution was impalement. Dracula’s reign of terror began as soon as he was placed on the throne. He motivated by revenge for the deaths of his father, by assassination, and his older brother Mircea, who was buried alive. In celebration of Easter he gave a feast for his noblemen and their families, well aware many of whom had a part in the conspiracy that killed his father and brother, and many played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian Princes. During the feast, Dracula asked the noblemen how many Princes had ruled during their life times, all had out lived several Princes, the very least was seven reigns, the most more than thirty. Upon hearing this Dracula had them immediately arrested. The older nobles and their families were impaled on the spot and the younger nobles and families were forced to slave labor rebuilding the old castle from a nearby ruin. It is reported they labored until their clothes were literally worn away and were forced to continue their laborious work naked. Very few gentry survived the rebuilding of Bran Castle.
Death by impalement was an agonizing way to die, and Dracula found ways of improvement to make it slow way to die. Records indicate his victims sometimes suffered for hours, some for days. He often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns, with the height of the stake indicating the rank of its victim. The not too sharp (victim might die too quickly of shock) stake would be forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. Others were impaled through the stomach or chest. Infants were impaled on the same stake that went though their mother’s chest. Some were impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake. All were left where they died for months. The smell of decaying corpses and the sight of twenty thousand rotting bodies turned Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, back after being sickened by this gruesome sight in 1461. The "warrior" sultan turned command over to one of his men and returned to Constantinople. There is also a report that a Turkish army dropped all plans of invasion and retreated in fright when they rode up upon thousands of corpses impaled and rotting on the banks of the Danbue.
Many times thousands were impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, thirty thousand of Brasov’s merchants and nobles were impaled on St. Bartholomew’s Day on Draculas’ orders. "One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims."
Although his favorite, impalement was by no means his only method of torture. They included: hammering of nails into one’s head, hacking off limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning alive, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of a woman), scalping, skinning alive, exposure to the elements or animals, and lastly, being boiled alive.
Everyone fell victim, from women and children and peasants, to merchants and great Lords to Ambassadors from foreign powers. But the vast majority were local merchants from Transylvania, and noblemen from his own Wallachia. His brutality against his own people were an attempt to enforce his moral standard upon his country. He seems to have been obsessed with the concern of female chastity. Young women who lost their virginity, adulterous wives, and unchaste widows were the targets of Dracula’s cruelty. He would often have their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off. They were also impaled with red-hot stakes forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. It is reported that Dracula ordered the execution of an unfaithful wife by having her breasts cut off, she was then skinned alive and impaled in the square in Tirgoviste, her skin was tossed on a nearby table. Dracula kept his people hard working and honest, the punishment being of course, impalement. It is said that he kept a solid gold drinking cup next to the well in the village square to see if anyone would take it. It sat right where he left it until the day he died, and someone took it.
Vlad III was not called the impaler until after his death. Most of the information known about him comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia, and the Romanian verbal tradition, after his death. The German pamphlets painted Dracula as "a inhuman butchering monster, who sadistically terrorized the innocent." The Russian pamphlets viewed Dracula "as a cruel but just Prince, whose actions were solely directed towards the greater good of his people." Legends told by the Romanian peasantry remembered Dracula as "a just Prince who defended his people from foreigners, whether they were Turkish invaders or German merchants." And he is also remembered as "a hero of the common man against the oppression of the noblemen." His fierce obsession with honesty is a central part of the verbal tradition. Despite the more positive interpretation, the Romanian verbal tradition also remembers him as a exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler. There are several events that are common to all three regardless of nation of origin. They are:
The Golden Cup: Known throughout for his fierce insistence of honesty. Few thiefs practiced their trade in his domain, They knew the punishment if they got caught. Dracula became so confident in the effectiveness of his law he kept a golden cup on display in the central square of Trigoviste, where is remained never touched throughout his reign.
The Foreign Merchant: A visiting merchant aware of reputation of the land’s honesty, left a cart with many treasures unattended in the street overnight. When he returned to his cart in the morning he was shocked to find all 160 of his gold ducats had been taken. Upon the complaint of the merchant to Dracula, he issued this warning to all, find the thief and return the money or the city will be destroyed. He then assured the merchant his money would be returned and invited him to stay at the palace until morning. He ordered 161 ducats be taken from his own treasury and put in the merchant’s cart. The next morning the merchant found the money and in counting it reported to Dracula the money had been returned and there was one extra. The thief had been caught and Dracula ordered him impaled he then informed the merchant that if he had not reported the one extra ducat he would have been impaled along with the thief.
The Two Monks: There are several versions but they all boil down to this: Two Monks visit Dracula at his palace in Tirgoviste. Curious of the churchmen’s reaction, Dracula shows them rows of impaled corpse in the courtyard. When asked their opnions, one monk responded , "You are appointed by God to punish evildoers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn his cruelty. One version says Dracula rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest monk, and in the other version, Dracula rewards the honest monk for his integrity and courage and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.
The Polish Nobleman: Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman visited Dracula in 1458. At dinner a golden spear was set directly infront of the nobleman. When asked why he thought the spear had been set up, Benedict answered, he thought some noble had offended the prince. Dracula responded that he had and that the spear was set up for him. Benedict replied if he had done anything to deserve death that Dracula should do as he thought best. Benedict then added in that case Dracula would not be responsible for his death because he had displeased the Prince. Greatly pleased with his answer, Dracula showered the man with gifts while declaring that had he answered in other way he would have been immediately impaled.
The Foreign Ambassadors: When granted an audience with the Prince the envoys refused to remove their hats as was the custom when in the presence of the Prince of Wallachia. Angered by this sign of disrespect Dracula had the Ambassadors’ hats nailed to their heads so they might never remove them.
Dracula’s Mistress: Dracula had a mistress who lived off the back streets of Tirgoviste. She loved the Prince to distraction and was always anxious to please him. Dracula was often moody and depressed and she made every effort to lighten her lover’s burdens. She dared tell him a lie in an effort to cheer him up; she told him she was with child. He warned her not to joke about such matters. Despite her knowledge of his feelings about dishonesty, she insisted she was telling the truth. Dracula had her examined to determine the veracity of her claim. When he was told she was not with child he drew his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breasts while proclaiming his desire for the world to see where he had been. He then left her to die in agony.
The Lazy Woman: Dracula once noticed a man working in the fields wearing a caftan that was too short. The Prince stopped and asked him if he had a wife. The man answered yes, Dracula had the woman brought before him and asked how she spent her days. The frighten woman stated that she spent her days washing, baking, and sewing. The Prince pointed out her husband’s short caftan, proof of her laziness and dishonesty and ordered her impaled despite her husband’s pleas that he was well satisfied with his wife. Dracula then ordered another woman to marry the peasant but admonished her to work hard or suffer the same consequence.
The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell: On St. Bartholomew’s Day1459, Dracula impaled thirty thousand merchants and nobles of the city of Brasov. To enjoy his orders to the utmost he commanded a table be set up and that his nobles join him for a feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While dining, Dracula noticed that one noble was holding his nose in an effort to alleviate the terrible smell of clotting blood and emptied bowels. Dracula then ordered the sensitive nobleman impaled on a stake higher than all the rest so he might be above the stench.
The Burning of the Sick and Poor: Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He noticed the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he invited all the poor and sick in Wallachia to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were led into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The Prince’s guests ate and drank late into the night, when Dracula himself make an appearance. "What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares,
lacking nothing in this world?", asked the Prince. When they responded yes, Dracula ordered the hall boarder up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Dracula explained his action to the noblemen by claiming that he did this, "in order that they represent no further burden to other men so that no one will be poor in my realm."
Vlad III the Impaler was dubbed a knight of the Dragon Order by the Hungarian King. Members of the order had a dragon on their coat of arms, he also wore a necklace with a gold dragon medallion. The Romanias nicknamed him Dracul-Dracula (from the Latin DRACO-ONIS). In Romanian Drac means Devil. This nickname turned into a surname for his descendants, Vlad, his second son known as such.