Among the numerous Romanian rulers, princes and kings, no one became as well-known around the world as Vlad III. Yes, you’ve heard of him, if not under the name of Vlad III, surely under that of Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Ţepeş). On Vlad’s real-life story and intriguing deeds was created the legend of Dracula, the famous character in the Irish writer Bram Stocker’s novel with the same name. If you love the story of the blood-thirsty count and would like to know more on his historical counterpart, let’s explore his legend and take a virtual journey on the footsteps of Dracula.

Three times ruler of Wallachia, Vlad soon became famous for the cruel punishments applied to his enemies, but also to thieves, beggars and liars: cutting off body parts, nailing, boiling and impaling them on large wooden stakes. These monstrous deeds soon got him the nickname Ţepeş, the Romanian word for “impaler”. It was exactly this trait of the Wallachian ruler that drew the attention of Bram Stoker while searching for some inspiration in creating his character. Moreover, Dracula’s name also comes from a military order that Vlad and his father belonged to, that of the Dragon (“dragon” or “drac” in Romanian). After being initiated in the order, Vlad II, Ţepeş’ father, started to be called Vlad Dracul, while his descendants were named Drăculeşti. All these represented numerous reasons for Stocker to associate the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler with the fictional Dracula.

While retracing the trails of the Impaler, one should stop first in Sighisoara, the prince’s birthplace. Much time has passed since 1431, Vlad’s birth year, and the house where he was born, called Vlad Dracul House (Casa Paulinus) has now been transformed into a restaurant. However, it still attracts numerous visitors in search of a glimpse of the ruler’s (or maybe the count’s) spirit. Coming here on the traces of Dracula, you will find a romantic medieval town with pastel coloured facades, narrow cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs, high towers and arched passages, but also numerous souvenirs with the frowned look of Vlad Ţepeş.

In 1456, Vlad became ruler of Wallachia and set his princely court at Târgovişte, in an architectural complex which has preserved its great artistic and historical value until today. The princely court is dominated by the Chindia Tower, used for surveillance and defence in the past, now hosting an exhibition dedicated to the Wallachian prince. One bloody legend is connected to Vlad the Impaler and this tower. In 1462, while fighting against the Turks, Vlad’s army was outnumbered and had to retreat to Târgovişte. When the Sultan’s army following them reached the princely court, Vlad was expecting them with a surprise: the terrific view of a forest of 20,000 captures Turks impaled in stakes. It is said that Vlad watched from the Chindia Tower how the horror-struck Turkish army tread back their steps to Constantinople.

Three years after becoming prince of Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler was the protagonist of another bloody deed. On the Easter Day of 1459, he imprisoned the treacherous boyars of Târgovişte who had taken part in the conspiracy in which the prince’s father and elder brother were killed. He punished them by killing the elders and forcing the younger ones to walk to Poenari (about 140km away) and build him a fortress in the heart of the mountains. Poenari Castle is considered to be Vlad’s real mountaintop fortress and refuge in case of enemy attack. Nowadays, the ruins of the stronghold, situated on a small plateau at 850m above sea-level, are accessible only by climbing 1480 concrete steps. The tourists’ effort is paid by the incredible view on the Vidraru Dam and Fagaras Mountains.

While retracing the Count’s footsteps, one should not miss Bran Castle, a “theme-park” version of Dracula’s castle. While there is no historical connection between Bran Castle and Vlad the Impaler, several theories have been issued. Some state that Vlad might have lived at Bran while trying to win the throne of Wallachia and others speak about Vlad being imprisoned here for two months by the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. However, those who come here in search of the gloomy atmosphere from the novel will find instead a pleasant Gothic and Renaissance castle. This valuable architectural monument, situated at the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, had a strong military and economic function. Legends speak about the cruel punishments applied to the smugglers who were clandestinely transporting goods between the two regions, which resemble Vlad’s macabre way of dealing with thieves. This is how the area started to be associated with the places where Dracula supposedly haunted.

Furthermore, we all know that, in the book, Dracula dies by being stabbed in the heart, but horror fans should learn that Vlad the Impaler had an even more cruel death. Killed in 1475 either by the Turks or by treacherous boyars, he was decapitated and his head was sent to Constantinople. Vlad’s body was secretly buried at Snagov Monastery, on an island in the Snagov Lake, near Bucharest. It is said that the catacombs of this beautiful church, founded by Mircea the Elder, hide Vlad’s treasures, so we wish you to end the Dracula tour by finding the gold hoard yourself.

For Romanians, Vlad Ţepeş remains one of the most important historical figures, whose legendary deeds have been inexplicably connected to those of the blood-sucking count, bringing him an unexpected tourist celebrity. For everybody else, there’s Dracula! And if you want to have an unique experience and have dinner in the count’s company, pay a visit to Count Dracula Club Restaurant and enjoy a plate of impaled…chicken!