Some of earliest writings about this real life person, describe him as a "demented psychopath, a sadist, and a gruesome murderer."
You may know him as Dracula, the blood thirsty Vampire made famous by Bram Stocker’s novel of the same name. But his story is a bit more mysterious.
Dracula was born in the year 1430 as Valdislaus Basarab-Luxembourg. He grew up in a medieval walled city called Sighisoara, located on top of a hill right in the heart of Transylvania.
Here you can visit the building where he was born and where he spent his first five years.
For the early part of Dracula’s life, he was known as Vlad. And Vlad was destined for a life of conflict. When he was just a young boy his father became a first-class member of an elite society called the Order of the Dragon.
Members were required to defend the cross and fight the enemies of Christianity. The Order gave his father the nickname, 'Dragon', which, when translated into medieval Romanian is the name 'Dracul'.
As member of the order, his father reigned as prince over a conflicted area called Wallachia, which rested right between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. This area saw lots of war, and was often ruled by both sides at different times. Dracul in a struggle for his own grip on power, gave his loyalty to each.
But the Ottomans weren’t sure if they could trust him, so they imprisoned his two sons, the young Vlad and his brother Radu. The boys were held hostage to ensure their father, would remain loyal.
Taken from his family and homeland angered the young Vlad. And during this time is when it’s believed he developed an intense hatred for the Ottomans, upon whom he would later earn his gruesome reputation.
For six years the boys were kept at the Eğrigöz Fortess, in the treacherous mountains of what is now central Turkey. There he found refuge in studying warfare, becoming skilled in swordsmanship.
Upon his release he returned to Wallachia to reunite with his family, but soon learned that his father was murdered just before his arrival. These pivotal moments in Vlad’s life turned him into a cold and bitter man.
With his father gone, Vlad could now try and claim the throne of Wallachia. But he would need the backing of the Hungarian Kings. They resisted at first, but once they saw his vast knowledge of the Ottoman Empire, as well as his hatred for them, they crowned him prince and included him in the order of the Dragon.
Being the son of Dracul, Vlad was given the name Dracula. The letter ‘a’ added at the end, to signify that he is the ‘son-of’ the dragon. From then on Vlad officially became known as Dracula.
As the new prince of Wallachia, Dracula ordered a purge of potential enemies. And he ruthlessly went after those suspected of murdering his father. Thousands were tortured and executed in his early days as new prince.
The Princely Court
He gave these orders from the Princely Court, the name of the formal residence and fortress of the Wallachian Prince.
Today you can visit the remains of Dracula’s Fortress in modern day Targoviste, Romania. You can tour the building where he once lived and visit the museum that houses many medieval artifacts along with an exhibit dedicated to the legendary figure.
It was here, in this very building where Dracula impaled his first victims. Impalement was his preferred method of execution and torture. This is where a long sharp stake or a pole is used to gruesomely penetrate a person’s body. The stake is then stuck into the ground with the victim being suspended several feet above the surface.
It could sometimes take days for a person to die from this method. According to stories written at the time, Dracula enjoyed impaling people in his dining room, he then washed his hands with their blood and ate his meals while, they screamed in agony.
Accounts say that he impaled mothers with their babies on the same stake. He even boiled and skinned people alive. Impaled victims were then arranged in concentric circles on the outskirts of the cities where they could be viewed by all.
Some stories take it further and claim that he enjoyed dipping his bread in his victim’s blood, before eating it.
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These practices earned him another nickname at the time: Vlad the Impaler.
Dracula impaled men, women, and even children. But his most terrorizing act was yet to come.
As prince he immediately stopped paying pittance to the ottoman empire. This was a payment or a sort of bribe that kept the Ottomans happy, and secured Dracula’s grip on power.
Vlad and the Ottomans
Soon an envoy consisting of a handful of Ottoman diplomats arrived to inquire about the missed payments. Dracula hosted the men in his fortress, but when they refused to remove their head coverings in his presence, he grew very angry. So to ensured that their turbans would forever remain on their heads he had them nailed to their skulls while they were still alive.
Dracula knew this would only serve to invite the wrath of the Ottomans.
And it did. Angering an entire empire, the Ottomans sent one of their nobleman, along with 1,000 skilled soldiers to ambush the prince and take him as prisoner. But Dracula caught wind of these plans and began to assemble his own troops near the Poenari Castle.
Now there are a few castles in Romania that like to claim the title of Dracula’s Castle, but don’t be mistaken. No other structure can claim the name more than this.
Resting atop a steep Cliffside in the southern Romanian mountains, the Poenari Castle towers over the Valley where it was built. It took more than 1400 steps to reach the remote castle. This resulted in its abandonment several times after it was first constructed in the 13th Century.
But Dracula enjoyed its seclusion and chose to call this place home for much of the time. Legend has it, that his first wife threw herself off the tower of this very castle. Falling to her death down into the ravine below.
Today, only a two-hour drive from Bucharest the capitol of Romania. You can visit what remains of the castle yourself and walk the many steps to reach the top.
The ambush on Dracula never took place. Instead he launched a surprise-attack and killed then impaled the nobleman sent to capture him along with the 1,000 soldiers.
For the next several years, he deflected attacks from the Ottomans. Until the Leader of the Empire himself raised an army to kill Dracula.
With a force of 100,000 soldiers this should have been an easy win for the Ottomans. But Dracula’s cruel tactics, changed the odds.
Knowing he was outnumbered, the ruthless prince conducted a scorched-earth military campaign. This strategy is typically used by a retreating army, which destroys everything in it’s path as it’s fleeing. This prevents the advancing army from using any of the available resources.
He burned his own villages, poisoned all of the wells, and locals were forced to evacuate. Except for the sick. Those with leprosy, tuberculosis, or the bubonic plague, were ordered to stay behind to infect the Ottoman Army.
Dracula left behind a path of death and destruction, but his worst atrocity was yet to come.
As the exhausted and dwindling Ottoman Army approached the Wallachian Capital, of Targoviste, they setup camp and prepared for their final assault.
Night Attack at Târgovişte
With a much smaller force, Dracula resorted to guerrilla warfare tactics. Like hit and run attacks. As well as surprise raids during the dead of night, like the Night Attack at Târgovişte, where his troops killed 15,000 Ottomans in one night.
He preferred to infiltrate enemy camps while they slept. Armed with spears and swords, Dracula and his army used torches to illuminate the battle field. They killed as many Ottomans as they could, often capturing enemy soldiers, dragging them away into the dark forest. (Horse riding, screaming/dragging into forest)
Morale was at all time low in the Ottoman Army, but they pushed ahead, believing they could take on Dracula’s much smaller army head on, at the capital.
Forest of the Impaled
As they came within sight of Targoviste, they came upon one of Dracula’s most gruesome acts. Recorded accounts say that in place of a forest of trees, there was a forest of impaled men women and children.
Some were still alive, freshly impaled with a stake jammed through their body. Others had been dead for months, their rotting corpses lay limp and decaying.
Most of the impaled were Ottomans, some still in their military uniforms, suspended several feet above the ground over a fresh pool of blood.
Dracula had been stockpiling the dead from previous raids to create this brutal display. In total it is estimated that 20,000 people were impaled on the road leading to him home.
The forest of the dead struck the Ottomans with such terror that they turned around.
Dracula remained prince for quite some time. But his brutal ways made him many enemies, even at home. A former ally, the Hungarian King, betrayed Dracula and imprisoned the prince for 12 years.
Corvin Castle & Vlad's Imprisonment
Most of these years were spent at the Corvin Castle in a small city in Transylvania. This gothic style structure is one of the largest castles in Europe. It has a larges Knights' Hall for banquets, an impressive drawbridge for defense. Inside is a large inner courtyard, as well as a chapel and 50 different rooms adorned with medieval artwork and artifacts.
Today you can visit the castle for 5 euros a person. And for 150 euros, you can even get married in the chapel. The banquet hall is also available for wedding and events.
Dracula regained the throne as prince of Wallachia for a third time. But it was short lived, he was beheaded during battle in January 1477 in southern Romania.
He is supposedly buried at the Comana Monastery, a church he founded himself. There are a few other sites that claim to house Dracula’s crypt, but none are confirmed.
For centuries his infamous stories were lost to history.
It wasn’t until 1897 that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula as a Vampire in his famous novel.
Vampires being the undead creatures that require blood to survive. Throughout history there have been many other cases of supposed Vampires and their victims.
As recently as the 1970s serial killer Richard Chase drank the blood of several of his victims. When police searched his apartment they found a horrific scene: The walls, floors, ceiling and all of his eating and drinking utensils were soaked in blood.
The Vampire of Dusseldorf
Another supposed Vampire in 1920s Germany was a man by the name of Peter Kuerten. Known as the Vampire of Dusseldorf, Kuerten would suck the blood from the wounds in his victim’s neck. On one occasion he drank so much blood that he vomited.
One of the more mysterious Vampire murders took place in Sweden in 1932. The Atlas Vampire, as he was known drained all the blood from his victim’s body. Authorities never caught the man, but you can see the case file and evidence of the crime at the Stockholm Police Museum.
This Halloween, remember vampires don’t like garlic or holy water. A wooden stake driven through the heart will kill them, any other material won’t do. And they hate the sunlight.
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