Ghost Story: The Real Dracula

Thanks to Bram Stoker and Hollywood, Count Dracula is famous throughout the world as the bloodsucking vampire-count of  Transylvania.  But who was the ‘real’ Dracula and was he really as terrible as people imagine? While we’re on the subject, what about vampires? Are these bloodthirsty creatures merely based on myth and legend or is there some truth behind the tales? 

So let’s start from the beginning. A real-life ghost story. Once upon a time…
Vlad Dracul

Vlad Dracul

A little boy called Vlad is born…

Around 1431, a boy called Vlad was born in the three-storey house in Sighisoara within the shadow of the Clock Tower. He took his name from his father, Vlad Dracul, who was a member of ‘The Order of the Dragon’ although ‘dracul’ also derives from the word for ‘devil’.

He didn’t have a very nice childhood…

Vlad, along with his brother, was sent to the Turkish Sultan in 1442 as a hostage where he spent five years in Turkish captivity exposed to the terror and violence of the Ottomans. Years of exile in Moldavia and Transylvania only further informed his education in guile and terrorism.

Transylvanian Saxon engraving from 1462 depicting Vlad Țepeș

Transylvanian Saxon engraving from 1462 depicting Vlad Țepeș

He ruled by the stake…

Vlad Tepes became ruler of Wallachia in 1456 and adopted methods of extreme violence to punish law-breakers. He ruled ‘by the stake’ using his signature execution method of impaling his victims. Hammered onto a stake through the rectum, victims were raised aloft and left to die in agony, for all to see.

And did some pretty nasty things…

In 1459, Vlad the Impaler invited Wallachia’s disabled and unemployed to feast with his at his palace, asking them if they wished to be free of life’s sufferings. Given an affirmative response, Vlad the Impaler proceeded to have them all burnt alive, citing that he never wanted his subjects to suffer from illness or poverty.

Dracula Dines Among Impaled Corpses

German woodcut showing Dracula dining among the impaled corpses of his victims

Some very nasty things…

In 1460, having defeated his rivals in battle, Vlad dined among his impaled enemies using a holy icon as a dish. On occasion he was also reported to have eaten bread dipped in blood. Yuck! To scare off his Turkish enemies, Vlad prepared a forest of stakes 1km by 3km wide, upon which 20,000 captives were impaled.

Then he got his just desserts…

Vlad the Impaler was betrayed and killed. His head is thought to have been sent to the Sultan as a gift while his decapitated corpse was buried inside Snagov Monastery in Transylvania.

Elsewhere, vampirism choked the nation…

Dracula's Castle

Dracula’s Castle

 Vampire epidemics broke out across Eastern Europe. In the 1720s within an Austro-Hungarian village, a dead man who had been buried ten years previously returned as a vampire to his son’s cottage and touched him on the shoulder. By morning, the man was dead. Other reports claimed that long-dead villagers were returning to suck the blood of the village children, which led to several graves being exhumed. Not one of the corpses within showed any sign of decay. Spooky. In 1727, a soldier claiming to have been attacked by a vampire died shortly after his return home. Villagers who had either seen him that evening or had dreamt about him suffered from inexplicable weakness weeks later. When the body was exhumed, the mouth of the decaying soldier was found to be filled with blood and so a stake was driven into the heart.

vampire teeth

Love at first bite

Much later…

In 1899, despite the law against exhuming graves, Romanian peasants in Carasova dug up thirty corpses and tore them limb from limb in an attempt to stop a diphtheria epidemic. In 1909, a Transylvanian castle was burned to the ground by locals who believed that a vampire living within the castle walls was causing the deaths of their children.

Vampires in Twilight

Vampires in Twilight

More recently…

In 1988, in a Serbain village, a girl of thirteen years old was murdered by her family who believed her to be a vampire. And who can forget the recent vampire-movie and -novel craze?! You cannot fail to escape the hype around gorgeous-looking vampires.

Becoming Dracula…

Inspired by the reports of vampirism that were sweeping Eastern Europe, Bram Stoker conjured up his terrifying Count Dracula using the Transylvanian landscape as inspiration for the setting. Nowadays, Looks just how a vampire count’s castle should: a grim façade, perched high on a rock bluff, its turrets and ramparts rising in tiers against a dramatic mountain background.

Frances Dade and Bela Lugosi in Dracula

Frances Dade and Bela Lugosi in Dracula

The facts:

  • There was a Vlad Dracul born in the medieval town of Sighisoara, Romania.
  • Vlad Dracul earned the grim nickname “The Impaler”.
  • Vlad the Impaler later became known as Dracula.
  • Vampire epidemics actually existed.

For trips to Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania, Romania, please click here. We dare you!


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