Poenari Castle ,also known as Poenari Citadel , is a ruined castle in Romania  , notable for its connection to Vlad III the Impaler  .The castle is located on a cliff, on the West side of the  Transfagarasan  road in  Arges County   on a canyon formed on the  Arges River   valley, close to the  Fagaras Mountains . Poenari Castle was erected around the beginning of the 13th century by the rulers of Wallachia  . Around the 14th century, Poenari was the main citadel of the  Basarab  rulers. In the next few decades, the name and the residents changed a few times but eventually the castle was abandoned and left in ruins.However, in the 15th century,realizing the potential for a castle perched high on a steep precipice of rock,Vlad III the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure, making it one of his main fortresses. Although the castle was used for many years after Vlad’s death in 1476, it eventually was abandoned again in the first half of the 16th century and was in ruins by the 17th century. Due to its size and location, control of the castle was difficult to take, even by natural forces. However, in 1888, a landslide brought down a portion of the castle which crashed into the river far below. Nonetheless, the castle was slightly repaired and the walls and its towers still stand today. To reach the castle, visitors need to climb 1,480 steps.

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During the Communist era in Romania, foreign visitors sometimes spent the night inside the castle ruins.

Claims that the Poenari Castle would be the “real” Castle Dracula as featured in  Bram Stoker’s   famous  Dracula   novel have no basis in Stoker’s book. Stoker never heard of the Poenari Castle. It is ca. 200 km away from the novel’s place of action in the north-east corner of Transylvania. As discovered by the Dutch author Hans Corneel de Roos, Stoker’s own handwritten research notes confirm that the novelist had a specific location in that region for the Vampire’s stronghold in mind while writing his novel: an empty mountain top 2,033 m high, located in the Transylvanian Carpathian Mountains, near the former border with Moldavia.

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476/77), was a member of the House of Draculesti ,a branch of the House of Basarab, also known by his  patronymic  name: Dracula. He was posthumously dubbed Vlad the Impaler  and was a three-time Prince  of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462, the period of the  incipient Ottoman conquest of the Balkans . His father , Vlad II Dracul , was a member of the Prder of the Dragon,which was founded to protect Christanity in Eastern Europ .Vlad III is revered as a folk hero in  Romania ’s well as other parts of Europe for his protection of the  Rpmanian population both south and north of the Danube.A significant number of Romanian and  Bulgarian   common folk and remaining   boyars ( nobles)  moved north of the Danube to  Wallachia , recognized his leadership and settled there following his raids on the  Ottomans .As the cognomen  ‘The Impaler’ suggests, his practice of  impaling his enemies is part of his historical reputation.During his lifetime, his reputation for excessive cruelty spread abroad, to Germany  and elsewhere in Europe  . The name of the vampire   Count Dracula in Bram Stocker’s 1897 novel  Dracula   was inspired by Vlad’s  patronymic.

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During his life Vlad wrote his name in Latin  documents as Wladislaus Dragwlya,vaivoda partium Transalpinarum(1475).His  Romanian patronymic  Dragwlya Dragulea, Drăculea,  is a diminutive of the epithet Dracul carried by his father Vlad II , who in 1431 was inducted as a member of the Order of the Dragon , a chivarlic order   founded by  Sigismund of Hungary  in 1408.Dracul is the Romanian definite form, the -ul   being the suffixal definite article (deriving from Latin ille).

Vlad was born in SighisoaraTransylvania ,Kingdom of Hungary   1000-1538  (today part of  Romania  ), in the winter of 1431 to  Vlad II Dracul ,future  voivode of Wallachia . Vlad’s father was the son of the celebrated Voivode  Micrea the Elder  .His mother is unknown, though at the time his father is believed to have been married to Princess Cneajna of  Moldavia  (eldest daughter of  Alexander “the good” Prince of Moldavia  and aunt to Stephan the Great of Moldavia   ) and also to have kept a number of mistresses. He had two older half-brothers, Micrea II and Vlad Calugarul,and a younger brother, Radu III the Handsome  .In the year of his birth, Vlad’s father, known under the nickname Dracul, had traveled to   Nuremberg   where he had been vested into the  Order of the Dragon .Vlad and Radu spent their early formative years in Sighișoara. During the first reign of their father, Vlad II Dracul, the Voivode brought his young sons to  Targoviste   the capital of Wallachia at that time.

 

The  Byzantine  chancellor Mikhail  Doukas showed that, at Târgoviște, the sons of boyars and ruling princes were well-educated by Romanian or Greek scholars commissioned from Constantinople   . Vlad is believed to have learned combat skills, geography, mathematics, science, languages  ( Old Church Slavonic , German, Latin), and the classical arts and philosophy.

 

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In October 2011, prince Charcles  publicly claimed that he is a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. The claim accompanied his announcement of a pledge to help conserve the forested areas of Transylvania. Radu Florescu documented on page 193 of his book, “Dracula: Prince of Many Faces” that the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I granted Ladislas Dracula and his brother John recognition as Dracula’s direct descendants. Based on their documentation, the Emperor granted them letters patent (a patent of nobility) on January 20, 1535, in which their descent is described and also specific mention is made in the patent of “the ancient insignia of Ladislas’s family” as being the same as that of the Bathory family—a gules (red) sword covering three wolf teeth.

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In 1456, three years after the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople, they threatened Hungary by besieging  Belgrade .Hunyadi began a concerted counter-attack in Serbia : while he himself moved into Serbia and relieved the siege (before dying of the plague),Vlad led his own contingent into Wallachia, reconquered his native land and killed Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat.

Vlad found Wallachia in a wretched state: constant war had resulted in rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Regarding a stable economy essential to resisting external enemies, he used severe methods to restore order and prosperity.Vlad had three aims for Wallachia: to strengthen the country’s economy, its defense, and his own political power. He took measures to help the peasants’ well-being by building new villages and raising agricultural output. He understood the importance of trade for the development of Wallachia.He helped the Wallachian merchants by limiting foreign merchant trade to three market towns: Târgșor, Câmpulung and Târgoviște.Vlad considered the  boyars   the chief cause of the constant strife as well as of the death of his father and brother. To secure his rule he had many leading nobles killed. He also gave positions in his council which had traditionally belonged to the greatest boyars to persons of obscure or foreign origin who would be loyal to him alone. For lower offices, Vlad preferred knights and free peasants to boyars. In his aim of fixing up Wallachia, Vlad issued new laws punishing thieves. Vlad treated the boyars with the same harshness, believing them guilty of weakening Wallachia through their personal struggles for power. The army was also strengthened. He had a small personal guard, mostly made of mercenaries, who were rewarded with loot and promotions. He also established a militia or ‘lesser army’ made up of peasants called to fight whenever war came.Vlad Dracula built a church at Târgșor (allegedly in the memory of his father and older brother who were killed nearby), and he contributed with money to the Snagov Monastery.

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Later that year, in 1459,  Ottoman Sultan  Mehmed II sent envoys to Vlad to urge him to pay a delayed  tribute   of 10,000 ducats and 500 recruits into the Ottoman forces. Vlad refused, because if he had paid the ‘tribute’, as the tax was called at the time, it would have meant a public acceptance of Wallachia as part of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad, just like most of his predecessors and successors, had as a primary goal to keep Wallachia as independent as possible. Vlad had the Turkish envoys killed on the pretext that they had refused to raise their “hats” to him, by nailing their  turbans  to their heads. Meanwhile, the Sultan received intelligence reports that revealed Vlad’s domination of the Danube. . He sent the Bey    of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha, to make peace and, if necessary, eliminate Vlad III.Vlad Țepeș planned to set an ambush.Hamza Pasha, the Bey of Nicopolis,brought with him 1000 cavalry and when passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad launched a surprise attack. The Wallachians had the Turks surrounded and defeated. The Turks’ plans were thwarted and almost all of them caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha impaled on the highest stake to show his rank.In the winter of 1462, Vlad crossed the Danube and devastated the entire Bulgarian land in the area between  Serbia  and the  Black Sea  Disguising himself as a  Turkish Sipahi  and utilizing the fluent Turkish he had learned as a hostage, he infiltrated and destroyed Ottoman camps.In a letter to Corvinus dated 2 February, he wrote:

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I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him (Sultan Mehmet II).

 

In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, and in spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. Commanding at best only 30,000 to 40,000 men (depending of the source), Vlad was unable to stop the Ottomans from crossing the Danube on June 4, 1462 and entering Wallachia.He constantly organized small attacks and ambushes on the Turks, such as  The night Attack  when 15,000 Turks were killed. This infuriated Mehmed II, who then crossed the Danube. With the exception of some Turkish references all the other chronicles at the time that mention the 1462 campaign state that the Sultan was defeated .

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Apparently, the Turks retreated in such a hurry that by July 11, 1462 the Sultan was already in  Adrianopolis . According to the Byzantine historian Laonikos Chalkondyles  Radu, brother of Vlad III and ingratiate of the Sultan, was left behind in Targoviste with the hope that he would be able to gather an anti-Vlad clique that would ultimately get rid of Vlad as  Voivode of Wallachia and crown Radu as the new puppet ruler.Vlad the Impaler’s attack was celebrated by the Saxon cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope.A Venetian envoy, upon hearing about the news at the court of Corvinus on 4 March, expressed great joy and said that the whole of Christianity should celebrate Vlad Țepeș’s successful campaign. The Genoese from Caffa also thanked Vlad, for his campaign had saved them from an attack of some 300 ships that the sultan planned to send against them.

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Even without its bloody historic ties, Poenari Castle, also known as Poenari Fortress, would be a majestic, exciting place to explore on its own merit. Architecture buffs would marvel at the 13th century mortar work, lovers of fantastic scenery would find the cliffside view mind-blowing. Poenari Castle doesn’t need a sordid story to be spectacular, but it happens to have that as well.       

The story is a legendary one and to many, a confusing mixture of truth, history, legend, and fiction due to the convolution between the novel “Dracula” and the factual history of Vlad III Dracula “The Impaler”, whose name inspired the book. Bram Stoker modeled some of his main character on the more basic facts about Dracula’s actual life, but his knowledge of Romanian history and the true story of Vlad the Impaler remains suspect.

The true Dracula, (Turk-impaling Prince of Wallachia as opposed to the sultry blood sucker) fell in love with Poenari Castle in the 15th century, and realizing its potential as a major stronghold with an amazing vantage point, consolidated and fixed up the crumbling fortress, making it one of his main places of residence. It’s said that his first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, flung herself from the towers of Poenari during a siege by Vlad’s muslim brother, Radu Bey. Before flinging herself into the Arges River below, she exclaimed she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than to be a captive of the Turks.

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In the end the walls of Poenari would not keep Dracul the Dragon safe, but it was not the fortress that failed him. Vlad’s brother Radu cel Frumos was given the daunting task of leading the Ottoman Empire to victory, which positioned him directly at odds with his infamously brutal older brother. While Vlad could not be defeated in battle, his habit of alienating allies and undermining their authority became his downfall. After running out of money for his mercenaries, he went to his supposed friends for help, and they quickly betrayed him, and had him arrested for high treason. While he managed to untangle himself and went on to declare a third reign, it was an uphill battle that eventually killed him, and he never returned to his castle on the hill.

Poenari Castle is located on the right side of the Transfăgărăşan road in Argeş County, on a cliff near the Făgăraş Mountains. In 1888, a landslide brought a portion of the fortress crashing down the cliff, but otherwise the structure has been mildly maintained and can still be visited today, but there is quite a climb to reach the ruins – over 1,000 steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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