The Legend and History of Count Dracula

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The region of Transylvania is an unnervingly-fitting home for the semi-fictional character of Dracula. Dense wooden forests and isolated mountain roads are a chillingly-appropriate setting for the vampire protagonist, but where did the idea come from? Like most great writers, imagination played a big role in the creation of Bram Stoker’s most notable and infamous character. However, to the surprise of many, there was a real person behind the myth. In this article, we look to separate the myth from the man, to truly understand the legend behind the world’s favourite vampire, Count Dracula.

As we’ve addressed in a previous article, Romanian mythology and folklore is rife with tales of good and evil, giants, wizards, and all manner of beings, described in the many varied stories told across the country. Irish writer, Bram Stoker, found these stories and immersed himself in what he described as ‘a whirlpool for the imagination’. Having never even visited the site that he describes in his book, Dracula, Stoker published his famous work in 1897.

The Real Count Dracula

The small town of Sighisoara, with cobbled streets and brightly coloured houses, is the place where it all began. It was here where Vlad the Impaler was born in 1431. Vlad was, in fact, the inspiration behind Stoker’s anti-hero. Despite this, Vlad is hailed as a hero in Romania. His name derives from the myth that he impaled 30,000 enemy Turks in the 1450s.

With the birth name Vlad Draculea, he spent most his childhood in the Ottoman Empire. As an adult, he came back to Wallachia, in the South of Romania. Here, he ruled for three times.

His father, Vlad Dracul, was a military governor of Wallachia. A year before his son’s birth, he had become a member of the Christian Order of the Dragon. As such, the inspiration for the name of Dracula is born out of the Latin word for Dragon (Draco). Additionally, the uniform of a member of the Order of the Dragon is a black cloak worn over red, providing ample inspiration for Stoker’s fictional character Dracula. As a side note, it is worth highlighting the fact that the Romanian word for devil is “drac”. As a cynical joke, the population changed the name of the ruling family from “Dragulesti” (meaning the dear ones) to “Draculesti” (meaning the devil ones).

A conveniently-timed release of the book coincided with a genuine epidemic of ‘vampirism’ hitting the European continent. Initially starting in the east in the 17th century, it continued into the 18th with a huge rise in reported cases. Then, word got out to Western countries with return travellers telling stories of the undead. As such, they were fuelling the appetite for vampire-based fiction. At that point in history, with limited means of travel, readers were certain that the story was based on real facts.

A bloody reign

Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, received his name from his controversial method of impaling people who committed crimes. Having seized the throne of Wallachia in 1456, there are many accounts of cruel punishments that gave birth to a divided opinion on him. One of these methods was choosing to impale criminals and enemies and raising them up in the town square. This was Vlad’s punishment of choice for anyone caught lying, stealing or committing more serious offences, such as murder. To prove the effectiveness of these methods, Vlad placed a golden cup by a well in the square of Targoviste. Travellers could drink from the cup but had to always leave it there. Under his reign, crime and corruption rates plummeted, businesses could thrive and honesty prevailed.

That said, many materials that relate to his time at the throne were German propaganda leaflets. The prime link between Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) and Bram Stoker’s fictitious Count Dracula is in Stoker’s literary work. Because of his controversial methods and reputation as a whole, there are various different stories and illustrations of Vlad, both by allies and enemies who have tried to blacken his reputation.

The history behind Dracula and the region of Transylvania as a whole is intriguing and mysterious. To understand it all, travel to the place where it all began. The Dracula Experience is the place to start. If you want to explore more of Transylvania, then the 7-night Transylvania Experience might be right for you. For even more of Romania, check out the 14-night Romania Experience.