This site is an outcome of the Comenius 2008-2010 multilateral project "European Journey Through Legends".

"Becoming more European does not mean forgetting our national cultural heritage, but sharing it with other European nation".

Dracula Myth vs. Legend, Story vs. Reality

Romania – the land of vampires

When referring to Romania the first thing that comes to mind is Transylvania. Home to some of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, most relating to the legend of Dracula. This is the reason why, for many foreigners, Romania is the land of Dracula. Although,  not as popular at home us he is abroad, Dracula has become a tourist attraction. Many people come to Transylvania seeking his trail, and many go away again disappointed.

Where does Dracula come from?

Did you ever wonder how the legend of Dracula came to be known and why it belongs to Romania? Besides the impressive story of Vlad the Impaler there are other important elements that build the legend. Perhaps one of the main reasons Romania is considered the homeland of vampires ist hat there are several legends that are centered on vampires.

One of the most important is the myth of Nosferatu- the illegitimate child of illegitimate parents. It is said that his name comes from the Greek nosophoros which means plague bearer of from the old Slavic word nosifor-atu or nesuferitu (obnoxious).

But Nosferatu didn’t feed with human blood. Its main feature was its libido, he being able to be intimate with the living. However, he made his victims-mistresses sick. Their fatigue evolved soon into a disease with symptoms similar to those of tuberculosis.

Nosferati, for there wasn’t only one, could also conceive this is why they were considered dangerous to young married couples; their hatred for those legally married making them to leave the young wife pregnant with their offspring.

Nostefati’s portrait is totally different from what we know today about vampires. The inhabitants of the Carpathians considered them to be highly sexual creatures that had nothing of the following features:  blood-drinking, fang-wielding, daylight and crucifix-fearing. This portrait has, unfortunately, no relation with the original Romanian legends, but in part with Bram Stocker’s novel.

dracula1Other very important legends are those of Moroii and Strigoii. These two are seen in close connection. The essential difference between them being the fact that Moroii are living vampires while Strigoii retourn from the dead. Moroii can also be both women and men and have all the characteristics that Strigoii have. Among the ways a person can become a Strigoi there is suicide or the fact that the dead person is the seventh son in the family. There is also the theory that if a pregnant woman drinks impure water or gets out of the house at night with nothing to cover her head the Evil One will appear and will put a red chitie on the head of the baby. This should be removed as soon as possible in order to prevent the transformation of the child. Although there are several versions of the origins of these mythological creatures: Strigoii and Moroii both have one common characteristic: they hurt their victims. However, only in some areas they are assimilated to the notion of vampires.

Varcolacii are other fantastic figures and they are considered to be the strongest type of undead. They are so strong they can eat the Moon and the Sun, making them disappear. They too appear when an unbaptised child dies. Their name seems to come from Bulgarian and Serbian vylx + dlaka meaning wolf hair. However these creatures don’t attack people directly so they are loosely connected with the vampires.

Morii, Varcolacii,Strigoii and the Nosferatu have contributed to the development of the vampire legends on the Romanian territory, influencing creativity all around the world and generating more and more new legends and interpretations, like the most recent Twilight saga.

The Fictional Count Dracula

Vlad the Impaler
Who is Dracula and what connexion  does it have with Transylvania? - this is the main question when somebody wants to discover the real story of legendary character.  

When one hears the name Dracula, most are inclined to think of a Hollywood fairytale with blood sucking vampires and a fictitious Count Dracula. This is true in one sense and completely false in another.

The figure most people associate to Dracula is a fairytale, written from the pen of Irish Novelist Bram Stoker. Many believe Stoker based his novel on the real life figure, Vlad Tepes III. Vlad was a prince of Walachia, located in central Romania. This is where the similarities end, as Stoker never actually visited Transylvania, or Walachia, and merely drew images from the stories written in European papers at the time.

Vlad Tepes was born in or around 1431, in the Transylvanian town of Sighisoara. Today you can visit the house in which Vlad was born, which has been restored to its original condition, and enjoy one of the best preserved medieval citadels in Europe. Prince Vlad III was named Drăculea by his contemporaries. This was because his father, Vlad II was invested by the Emperor Sigismund in Nuremberg on 8th February 1431 with the Order of the Dragon. This chivalric order was a military and religious society whose aims was to stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The arms of the Order depicted a dragon (symbol of the Ottomans) and a cross (symbol of Christianity) in Romanian the word for “Dragon” (“Drahe” in German) is “Drac” (“Devil” in Romanian language) and so Vlad added the epithet “Dracul” (“The Dragon”) this name and his descendents  were named “Drăculești” : Vlad III was “Drăculea” (i.e. “Son of Dracul”).

At the time Vlad was in power, Walachia was a main trading route, and a strategic Vlad Tepes (The Real Dracula) point in the battle between the Turkish, Invaders from the East and the Hungarian throne situated in Budapest. This caused a very turbulent situation, as the battle of religions with these powerful neighbours was often fought on these lands. Vlad was known for many things, most of which being his cruel and ruthless torture methods.

Impalement was Vlad's favourite form of punishment, and he held no favourites, whether it be local thieves, foreign nobleman, or the sick and poor. As stories vary from one person to the next, the true life of Vlad Tepes will never be known. The printing press releases from Germany and Russia have similarities to the stories and life of Vlad, and local folklore is probably the best way to find out more on Vlad's life.
Certainly, it was only the exaggeration of Prince Vlad – The Impaler’s cruelty by malicious chroniclers that led, over time, to the creation of the Dracula myth. A series of chronicles inspired by the life of Vlad The Impaler paint a macabre picture of the prince, who was wont to punish treachery, dishonesty, stupidity, laziness, lying, thievery,  corruption and flattery by impalement, bunging, flying, decapitation, boiling alive, blinding, crucifixion, stabbing and strangulation. Likewise, victims were buried alive, burned, roasted, maimed, or bad their nose, ears, tongues or genitals amputated.

The figure of The Impaler has remained emblematic for Romanians, in spite of the exaggerations  regarding his limitless cruelty. Legends have grown up around him: strange as it might seem, during his reign a golden cup stood at the edge of a fountain in the centre of Târgoviște, without ever beeing stolen.  Many things can be said of Vlad The Impaler: that he was cruel, and merciless, although just and courageous; that he knew no pity, although he was a  “voevod  concerned with people and nation”. The chronicles mention nothing of the monasteries and churches founded by Vlad The Impaler:  Comana (1461), the Churches of Strejnicu and Târgușoru Vechi (1461).  Although inexplicable his identification with a vampire-count, a personage inspired by horror films, has brought Vlad The Impaler an unexpected tourist celebrity. The bloody Drăculea has become a product perfect for “frightening” and “attracting” the tourists.

Vlad Tepes was the Romanian character that is the most famous in Europe and not only. He was the main character in the literary production from the second period of the XVth century in the Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Unfortunately this fame is a negative one and it shows the great leader as the symbol of the evil. How did such a complex personality end up to be such known when he was still alive?

The origins of his image are being pointed out by the nickname he was given “Tepes”, as he is known in the Romanian history. The nickname appears first in the Turkish chronicles of the XVth century and XVIth century. He is named as Kaziklu bey (the prince that impales). Vlad was given this nickname because of the cruel method he had chosen to execute the war prisoners, the convicts and the adversaries. Vlad Tepes was a descendent from the Dragon Order, known as The Draculestilor Order. In German language the Dragon Order is called Drachenorden and in Latin is called Societatis draconistrarum. It was a like any other knightly orders of the time, having as a role model the “Order of St.George” built in 1318. Like his father, Vlad Tepes was a member of the Dragon Order. A proof of this is the signature he used to sign on official documents of the time: Dracula. Along the centuries this signature gained unexpected meanings.

The name Dracula was rapidly spread in all Europe of that time. In the Turkish language it was known under the name of Kazîclî; the Pec Bishop called it Dracole; Dan a knight who wanted the Romanian throne called him Dracul (Devil); in the Serbian annals before 1462 appears as Dracula; in the German story until 1462 appeared as Dracal or Dracao; the bishop Nicolae de Madrussa called him Dracul; the Venice Senat – Dragulia sau Draculia; the Hungarian king Matei. On purpose or not, the name of Vlad Tepes together with his behaviour brought him a great fame. His special skills and qualities along with his actions brought him a special place in the Romanian tradition not as a bad character but as a Robin Hood character. He was unmerciful with the rich people that broke the law and a good friend to the poor people.

For the Romanian land peasants he was the national hero that served their cause. He became famous because of the so called German stories that tried to denigrate the great leader. He is presented here as an antichrist, a criminal, a cannibal (an engraved stone shows him in the middle of the a spike forest waiting for his subjects to serve him human organs). This campaign was coordinated by the Hungarian king Sigismund de Luxemburg, who had to justify the desertion of the crusade against the Ottoman Empire, as he was given important help from the Roman Pope.

Illustration from German chronicles of the time.

This is a scene of the impalement. Vlad Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler  is watching the operation from a table, having his lunch and drinking wine. The picture is not necessary relevant to the image of Romanian prince, because the Germanic sources was affected by the myths and political interests.
As Vlad Tepes had organized himself a campaign against the Ottoman Empire, well seen by the Pope, Sigismund’s action was received very well. He paid for some false writings against the Wallachian leader.This falses include: The manuscript from Viena, incorporated in the Chronichle of Thomas Ebendorfer, the comments of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the next to be Pope under the name of Pius the II (1458-1464), the verses of MichaelBeheim. From all the documents, the verses of Michael Beheim from 1462 – 1463: “About a tiran under the name of Dracula from the Romanian land” seem to be the most complex with 1070 verses. It is a synthesis of the German stories about Vlad Tepes, having a very powerful and eloquent ending. 950 of the verses describe the cruelties of him and in the other verses the horrible betrayal that led rightfully to his arrest. Being at the wrong time in the wrong moment Vlad Tepes was transformed from a great political and military personality of his time into a criminal of the history. The concept of “vampire” has the meaning taken from prehistoric times when the man being a hunter discoveredthat when an animal is killed and his blood drains’ from his veins, his life ends. The blood became in the mind of the hunter the source of life That is why some tribal members used to drink the blood of the animals killed, in order to claim their vitality. This practice was extended until the middle ages, where the prejudices of the Christian church turned this ritual practice from the life to the dead, and so the vampires appeared. As one of the most frequent phenomenon of the world history, the vampires had left their “fingerprint” on history since antiquity. From the Egyptian culture, from the Greek culture (the first wife of Zeus, Lilith, was considered to be a vampire), and from the Jewish culture until the far East to the Japanese (where are the vampire animals), the vampires have fascinated and intrigued the human society.

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