Discover Romania: Dracula’s Castle at Poenari

In an older post about Bran, I was telling you how the real Dracula was way more interesting than any fictional vampire.

Now, that I’m writing about Poenari Castle, one of the legendary places involving him, I will also explain why Vlad the Impaler is such a strong character from our history.

Vlad Ţepeş, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, was the son of Vlad Dracul. His father was a former Wallachian ruler in the 15th century, and had been part of the Order of the Dragon, thus gaining the name of Vlad Dracul, from Dragon (a title which he later loses).

Vlad the Impaler was prince of Wallachia three times, starting from 1448 until his death. To gain and keep his throne in those rough times, he had to strengthen his position through ruthless punishments, of which the most remembered one was impaling his enemies alive and leaving them there for days, to set an example. It is said that, during his rule, people were so scared to do anything wrong, that you could leave a crate of gold out on a field and nobody would touch it, for fear of being cruelly punished for stealing.

Poenari Castle was the Impaler’s secondary castle, used as a stronghold against the Ottomans. A legend says that, in 1462, while he was being followed by Ottoman troupes, Vlad took refuge in the castle. As the Turks destroyed the defense wall, Vlad ran away with a few of his men to the village of Arefu. In the village, some blacksmiths helped place the shoes on their horses backwards, so that their chasers would be fooled and loose track of them.

Another legend also involves an Ottoman attack. It tells that Vlad’s wife, knowing the enemies were near, threw herself off the castle walls into the river below, for fear of being captured alive. As her crushed body reddened the running waters below, the river was given the name of Râul Doamnei (the Lady’s River). This legend was actually depicted, in an adapted version, in the Dracula Untold film.

And a third legend refers to how the castle itself was extended and strengthened by Vlad’s orders. It is strongly connected to the death of his brother, Mircea II, who had been blinded with a hot iron and buried alive by the Târgovişte boyars. The legend says that, on Easter day, as the citizens of Târgovişte were feasting, he gathered all of them and had all the elders impaled. Then, all the men and women were brought to Poenari and forced to work hard on the castle, having it extended in only six months time.

How to reach Poenari Castle

The easiest way to get to Poenari Castle is by car, while the closest town is Curtea de Argeş. There are also buses from Curtea de Argeş bus station (Addres: No.7, 1 Mai Street) to Arefu village, and, of course, the castle is included in a lot of organized tours.

Once you get to this 13th century castle, you will not have conquered it so easily. There are 1,480 steps you must climb to get to it. But after getting there, you’ll be rewarded by breathtaking views and, perhaps, a chilling feel from being in a place of legend.

Just a little bit further from Poenari, you will have reached Vidraru dam and lake.

The construction of the dam, during Ceauşescu’s reign, was done between 1961 and 1966. But this beautiful lake surrounded by majestic rocks covered in mist hides tragic stories. It seems that around 400 people might have died during its construction, due to work accidents, although, officially, none of these deaths were made public.

To build it, the locals living in Cumpăna village were asked to move and received compensation for their houses. So, basically, Vidraru lake was build by destroying an entire community, and part of the former constructions are probably still laying at its bottom. And, of course, there are (unlikely) legends saying that some families would not move, and preferred to drown along with their homes, and that their ghosts are still haunting the dam.

From the dam area, you can see in the distance the Monument to Electricity, or statue of Prometheus. Made in 1965 by Constantin Popovici, it represents Prometheus holding a lightning bolt, the symbol of electricity.

While in the area, you can also visit Curtea de Argeș (interactive town map here), one of the oldest Wallachian settlements (13th century). The town holds a few interesting historical landmarks, such as the Saint Nicholas Princely Church, as well as the ruins of the old Princely Court.

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