Meet Vlad the Impaler, the Man Who Inspired Dracula
In Romania’s Bran Castle, you can learn about Vlad the Impaler, the bloodthirsty man who inspired Dracula.
Meet Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Inspired Dracula
Pretty much everyone's heard of Dracula. Even if you haven't read Bram Stoker's "Dracula," you know the story and its title character.
As the most famous vampire in history, Dracula has captured our imagination ever since his eponymous novel was published in 1897. The Transylvanian count who haunts the night, tricking innocent people and sucking their blood, is the basis of countless plays, movies, parodies and Halloween costumes.
But while we're sure (OK, mostly sure) immortal bloodsucking creatures of the night don't exist, Dracula was inspired by a real man named VladIII Draculea. Nicknamed for his favorite pastime, Vlad the Impaler was as bloodthirsty as the fictional creature named after him.
Get to know Vlad the Impaler, how he came to influence the fictional Dracula and what it's like to visit "Dracula's Castle."
The Man Behind the Legend — Vlad the Impaler
Born sometime between 1428 and 1431, Vlad III was the ruler of Wallachia, a region in what is now Romania. He got his name from his father, who was inducted in the Order of the Dragon, a Christian order of the Holy Roman Empire that fought against the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
The son of Dracul, Vlad III Draculea lived a violent life. Besides growing up in constant war, he and his younger brother were captured and held hostage by the Ottomans for years. Once he was released, he learned that his father and older brother had been murdered.
From this point on, his life became a medieval cliche of fighting for power over territory he deemed his birthright to rule.
Though his general story is one in a million, Vlad III managed to survive in the history books because of his uncommonly horrifying sadism (and that's by medieval standards).
As you may have guessed from his colorful nickname, Vlad the Impaler (or Vlad Tepes, in Romanian) loved to punish people by impaling them. While other rulers at the time used this method to instill fear in the hearts of opponents, no one seemed to enjoy it more than him.
Vlad the Impaler's Horrifying Acts
By some accounts, he impaled 20,000 Turkish soldiers in 1462 and left them on display for the Ottoman army to see. The strategy reportedly worked, as horror took hold of the Ottomans, who retreated from their invasion.
But it wasn't just enemy soldiers he impaled. Anyone who displeased him was at risk of a terrible death. Some claim he impaled 500 Boyars (Russian aristocrats) after a banquet on a single night. He also impaled merchants who were allied with the Boyars and poor and sick commoners he deemed unsightly.
Other horrible torture techniques he would use included boiling or skinning people alive, disembowelment, and nailing turbans onto people's heads on at least one occasion.
It's hard to know which stories are true and which are exaggerations, but during his lifetime and after his death, there were rumors that he enjoyed dipping bread in the blood collected from his victims. Though these accounts are not verified, they persisted throughout the centuries in connection to his name. He is estimated to have killed 80,000 people.
Eventually, Vlad Tepes' violent life caught up with him, and he was killed in an ambush in 1476. Several reports state that he was beheaded and that his head was delivered to his mortal enemy, Mehmed II, who impaled it and left it on display over Constantinople.
How Vlad the Impaler Became Dracula
So how did this evil human being get transformed into an immortal monster by an Irish author who never set foot in Romania? As often happens in history, it was through a series of random coincidences.
Vlad the Impaler's cruelty gained notoriety throughout Europe, and the legend persisted over time. In 1820, William Wilkinson, the British consul to Wallachia, wrote a book about him, which is thought to have landed in Stoker's hands.
Stoker was fascinated by the name "Dracula," especially since "drac" in modern Romanian means "devil." He also learned from books that in the region of Transylvania — which is not where Vlad the Impaler lived nor reigned — there were folktales of "steregoi," living people whose souls came out at night to haunt villages. Tales of vampires have also existed in the region for centuries.
Stoker mixed these details to make a vampire named Dracula, who lived in a castle in Transylvania and only came out at night. He also played a significant role in turning Romania's Bran Castle into "Dracula's Castle." Even today, thousands of people visit the landmark searching for the frightening monster.
Visiting Dracula's Castle
We already know Vlad the Impaler ruled over Wallachia, not Transylvania. And yet, the latter is home to Bran Castle.
As Stoker was researching Romania for his book, he came upon an illustration of Bran Castle. High above the mountains, where it's dark and misty, he found it perfect for his monster.
Because Vlad Tepes' real castle is in ruins and Bran Castle is the only fortification that fits the book's description, it's become known as "Dracula's Castle."
Though it didn't house a bloodthirsty warlord, the castle was built in the 13th century and was the residence of Romania's last monarchs, who were exiled after the communists took over in 1948.
We'd still recommend that you visit Transylvania and Bran Castle if you're interested in Dracula and other ghoulish legends. Sure, it may not have been the site of Vlad the Impaler's horrific acts, but that's a plus in our book.
The castle fits Stoker's description of Dracula's abode so well that you'll half expect a young Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder to pop up in period costumes beside you.