In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Poienari Castle

Although some touristic organizations still see Bran Castle as the main residence of Vlad III, others are convinced that Poienari Castle (also called Poienari Fortress) deserves that title. Let’s face it: a national leader, a man with a lot of enemies, needed to live in a building that is difficult to conquer, let alone approach. And since this fortress is located on a cliff of 800 meters high, it fits the description a lot better than Bran Castle.

Let’s have a look at the location. Poienari is the name of the castle, but the place itself is called Arefu.

The construction of this castle started at the beginning of the 13th century and there is indeed historical proof that Vlad the Impaler – and other leaders of Wallachia for that matter – lived here! Unfortunately, the castle was abandoned many times and finally fell into ruins. In the 20th century, landslides and earthquakes moreover caused further damage.

A couple of interesting (juicy) historical details!

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. (Atlas Obscura)

With “his”, we do indeed refer to Vlad Tepes.

One of the stories of the castle actually says that Vlad impaled some of the boyars nearby Targoviste, boyars considered to be guilty for the death of his brother Mircea and ordered the remaining to work at the castle. The chronicles of that time note that they worked so hard at the castle that their clothes got torn to pieces and many of them died of exhaustion. (www.romaniajournal.com)

Whilst there are various tellings of this story and some with conflicting endings, it is sometimes believed that Vlad has these workers killed or impaled in the valley once the castle was completed. (amyscrypt.com)

By the way, you might think by now that Vlad Tepes was a cruel, sadistic leader. But consider this: these were different times when torture was quite common. Besides, historians have pointed out that Vlad wanted to set an example to his enemies and criminals in general by choosing one of the cruelest methods of execution. And that happens to be impalement…

Back to Poienari Fortress. Along the road near Arefu, at a certain point, you will see this…

This is the entrance of the fortress. Unfortunately, more than 1400 (!) steps await you to go to the castle itself. Lars and I did not make it; we are not that young anymore! Or should we be honest and admit that our physical condition is not the best? Anyway, we could only take a couple of pictures…

By the way, this is one of the very few times that Lars and I were unable to reach our destination.

A couple of words of advice… The castle is sometimes closed due to… bear attacks! Contact a tourist information office before you go there. Moreover, when we were there and looked longingly at the entrance, we were suddenly surrounded by stray dogs. Keep calm, let them have a sniff and they will eventually leave you alone.

Anyway, due to its isolated location and the difficult accessibility, Poienari Castle isn’t as popular as Bran. Maybe – or probably – that is the reason that tourist organizations keep on promoting the latter. However, if you have the possibility and the physical stamina, visit it! You will be able to take pictures such as these. By the way, the castle is located at one of the most famous roads in the world: the Transfăgărășan!

Final question: did this fortress inspire Bram Stoker when he described Dracula’s castle? That is highly debatable. First of all, the action in the novel takes place in a different region of Romania. Moreover, at that time, Poienari Castle was relatively unknown and to a certain extent, it still is. And, as I said in my former post, Stoker could have taken an English castle as an example.

Now, I am excited to announce that our next location is very special indeed! Not only because it is one of the most beautiful Romanian locations, but it is only recently that historians have proven a connection between Vlad Tepes and this place! So, keep on following us…

3 thoughts on “In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Poienari Castle

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