In these photos from 2002, the Monkey explores the crumbling ruins of a castle long ago inhabited by the notorious ruler, Vlad Tepes—although you may know him better as Dracula. Before escaping to Transylvania, the Monkey also traverses some stunning Carpathian mountain scenery.
Vlad Tepes was a 15th Century ruler of Wallachia. His father was Vlad Dracul, which made Vlad Jr. “Son of Dracul”, or Dracula. He ruled at a time when Transylvanian Saxon merchants and nobles were vying for his lands, and more importantly, when the Ottomans were driving north swallowing everything into their Empire. Vlad earned his nickname (“the Impaler”) in part as a result of his campaigns to stave off the Turkish advance: he impaled 20,000 Turkish soldiers and Bulgarian prisoners on stakes in the path of another oncoming Turkish army; the second army turned back in disgust. Vlad also had a penchant for burning his rivals—and many of his subjects—alive.
Bram Stoker, the 19th Century Irish author, used elements of Romanian folk tales of vampires, a few details from Vlad’s life, and his imagination to flesh out his most famous novel, Dracula. But the Monkey wants to clarify that the novel is a work of fiction, and many Romanians take issue with those who draw too many connections between Vlad’s life and the life (and afterlife) of Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula.
The Monkey has a look at the view northward up the Arges valley from Vlad Tepes’ Poienari Castle. A back part of the castle fell down the mountainside in the late 19th Century, leaving precarious drops and precious little of the structure still intact. Nonetheless, with views like this the Monkey could easily see how the castle was once able to control this narrow passageway through the mountains.
Another view of Vlad’s Castle at Poienari. When the Ottomans eventually did manage to conquer Wallachia, Vlad escaped on horseback through the Fagaras Mountains into Transylvania. Legend has it that his wife, rather than surrender to the Turks, committed suicide by jumping from the castle’s heights into the Arges River below.
Years later, after briefly regaining his throne, Vlad faced yet another Turkish onslaught. This time, though it is unclear exactly how, he was killed. Vlad the Impaler got his comeuppance: his severed head was sent to Istanbul where the Sultan had it impaled and put on display. Eventually the Ottoman Turks extended control over much of Romania.
Here’s the view of Vlad’s castle from the floor of the valley, before the Monkey climbed through the forests in search of vampires.
In this photo, the Monkey has descended from the castle and continued northward up the valley some way. You can just make out the castle walls perched perilously atop that sheer cliff in the center of the shot. This is likely the fall Vlad’s wife took as she sought to escape capture by the Ottoman invaders.
North of Vlad’s castle, the Monkey crossed the high peaks of the Fagaras Mountains, part of the Carpathian Alps that separate Wallachia from Transylvania. Some claim the Trans-Fagaran Highway is the highest road in Europe.
When storms brew in these jagged peaks, one’s mind does start to contemplate the existence of vampires. The Monkey managed to pass through without any mysterious bites on his neck.
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