Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Vlad's Birthplace

The fortified town of Sighisoara
Sighisoara is an idyllic city, but is also the birthplace of a man was who born to be remembered for his gruesome atrocities against humanity. Then again, if you ask the folks from Romania, the vast majority with whom we spoke believe this very same man is a national hero. To the Romanians, Vlad Dracula saved Europe from the invading Ottoman Empire. Though he may have left a trail of death wherever he and his army marched across the country, one fact remains steadfast - the Turks left Europe broken after encountering what this man was capable of.

Am I hero or monster? Choose your answer very carefully!
He didn't earn the nickname from those very same Turks as Vlad the Impaler (Tepes) randomly. No, this Prince of Wallachia used unimaginable tortures on his enemies, both foreign and domestic. He was cruel, there is no doubt, but 15th century Europe was cruel with empires fighting each other constantly, family murdering family to take the throne, invading armies butchering everyone and everything that they came across. At that time, life was cheap.

Very cheap.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's start with a cute little story of a boy being born in the small village of Sighisoara.

In the wooded lands known as Transylvania, centrally located in Romania bordered, by the Carpathian Mountains, Vlad's father, Vlad II had lived in a small three story home in the fortified town of Sighisoara. He had been destined to rule Wallachia but had to leave and live in a brief exile in Transylvania when his half-brother, Alexander I Aldea invaded Wallachia and dethroned Dan II.

Vlad II - Vlad III's father

Fortified entrance for Sighisoara

View from the top of the original Sighisoara
Seems complicated? During the fifteenth century in Europe politics were nothing if not confusing - trying to keep up with who killed who for the throne, (and there were many thrones), is enough to drive a researcher batty.

Get it? 'Batty' and we are writing about Transylvania and vampires - well not vampires exactly, but the region from which Bram Stoker got the idea for his infamous vampire tale. Clever!

Laureen getting ready to visit Vlad III
So, the Dracul family's patriarch, Vlad II, had become a member of the Order of the Dragon in 1431. He was inducted by Sigismund of Luxembourg, while living in Sighisoara awaiting when the moment that the time would be right for Dracul II (as he came to be known) to move back to Wallachia and regain his throne.

The house were Vlad III was born...

Campy but fun - Dracula trying to make a meal of John.

But this isn't about Dracul II. Rather it is about a little boy born into a family with a mother, perhaps Dracul II's wife, Cneajna - a daughter of Alexander I of Moldavia - or a mistress, along with his older brother Mircea. Dracul II's last male child, Radu wouldn't be born until around 1439. So, the Vlad Dracula we know from countless tales and films started life like any other person who was born into royalty.

He was brought up to read, write, master horsemanship, learn warrior skills, and perhaps a few other skills that would make him a delight in any royal court.
Little Vlad used to run through these streets as a young boy...
But then again, little Vlad III did grow up to be something the world had never seen before.

A monster or a hero, depending on your perspective.

And this is the question we pondered during our trip to Romania. Who was this person? This Vlad III - was he the hero who kept Europe safe from the Ottoman Empire? Or just a psychopath who enjoyed killing for killing sake?

If a monster - why all the plaques and statues of him throughout so much of Romania?
Doing research for a new novel - J mentioned that one thing he learned from the three weeks traveling Romania is that he knows less than he did before the trip. There are so many back alleys and plot twists to understanding who this person made famous, or infamous, by the Irish writer Stoker that it almost defies comprehension.

A store owner in a cobbled narrow street of Sighisoara shared that to her and most Romanians, Vlad III - Vlad the Impaler was a national hero. She said that if I were to write his story, please let the world know he was a good man, a true hero, and of course, not a vampire. Though she did admit his way of restoring order in a difficult time may have seem cruel. She said, "He was a cruel leader for a cruel time." We must judge individuals by the time in which they live. Very wise, these Roma.

The tourist information administrator, the one dissenting voice with whom J and L spoke in our travels, stated that she believed Vlad was nothing but evil. "I've never heard anyone say he was a good man."

J stated that he never said Vlad III was a good man but perhaps a hero.

"I've never heard that either," the woman followed up.

Pretty women love the bad boys - don't they?
Whatever her beliefs were, there is one thing that is certain about Vlad III - the Dracula in Stoker's novel - he is good for business. The main portion of Romania's tourists come for one thing and one thing only - Dracula.

Many shops depend on the myth or reality of Dracula - Vlad III
Traveling the highways and byways of Romania, one can get a certain feeling that the population - a large part of the population believes Vlad III is a hero but there are those who feel the methods he used to control the population were beyond cruel and bordered evil.
Was this gargoyle in Sighisoara a harbinger for of the future reign of Vlad III?
Of course, it is not these researchers purview to decide on how people should feel but just to simply write stories backed by research and exploration.

Then again, this is the telling of a young boy being born in 1431 in a small but important fortified town in Transylvania.
Dude, who are really? And don't impale me for being impudent?