Saturday 21st of January 2006
Translyvania: vast tracts of idyllic pre-industrial landscape. All these fab walled towns (but big flat complexes on the outskirts). I was headed to Sighisoara, after a stop in Medias. I was looking forward to getting to the heart of Transylvania – a bona fide principality which, for most of the thousand years before it became part of Romania in 1920, was dominated by Hungary to its west.
And so to the town of Sighisoara, surrounded by green hills and huddled at the feet of a medieval citadel. Now you are in Transylvania proper, following the trail of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and his famous trek from London to Constantinople between the two world wars; and surely his “inn with gabled and leaded windows in a square lifted high above the roofs and triple cincture of the town wall” and with its “heavy oak table in the gastzimmer”.
Early in the 12th century, Geza II, the King of Hungary, invited Saxons from Flanders and the Lower Rhine to come to Transylvania and defend his eastern border in return for land and privileges; so they came and settled. Sighisoara is one of these towns and there are dozens of viallages around here (that I did not have time to explore) that the Saxons built and which survive almost entirely untouched to this day, surrounded, in most cases, by equally untouched ancient landscape.
When I got to the station, you can see the walled city on the hill, so you can hardly get lost. Turn right at the station entrance and turn left the first major junction. You pass a few hostels, like Nathans which also has a franchise in Krakow, Poland but I read online there is only one hostel within the wallked town called the Burg Hostel and I accidently ran into it as I walked into the old walled city. A very cheap hostel for such nice facilities. Its build above a bar and has a restaurant as well. It only cost 100,000 lei for a single bed in a 4 person dorm. Thats only 3 Euro. I booked in and found the room, toilets (the hostel area) to be brand new. Double glazing, boiling hot radiators, clean sheets. Spotless white sheets. I nearly jumped into bed there and then but I wanted to se some of the town before it got dark.
I walked uptowards the clock tower and the graveyard. Big locked in dogs and I enjoyed it. There was hardly a sinner on the snow covered streets. There was also an unusual covered staircase leading up to the church.
After the light went, I walked into the centre of towna nd it was really nice. No tourist kitsh or tourist orientated restaurants. just simple pubs and clus. Nice pubs actually. After about 2 hours, I had a bite to eat in a restaurant. Simple choices. I had a nice meal for 200,000 which was soup (Ciorba de zaravat), chicken, veg and chips, bread (paine) and two beers. Rather bland but soup was nice.
I went back to the hostel and to its bar. It seems the hostel bar is very popular with locals. I paid only 20,000 a bottle (Skol beer) and people were coming and going. i was knackered tired for some reason. After two beers, I could ardly think straight. It was around 10.00pm and I went on the Internet for 30 minutes (10,000). I was knackered.
I had a great nights sleep, beacuse I was so tired. The room was very clean, very warm, nice views, double glazing and I had it all to myself with a bathroom just outside the door. Recomended.
Sunday the 22nd of January 2006
I had planned to get up early (I did) and catch the 11.27am train to Brasov (duration 2.41) which was a P -Persoanl train. But I was up around 7.35am and did a little sightseeing as I thought there was much more to the town. This was because during the walk to town last night, I viewed the wallked old town which is in an elavated position from a different angle. It seemed there were alot more buildings. But when I spend an hour and a half walking around this morning, it all centered on the one area. I had just seen it from behind. Really there isnt much to the buildings within the walled city. The two churches, the house where Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) was born, the clock tower etc.
The great thing about the hostel is your at the centre of things. Even the view from my hostel dorm was fab.
It was 9.00am and I decided to rush, grab my bags from that nice hostel and rush to get the 9.23, Rapid train (Duration 1.45) to brasov arriving at 11.27am. That would give me nearly two full days in Brasov.
Anyway, I made it just in time (including a hot coffee from the station – 8,000). It was cold this time of the morning and the ticket cost 235,000 lei. Off I go! Before that I should mention the towns (Sighisoara) connection with Dracula!!
The Truth About Dracula
The historical figure who inspired Bram Stocker for his novel – Dracula, is Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian).
He was descended from Basarab the Great, a fourteenth-century prince who is credited with having founded the state of Wallachia, part of present-day Romania. The most famous of the early Basarabs was Vlad’s grandfather, Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Elder). As Wallachian “voievod” (a word of Slavic origin, used in Romania for the leader of a principality, a war-lord, or a supreme chief), Mircea was prominent for his struggles against the Ottoman Empire and his attempts to exclude permanent Turkish settlement on Wallachian lands.
Mircea died in 1418 and left behind a number of illegitimate children. As there were no clear rules of succession in Wallachia (the council of “boyars” had the power to select as voivode any son of a ruling prince), Mircea’s death led to conflict between his illegitimate son Vlad (Vlad the Impaler’s father) and Dan, the son of one of Mircea’s brothers. This was the beginning of the Draculeti-Daneti feud that was to play a major role in the history of fifteenth-century Wallachia.
His father, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon),was a Knight of the Order of the Dragon; the main goals of this Order of knights was to protect the interest of Catholicism and to crusade against the Turks. Vlad Tepes was born in December 1431 in Sighisoara –
a fortress in Transilvania, a Romanian’s region. He was named also “Dracula”, a diminutive which means “the son of Dracul”.
We generally know few things about his childhood in Sighisoara. He had two brothers, Mircea and Radu. They all ived in Sighisoara until 1436.
In the winter of 1436, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), became prince of Valachia – now, Muntenia (one of the three Romanian provinces). He took up residence at the palace of Targoviste, the capital of Valachia.
Dracula and his family, lived in Targoviste with his father for six years, until 1442.Here, young Vlad was educated at court, with training that was appropriate for knighthood. But his father’s political actions were to have major consequences for him and his younger brother Radu. When Sigismund died, Vlad Dracul ranged from pro-Turkish policies to neutrality as he considered necessary to protect the interests of Wallachia. To ensure the reliability of Dracul’s support, the Sultan required that two of his sons — Vlad and Radu — be held in Turkey as guarantees that he would actively support Turkish interests.
After six yeres in Turkey, Vlad decided to return in Romania (his brother Radu decided to stay in Tukey until 1462) when he was informed about his father’s assassination in 1447, organized by Vladislav II; he was also informed about his older brother – Mircea, who had been tortured and buried alive by the boyars of Targoviste.
So, at only 17 old, Dracula, supported by a Turkish force, led to him by pasha Mustafa Hassan, took the throne of Valachia., but after only 2 months, the other claimant, Vladislav II, and took the throne of Valachia. In 1456, Dracula succeed again, killing his father’s assassin and so, he began his longest reign (6 years), when he hence established his controversed reputation.
His first act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Targoviste for the killing of his brother, Mircea. On Easter Sunday of 1458, he organized a princely feast, and with this ocassion, and arrested all the boyars and impaled them on stakes. Because his brutal punishment techniques (he orderd people to be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled, hanged, burned, nailed, roasted, buried alive, etc, but his favorite method was impalment on stakes ) he soon became quite known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad The Impaler)
He punished everyone who didn’t follow the state’s laws: he impaled the Transylvanian merchants who had ignored his trade laws, the German Saxons of Brasov fortress – Transylvania were also punished in order to protect the Wallachian commerce activities. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, was punished by impalement. Once, Dracula placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup could be used by thirsty travelers, but had to remain on the square . According to the available historic sources, it was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad’s reign. Dracula also looked upon the vagrants and beggars as thieves. Consequently, he invited them to his princely court in Tirgoviste for a great feast. After the guests ate and drank, Dracula ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. No one survived.
At the beginning of 1462, Dracula launched a campaign against the Turks. It was quite risky, the military force of Sultan Mehmed II being by far more powerful than the Valahian army. However, during the winter of 1462, Vlad was very successful and managed to gain many victories. To punish Dracula, the Sultan decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Valahia and to transform this land into a Turkish province and he entered Valahia with an army three times larger than Dracula’s. Finding himself without allies, Vlad, forced to retreat towards Tirgoviste, burned his own villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkish army would find nothing to eat or drink. Moreover, when the Sultan, exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was confronted by a most gruesome sight: thousands of stakes held the remaining carcasses of some 20,000 Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimately nicknamed the “Forest of the Impaled.” This terror tactic deliberately stage-managed by Dracula was definitely successful; the scene had a strong effect on Mehmed’s most stout-hearted officers, and the Sultan, tired and hungry, admitted defeat (it is worth mentioning that even Victor Hugo, in his Legende des Siecles, recalls this particular incident).
Nevertheless, following his retreat from Valahian territory, Mehmed left the next phase of the battle to Vlad’s younger brother Radu, the Turkish favorite for the Valahian throne. At the head of a Turkish army and joined by Vlad’s detractors, Radu pursued his brother to Poenari castle on the Arges river.
Vlad, managed to escape the siege of his fortress by using a secret passage into the mountain. Helped by some peasants of the Arefu village, he was able to reach Transilvania where he met the new king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. However, instead of providing some help, Matthias arrested Dracula and imprisoned him at the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. It was not until 1475 that Vlad was again recognized as the prince of Valachia, enjoying a very short third reign. In fact, he was assassinated toward the end of December 1476.
Dracula was buried at the Snagov Monastery