The Legend of Poenari Castle, the fortress of Vlad the Impaler
Poenari Castle, also known as the Fortress of Vlad the Impaler, is a ruined castle in Romania, located on a steep cliff on Cetatuia Mountain (860 meters height) at the entrance to the Arges Gorges.
The construction of the castle began in the 13th century under the rule of Negru Voda, but it was Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) who brought it back to life in the 15th century. The legend says that during his reign in Wallachia the Impaler envisioned the defense potential of the castle so he decided to reconstruct it, turning it into one of his main places of residence. Chronicles say he rehabilitated the castle using boyars (Romanian noblemen) nearby Targoviste.
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.
Another tale says Vlad’ first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, flung herself from the towers of Poenari during the siege of Vlad’s Muslim brother, Radu Bey, exclaiming she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than be a prisoner of the Turks. She died smashed on the rocks and the river Arges crossing nearby got all red from the lady’s blood. Thenceforth the river is called The Lady’s River.
Vlad managed to escape the siege of his fortress by using a secret passage through the mountains and, helped by some peasants in Arefu village, he arrived in Transilvania. The fortress was the last refuge for Tepes before leaving in Transylvania. He died assassinated in December 1476.
The Poenari Castle welcomes over 5,000 tourists every year, although the access is difficult due to almost 1,500 steps which visitors have to climb. The Castle also attracts more and more documentary filmmakers, mostly from abroad.
A modern rendering of Poenari Castle was featured in the 2013 television series Da Vinci’s Demons in the episode titled “The Devil” in which Leonardo da Vinci travels to Poenari Castle in Wallachia to meet with Vlad III.
At the same time, it was rumored that Poenari Castle would have been the real Castle Dracula featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, but these claims are unfounded, as it is about 200 km away from the novel’s place of action in the northeast corner of Transylvania.