A Tempest in a Snow Globe

Today was our first full day in the Transylvanian Saxon town of Sighișoara, the birthplace of Vlad Tepes III…aka Vlad the Impaler….aka Dracula. Ironic, as the past 24 hours it has felt as if we have brought on the full curse of the Romanians upon ourselves.

We have not had an easy time the last two days. I am feeling better, more or less, but Ada has been suffering with a cold, and none of us have slept much the past two nights. Restaurants have become more or less a nightmare, there hasn’t been much of anywhere for Ada to get down and run around (even if she was healthy), and our hotel room is literally an attic room the size of our closet back home. But let’s not focus on the negatives. Traveling with a baby was never going to be an easy undertaking, and instead let us draw our attention to what brought us here in the first place: the history.

The city itself played an important strategic and commercial role at the edges of Central Europe for several centuries. Sighișoara was one of the most important cities of Transylvania, with artisans from throughout the Holy Roman Empire visiting the settlement. The German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy, as well as building the fortifications protecting it. It’s estimated that during the 16th and 17th centuries Sighișoara had as many as 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches. Even walking around today it is evident of this tradition, as there were more stores offering crafts and handmade objects than I have seen virtually anywhere else we have been (sadly, most of them were closed). We purchased a couple pieces as a matter of fact….I couldn’t resist although I have no idea how I will pack them….just a couple small wall hangings on wood that we found to be hauntingly gorgeous.

Today Sighișoara is considered to be the most beautiful and well-preserved inhabited citadel in Europe, with authentic medieval Germanic architecture. It is one of the few fortified towns that are still inhabited. We aren’t able to post the photos today due to wifi issues unfortunately, but we took a lot and will provide the link once they are all uploaded.

The citadel is beautiful, but incredibly eerie. A lot of the towers (there are nine), are from the 13th century and stand as watchtower/gates to the town. You weave up the cobbled streets until you arrive at the top, where the gothic Church of the Hill sits, and behind it a graveyard dating back centuries. Both yesterday and today the citadel felt virtually empty and quiet, except for the hundreds of crows that circle the church and graveyard at the top. Like I said, eerie.

As before mentioned, the city is most commonly associated with Dracula as it was the place of his birth. Although he came to be Prince of Wallachia, the area of Romania south of Transylvania, he is still more commonly associated with the latter. Vlad Dracul was actually his father, which translates to “Vlad the Dragon”, a name he received upon becoming part of the Order of the Dragon. The Order was established by the Holy Roman Emperor, comprised of chosen members of nobility, and their mission was to fight the enemies of the Cross, in particular the Ottoman Empire. In modern Romanian, Dracul means “the devil”, which contributed to Vlad’s bad reputation. The fact that he was fond of the implementation of impaling as a means of torture probably didn’t help his reputation either. It wasn’t until Bram Stoker borrowed the name of Dracula for his Count in his 1897 novel, that his legend became associated with vampirism.

In actuality, since the middle of the 19th century, Romanian historians have treated Vlad as one of the greatest Romanian rulers, emphasizing his fight for the independence of the Romanian lands. Even Vlad’s acts of cruelty were often represented as rational acts serving national interest. Legend, folklore, and a modern taste for morbidity has highlighted the more gruesome of Vlad’s acts and maintained a connection to Stoker’s Dracula, despite the fact that vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures throughout history.

On that note, I’ll wrap up. More on Dracula once we reach “his” (though not really) castle. Tomorrow we travel to Brasov, our first location within Vlad Tepes’s Wallachia, to stay in the garden apartment of a sweet older couple who have invited us over to have dinner with them. I am looking forward to that.