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History of Poienari Caste

Although we do not know the founder nor the construction time of this castle, we can suspect that it is older than the Vlach Empire. It most probably dates from the 13th century. The builders were the first emperors of Vlachs. The fortress was their first home, treasury and it also served as a prison. Around the 14th century, it was considered to be the main fortress of the Basarb dynasty. The location was undoubtedly advantageous. The castle was built upon a high mountain by the Arges. The strategical location allowed to control a significant mountain pass that linked Transilvania (in the past called Ardeal/Siebenbürgen which means “seven castles”) with the Vlach Empire.

The construction process probably had two stages. The square-shaped tower was built first in the 13th century. Its outside measurements are 8 x 8.15 meters. On the inside, however, it had only 4.6 x 4.3 meters. We can see that thick and sturdy walls were the main objective. As a result, the fortress stayed unconquered. The castle was quickly abandoned due to how small it was.

The situation changed in the 15th century with the help of the infamous Vlad III the Impaler, also known as Vlad Dracula. He noticed the advantages of the defense traits of the Poienari castle. Also, he was the one who triggered the further development of the fortress. Radu Popescu, the official chronicler at the royal court of Mikołaj Mawrokordat, made a record of it. Despite being born two centuries after Vlad, he excellently documented the history of the rulers of the Romanian lands. In his chronicle, we can find a record saying that Vlad punished the citizens of Targoviste for the harm they caused to his father and brother (read more on that story below). He forced them to slave-like work on the rebuilding of the fortress.

During this time, no later than in the second half of the 15th century, the donjon in Poienari was expanded by 60 meters long and 10-15 meters high walls. Additionally, it was outflanked on the Southside with three semicircular towers.

Who was Dracula? Was he, as the legend tells, a real vampire? Vlad the Impaler was born in Sighișoarze in Transilvania (“seven castles”). He was the second son of an Italian Hospodar - Vlad II Dracul or the Dragon. The father was a member of the Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund von Luxembourg in order to protect Christianity from the Ottoman Empire that was growing in strength. This is where his nickname comes from. “Draco” means “Dragon, later was changed into “Dracul” which in modern Romanian means “Devil”. Vlad the Impaler’s nickname “Drăculea” (“Dracula”) means the Son of the Dragon or son of the Devil.

Why he was named “the Impaler”? Well, he earned this one all by himself. An 11-year-old Dracula, his father and younger brother (Radu) were imprisoned by the Ottomans. The Ottoman Sultan, Murad II, released Vlad II Dracul. His sons, however, were kept hostage in order to assure the loyalty of the father to the Ottoman Empire. Young Dracula spent 7 years there. Those early years of his life had a huge influence on his development. In 1447, post-Vlad Dracul’s death who was betrayed by his own boyars, Sultan Murad decided to put young Vlad on the Vlach’s throne. He was hoping that Dracula would be loyal to him, and he was. In 1448, Vlad Dracula obtained Vlach’s throne.

His rule began with an act of bloody revenge on disloyal boyars who were guilty of murdering his father and brother (they were tortured and buried alive). Around Easter, Vlad captured boyars and their families. Some of them were impaled. Yes, this is the reason why he was also named “Impaler”. The rest of them were supposed to walk 200 kilometers through the mountains with not a second of rest. Those who managed to survive this insane march were forced to work on the expansion of Poienari fortress.

Vlad regained Vlach’s throne twice. He died in December 1476. However, he became a vampire, according to the legend, who to this day can be found near the Castle.

Let’s move back to the Poienari fortress, as Vlad’s death did not stop its existence. The Castle, due to its location, was occupied for many years only to be abandoned in the first half of the 16th century. Ever since then, it gradually fell into decay. Although the general state was not bad for a medieval fortress.

In 1888, a construction disaster occurred. Some parts of the Castle fell into the river due to a landslide. The castle was fixed and the walls stand strong to this day.

In the years 1968–1970 archaeological search was conducted. The research revealed that a sequence of inner walls that were a part of the construction. Unfortunately, the purpose of a couple of rooms is still unknown. Archeologists are especially interested in a one that was carved in stone, partly collapsed and measuring 4 x 3 meters.