The Wind Cave

The Wind Cave (Romanian: Peştera Vântului), is the longest cave in Romania, and with a length of almost 52km, it is also the most extensive limestone labyrinth and cave-reservation in Europe. The cave is located in the Pădurea Craiului Mountains, on the left bank of Crişul Repede River, in the vicinity of Şuncuiuş village (Bihor County, in the North-West of Romania). This cave is closed and only accessible to cavers, but there are works going on to develop it as a show cave. The cave was first explored in 1957.

Though only one entrance is known in the lowest (Northern) extremity, the length of the cave is growing fast from one expedition to another. The huge exploration and surveying work is not finished yet; there are several exploring and surveying teams, as well as novice cavers who are further exploring the complicated passage-networks.
The actual length of the cave is around 52km, but there are many passages, which have never been surveyed. The Wind Cave is a multi-leveled complex system, which has a main active passage and three main fossil floors. Actually, the number of the fossil levels is higher, in some sectors are 6 or 7 levels in superposition, forming very complicated passage networks. The most important galleries are: the Northern passage, the First flour passage, the White gallery (on 1st fossil flour); the 1st May passage, the 2nd flour passage, the 7th of November passage, the Red gallery, the P passage, the Lakes passage (on 2nd fossil flour); the Mikulas gallery, the MP passage (on 3rd fossil flour).

Because of the large temperature variations, the coleopteran fauna is very poorly represented. Bats are rarely observed in different sectors of the cave. Also very few bat and some mice skeletons were found on the fossil passages. The most interesting findings from this point of view are some recently discovered footprints and claw-marks on clayey walls very far from surface, possibly belonging to a marten or fitch.

The average temperature in the cave is 11.8C, varying in the entrance area and the main passages of the closed sector. The very powerful draft, that can be sensed in the entrance and in the far corners of the cave as well, is bi-directional being controlled seasonally.

Gheorghe Ţiţeica

Gheorghe Ţiţeica (October 4, 1873 in Turnu-Severin – February 5, 1939, Bucharest, publishing as George or Georges Tzitzeica) was a Romanian mathematician with important contributions in geometry. He is recognized as the founder of the Romanian school of differential geometry.

He showed an early interest in science, as well as music and literature. He learned to play the violin when he was young and this remained one of his pleasures throughout his life. He showed his many talents during his years in primary school in Turnu-Severin. By 1885 when he was admitted to the prestigious secondary school "Carol I" National College in Craiova (today named Nicolae Balcescu College) his parents knew that they had a remarkably talented son. In Craiova he continued to achieve top grades, and he also spent time in pursuing his musical interests as a relaxation. The city was a good centre for music and the arts which suited Ţiţeica very well. He graduated from secondary school in Craiova in 1882 and was awarded a scholarship to train to become a teacher at the Training College in Bucharest. He went to Bucharest where, in addition to studying at the Training College, he attended mathematics lectures at the University. Among his lecturers were David Emmanuel, Spiru Haret, O. Gogu, Dimitrie Petrescu and Iacob Lahovary. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in June 1895 and in the autumn of that year he began teaching at the theological seminary in Bucharest while continuing his studies for his "capability examination".

He qualified as a secondary school teacher of mathematics in 1896 and later that year was appointed to the "Vasile Alecsandri" secondary school in Galaţi. Teachers at the school, and Ţiţeica's friends, all encouraged him to go to Paris and study further mathematics, and this he did in 1897 when he entered the École Normale Superieure. There he made friends with two other students, Henry Lebesgue and Paul Montel. Among his lecturers were a whole host of leading mathematicians including Darboux, Picard, Poincaré, Appell, Goursat, Hadamard, and Borel. Gheorghe Ţiţeica flourished in Paris having teachers and friends with outstanding mathematical abilities who inspired him to produce excellent research. He published three papers in 1898, namely Sur un theoreme de M Cosserat; Sur les systemes orthogonaux and Sur les systemes cycliques. In the following year he published seven papers including his doctoral dissertation Sur les congruences cycliques et sur les systemes triplement conjugués. His thesis was presented to the Faculty of Science and was examined on 30 June 1899 by a committee headed by Gaston Darboux.

Returning to Romania, Ţiţeica was appointed as an assistant professor at the University of Bucharest where he taught the course on differential and integral calculus. He was promoted to professor of Analytical Geometry at Bucharest University on 4 May 1900. He remained there until his death in 1939. In 1913, at age 40, Ţiţeica was elected as a permanent member of the Romanian Academy, replacing Spiru Haret. Later he was appointed in leading roles: in 1922, vice-president of the scientific section, in 1928, vice-president and in 1929 secretary general. Ţiţeica was also president of the Mathematical Association of Romania, of the Romanian Association of Science and of the Association of the development and the spreading of science. He was a vice-president of the Polytechnics Association of Romania and member of the High Council of Public Teaching. Ţiţeica was elected correspondent of the Association of Sciences of Liège and doctor honoris causa of the University of Warsaw. He was the president of the geometry section at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto (1924), Zürich (1932), and Oslo (1936). In 1926, 1930 and 1937 he gave a series of lectures as titular professor at the Faculty of Sciences in Sorbonne. He also gave many lectures at the University of Brussels (1926) and the University of Rome (1927).

Ţiţeica's research contributions were mainly in geometry, in particular affine differential geometry. The scientific work of Ţiţeica counts about 400 volumes, of which 96 are scientific projects, most addressing problems of differential geometry. Carrying the researches of the American geometer of German origin Ernest Wilczynski, Ţiţeica discovered a new category of surfaces and a new category of curves which now carry his name. He also studied R-networks in n-dimensional space, defined through Laplace equations.

Auroch Head - the first Romanian postage stamps

The principality of Moldavia issued stamps immediately upon gaining autonomy in 1858, with the first cap de bour ("Bull Head" or "Auroch Head") stamps being issued in July 1858. These were produced by hand-stamping on laid paper, and are now quite rare. The initial round design was shortly followed by one using a square frame with rounded corners, and using blue or white wove paper. These are somewhat more common. The first Romanian postage stamps were issued in July 15th 1858 at Iaşi (Jassy), the capital city of the Principality of Moldavia. In fact, the stamps were released into circulation a week later. In July 22th 1858 at Iaşi were posted the first 15 simple letters and 7 registered letters using Moldavian postage stamps. In the rest of Moldavian cities the postage stamps were used starting from August 4th (September 1st at Galaţi). At November 1st the postal tariffs were changed, and the first Moldavian postage stamps were withdrawn from circulation. In their short circulation period only 11.746 postage stamps were sold. Only a few hundreds of them survived until our days, so the "Bull Head" or "Auroch Head" postage stamps from the first issue are today great philatelic rarities.

The first "Bull Head" postage stamps issue comprises four values: 27, 54, 81 and 108 parale (40 parale = 1 accounting leu; at the monetary reform from 1867/68 the sum of 108 paras became equal to 1 new leu). Using a postage stamp of 27 parale one could send a letter of up to 2.5 drams (approximately 8 grams) on a distance shorter than 8 stages of post route (approximately 125 kilometers). The addressee was to pay to the carrier another 5 paras.

The postage stamps were printed at Iaşi, at "Atelia timbrului" (Stamp Workshop), in sheets comprising 4 rows of 8 stamps, with a press brought from Vienna. The two rows from the lower part of the sheet were turned over with 180 degrees, so tête-bêche pairs also exist. The paper was bought from Iaşi and the gum - "gummi arabicum" - was manually applied with a brush. The four steel clichés used for stamping the "Bull Heads" are nowadays displayed at the Philatelic Museum in Bucharest.

On the postage stamps an auroch's head with a star between horns - the coat of arms of the principality of Moldavia - and a bugle are represented. In the coil of the bugle the stamp face value is written with Arabic numerals. The inscription PORTO SCRISORI (scrisori = letters in Romanian, messages sent by mail in envelopes) was written with Cyrillic letters. The term PORTO was written on the stamps by mistake, because porto means that the tariff must be payed by the addressee. The correct word is FRANCO - meaning that the tariff was paid by the sender. The "Atelia timbrului" printing house was established in 1856 by prince Grigore Ghica, ruler of the Moldavian principality between 1854 and 1856. Here were printed paper sheets with the coat of arms of Moldavia, with one "dry stamp" - a seal in relief - and one "weat stamp", a revenue stamp. These sheets were used for diverse documents such as contracts.

Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History

The Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History is most likely one of the top three best known cultural institutions of Bucharest, popular among the young and the old, and for many generations it's been a symbol and a gathering place which provides everytime a fascinating and interactive experience. It is the oldest and largest museum of this kind in the egion, with collections of literally hundreds of thousands of objects, among these the largest and best collection of butterflies in the world. A great place to be, very wisely organized, as it's exhibitions literally present the history of the natural world, from the beginnings to the contemporary age. An unique voyage, undertaken each day by many visitors.

It's story actually start in 1834, when the National Museum (Museul Naţional) was opened in Bucharest by Alexandru Ghica, who was inspired by his brother, Mihalache Ghica, to found such an institution. He also made the first donation to the new museum: a collection of 1250 Greek, Roman and Bizantine coins, 150 minerals and 213 shells. Also, Mihalache Ghica donated to the museum several fish, birds, mamals and fossils, which show him to be a natural history collector and amateur scientist. The first director and curator of the museum was Carol Wallenstein de Vella, from Austria, appointed in 1837. He was followed by Carlo Ferreratti, in 1860. Three years later the museum was moved in three halls, on the left side of the Academy Palace in Bucharest. In 1864 Alexandru Ioan Cuza was the one who approved the new roles for organizing the National History Museum of Bucharest. It was the first set of rules that clearly stated how the institution was run, what was the role of the director, of the curators, how new acquisitions were made, which were the visiting hours. All in all, for the first time a museum of this kind and importance was run according to a law.

In the summer of 1867 the collections were once again moved, after Gregoriu Ştefănescu, a Geology and Paleonthology profesor at the University in Bucharest was appointed the new director. This time, the exhibits were moved in three hall in the building of the University. Ştefănescu remained the director of the institution until 1893 and further enriched it's collections. In 1882 the museum received an important donation from Hilarie Mitrea, a collector and natural history passionate, who gave an impressive selection from his "treasure". In whole, there were over one thousand species of animals, from insects and fishes, to reptiles, birds, mammals, all very well prepared. Due to space constraints, most of these small treasures were kept in storage until 1894, when Grigore Antipa would take over the museum. It still is the largest and most valuable donation ever received by the Museum in it's long history. Some of the best collections were destroyed in 1884, in a devastating fire that affected the University, and many of the plants and fossils were lost.

On April 1st 1893 the museum entered a new phase in it's development, when a certain Grigore Antipa was appointed the new director of the Zoology section of the institution, by Take Ionescu, then the Ministry of Culture. Little was known that Grigore Antipa will run the whole museum for 51 years, eventually lending his name to it. Exactly one year later, a new house was rented, on Polonă Street, No. 19, for the museum's collections of zoology. Antipa also began reorganizing the museum, opening the Anthropology and Ethnography sections. In 1895 Antipa hired Robert Ritter von Dombrovski as a curator, and the two will work together for more than two decades, Dombrovski even contributing to the first dioramas. Another important member of the team will be Arnold Lucien Montandon, a French naturalist, who would work for the museum until 1907. Montandon would work mainly in buildings the insect collections. After several years of running the museum, Grigore Antipa requested the opening of a Natural History Museum "worthy of Bucharest, the nation's capital". Although it wasn't the best of times, financially speaking, his request was approved and the sum of 350.000 Lei was prepared for this ambitious project. The spot, 23.000 squared meters wide, was chosen at the end of Kiseleff Highway.

The works on the future buildings began in 1904, the project being signed by the architect Mihail Rocco, who would also supervise every step of the way. The facade, still impressive, was the creation of Grigore Cerchez. Everything was ready by 1906, and the museum was ready for it's collections and visitors. Several tens of thousands of exhibits were moved into the new location and the whole team, with Antipa included, worked in a strenous manner, preparing everything for the grand opening. This grand opening would take place on May 24th 1908, in the presence of King Carol I, Prince Ferdinand and Queen Maria. There were 16 halls, among which one had 4 dioramas, among the first in the world and of great quality. After that, the collection of the National Museum of Natural History further enriched.

In 1911 the skeleton of the Deinotherium gigantissimum (one of the best exhibits) was brought in the museum; in 1914 several new sections were opened, such as Anthropology, General Ethnography and others ; the team continued to acquire other pieces and rare exhibits, making the museum one of the best in the world. On 23 May 1933 the passing of 100 years since the founding of the Museum was marked in the central hall with a solemn meeting, presided by King Carol II. Grigore Antipa had been the director and the main organizer for 40 years, and the new building had been used for a quarter of a century. From a small, dusty museum, Antipa managed to turn the institution into a new and modern place. Therefore, it seemed only just for the king to decreee that the museum will bear the name of Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History. A name that remained and is today a trademark.

The Second World War wasn't too kind on the Museum's building and activities. The building was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1940 and further damaged during the Allied bombings. Unfortunatelly for everyone, on March 9th 1944 Grigore Antipa passed away, 77 years old, after a lifetime of hard and passionate work. Starting with 1948 the exhibits presenting Romania's fauna were presented separately, in 5 halls, and at ground level a new hall was opened, for conferences. After several renovations and changes, the museum was reopened in 1949. It's collections further grew, every Sunday the museum presented a public conference, and more and more visitors came through the huge doors. In 1957 the building was once again renovated and two new wings were built next to the central part. The same year the first number of the museums's magazine was published, "Travaux du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle Grigore Antipa". In 1977 the building was severely damaged by a earthquake, and it would take several months of hard work for the museum to completely reopen. n November 1996 the building was renovated and strenghtened and it would be until 1999 that only part of the museum reopened. The whole museum will once again reopen only in 2006, after an intensive advertising campaign, to promote it's role as one of the most important public institutions in Romania, a place where interest for science, impressive exhibits and higher learning went hand in hand. The Museum is closed during the year 2009 for renovation and modernization of the permanent exhibition, but it can be visited online (every hall has a 360o panorama), at

Henri Matisse and "la blouse roumaine"

Henri Matisse (1869-1954), famous French painter, recognized as a "Fauve" (literally, "wild beast"), a designation for artists of the time who used bright, intense coloring in their painting, was fascinated by the Romanian folk costumes, especially by the specific blouses named "ie". Starting 1940, he created a series of paintings with women in Romanian blouses.


Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula. Though the most famous vampire novel ever, Dracula was not the first. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 "Carmilla", about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman. The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in "The Vampyre" (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley and other friends in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the tyrannical actor-manager Henry Irving, who was Stoker's real-life inspiration for Dracula's mannerisms and who Stoker hoped would play Dracula in a stage version. Although Irving never did agree to do a stage version, Dracula's dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms drew their living embodiment from Irving.

The Dead Un-Dead was one of Stoker's original titles for Dracula, and up until a few weeks before publication, the manuscript was titled simply The Un-Dead. Stoker's Notes for Dracula show that the name of the count was originally going to be Count Wampyr, but while doing research, Stoker became intrigued by the word dracul. Dracula is derived from the word dracul in the Romanian language, meaning devil (originally dragon). Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard's 1885 essay "Transylvania Superstitions".

Although Dracula is a work of fiction, it does contain some historical references. The historical connections with the novel and how much Stoker knew about the history are a matter of conjecture and debate. The supposed connections between the historical Transylvanian-born Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia and Bram Stoker's fictional Dracula attracted popular attention. Historically, the name "Dracul" is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg (king of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II Dracul, father of Vlad III, was admitted to the order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. The name Dracula means "Son of Dracul".

Stoker came across the name Dracula in his reading on Romanian history, and chose this to replace the name (Count Wampyr) that he had originally intended to use for his villain. However, some Dracula scholars, led by Elizabeth Miller, have questioned the depth of this connection. They argue that Stoker in fact knew little of the historic Vlad III except for his nickname. There are sections in the novel where Dracula refers to his own background, and these speeches show that Stoker had some knowledge of Romanian history. Yet Stoker includes no details about Vlad III's reign and does not mention his use of impalement. Given Stoker's use of historical background to make his novel more horrific, it seems unlikely he would have failed to mention that his villain had impaled thousands of people. It seems that Stoker either did not know much about the historic Vlad III, or did not intend his character Dracula to be the same person as Vlad III.

Vlad III was an ethnic Vlach. In the novel, Dracula claims to be a Székely: "We Szekelys have a right to be proud..."

The Dracula legend as he created it and as it has been portrayed in films and television shows may be a compound of various influences. Many of Stoker's biographers and literary critics have found strong similarities to the earlier Irish writer Sheridan le Fanu's classic of the vampire genre, Carmilla. In writing Dracula, Stoker may also have drawn on stories about the sídhe, some of which feature blood-drinking women. The folkloric figure of Abhartach has also been suggested as a source.

It has been suggested that Stoker was influenced by the history of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was born in the Kingdom of Hungary. Bathory is known to have tortured and killed anywhere between 36 and 700 young women over a period of many years, and it was commonly believed that she committed these crimes in order to bathe in or drink their blood, believing that this preserved her youth; the stories and influence may explain why Dracula appeared younger after feeding. It has been suggested that Stoker received much historical information from Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian professor he met at least twice.

Some have claimed the castle of Count Dracula was inspired by Slains Castle, at which Bram Stoker was a guest of the 19th Earl of Erroll. However, since as Stoker visited the castle in 1895 (five years after work on Dracula had begun) there is unlikely to be much connection. Many of the scenes in Whitby and London are based on real places that Stoker frequently visited, although in some cases he distorts the geography for the sake of the story.

The story of Dracula has been the basis for countless films and plays. Of all the movies, the most popular are: Dracula (1931), The Horror of Dracula (1958), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Another famous version of the story was Nosferatu (1922), a film directed by the German director F.W. Murnau, was produced while Stoker's widow was alive, and the filmmakers were forced to change the setting and the characters' names for copyright reasons. The vampire in Nosferatu is called Count Orlok rather than Count Dracula.

The Real Dracula (Part 3)

In spite of such reported atrocities, Vlad Ţepeş is a significant figure in Romanian history. For one thing, he was one of a number of voivodes who contributed to the building of a strong, independent Wallachian state. He stood up against the powerful nobles and assured law and order in what were lawless times. But most of all he is remembered for standing up against the Ottoman Empire, at a time when other principalities around him were falling under Turkish control. He is perceived as something of a David facing a Goliath. As for the brutality of his punishments, his defenders point out that his actions were no more cruel than those of several other late-medieval or early-Renaissance European rulers such as Louis XI of France, Ferdinand of Naples, Cesare Borgia of Italy, and Ivan the Terrible of Russia.

Today, Vlad Ţepeş is still remembered. In the village of Aref, near the fortress at Poenari, the locals depict him as a hero and friend to the people:

"My grandfather used to tell me that during the reign of Vlad the Impaler, Romanians paid tribute to the Turks in exchange for peace. This tax included one to two hundred young people a year to serve in the mercenary corps of the Turkish army. Some of these lads came from the village of Aref. Vlad the Impaler decided to put a stop to it. The mighty Sultan, on hearing that Vlad refused to pay tribute, sent an army to capture him alive and bring him to Turkey. When the Turkish army crossed the Danube, Vlad retreated through this village to his fortress. When he arrived at Castle Poenari, he sent word to the village asking the elders for advice. Vlad told the elders, 'The Turks have surrounded this fortress and I want you to take me across the border into Transylvania, by morning.' One of the elders who was an iron smith said, 'I have a plan. Let us reverse the shoes of the horses so that when we leave the fortress and the Turks come, they will think we have entered when we have actually gone away' So they reversed the shoes and escaped through a secret passage, and crossed the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania. When they reached the border, Vlad asked how he could compensate them for their loyalty. The elders of Aref replied, 'Your Highness, give us not gold or silver because these can be spent. Give us land because the land is fertile and will keep us alive for all time.' So he asked for a rabbit skin and wrote on it, 'I give you, the elders of Aref, fourteen mountains and nine sheepfolds which you will have forever.' And we still have a couple of the mountains from that time. And as children, listening to our grandfather, we rejoiced at how Vlad fooled the Turks".

The villagers keep these stories alive to this day.

Less than two months into his final reign (probably near the end of December, 1476) Vlad was killed in battle in a forest just north of Bucharest. The circumstances are unclear. A Russian source claims that he was mistaken by one of his own men for a Turk and consequently killed. More likely is that he was attacked by a rival claimant, Basarab Laiotă (who succeeded him as voivode), and killed by a hired assassin. One story goes that he was beheaded, and his head was taken back to the Sultan in Constantinople and displayed as a trophy. Tradition has it that his body was taken by monks to the Snagov Monastery and buried there close to the altar, in recognition of the fact that he had supplied funds for the rebuilding of the monastery years earlier. However, excavations on the site during the early 1930s failed to uncover a burial site. Where are his remains? Some suggest that he was buried elsewhere on the monastery site where indeed remains were found but have since disappeared. Others contend he is buried near the altar, but at a greater depth than was excavated. Yet others suggest he may have been interred in a different monastery altogether. We may never know.

As for Vlad's immediate family, we know practically nothing certain about his first wife (assuming they were even married), except that she was a Transylvanian noblewoman. Her name is unknown. She is, however, preserved in this surviving oral narrative in Aref:

"It is said that Vlad the Impaler had a kind and humble wife with a heart of gold. Whenever Vlad took his sword and led his army into battle, his wife's heart grew sad. One night a strange thing happened. An arrow entered through one of the windows of the fortress and put out a candle in their bedroom. Striking a light, she discovered a letter in the point of the arrow which said that the fortress was surrounded by the Turks. Approaching the window she saw many flickering fires in the valley. Thinking that all was lost, and without waiting for her husband's decision, she climbed up on the wall of the fortress and threw herself into the Argeş River". This cannot be verified through historical documents.

We do know that Vlad later married Ilona Szilagy, who was related to Matthias Corvinus, the king of Hungary who had placed Vlad under arrest following his escape from Wallachia in 1462. It appears that Corvinus made an arrangement with Vlad to restore him to his throne. To strengthen the bond, Vlad was offered a royal bride. After his death, Vlad's wife was left with his three sons. Mihnea, the eldest, was from his union with the Transylvanian noblewoman. He had two sons by his Hungarian wife -- Vlad, and a second whose name is unknown. Only Mihnea succeeded in gaining the Wallachian throne. During his brief rule from 1508-1509, he showed signs that he could be as atrocious as his infamous father; nicknamed "Mihnea the Bad", he is reputed to have cut off the noses and lips of his political enemies. He was assassinated in 1510 on the steps of a church in Sibiu.

According to genealogical research conducted by historians Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally (published in their 1989 book Dracula: Prince of Many Faces), the Romanian male line died out in 1632. As for the Hungarian lineage, the last male descendant died late in the sixteenth century, though a female line can be traced for an additional hundred years. As for indirect descendants, it has been verified that Professor Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici of Bucharest is descended from Vlad Dracula's half-brother, Vlad the Monk. According to researchers at the Institute of Genealogy of the Romanian Academy, other claims are unsubstantiated.

Whatever Vlad might have been, nowhere is it stated that he was (or was believed to have been) a vampire. While some of early negative reports aligned Vlad with the devil (playing on the alternative meaning of "dracul"), this was not a vampiric association. The word "vampire" was never used in connection with Vlad until long after Bram Stoker's novel appeared and it became popular to assume (incorrectly) that Vlad was Stoker's inspiration for his vampire Count.

The Real Dracula (Part 2)

Vlad's immediate priority when he regained his throne in 1456 was to consolidate his position in Wallachia. He was determined to break the political power of the boyars who tended to support puppet (and often weak) leaders who would protect their interests. Such a policy, Vlad realized, worked against the development of a strong nation-state. A related internal problem that faced Vlad was the continuous threat from rival claimants to the throne, all of whom were descendants of Mircea cel Bătrân. Coupled with his determination to consolidate his own power was his extreme view of law and order. He did not hesitate to inflict the punishment of impalement on anyone who committed a crime, large or small. On the economic front, he was determined to break the hold that the Saxon merchants of southern Transylvania (especially Braşov) had on trade. Not only were these merchants ignoring customs duties, they were also supporting rival claimants to his throne.

Vlad began his six-year period of rule in 1456, just three years after Constantinople fell to the Turks. It was inevitable that he would finally have to confront the Turks, as the small principality of Wallachia lay between Turkish controlled Bulgaria and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. Vlad precipitated the anger of the Sultan by refusing to honor an earlier arrangement to pay an annual tribute and to supply young Wallachian men for the Turkish army. After a period of raiding and pillaging along the Danube border, full-fledged war broke out during the winter of 1461-62. His exploits drew the attention of several European rulers, including the Pope himself. The Turks launched a full counter-offensive. Badly outnumbered, Vlad employed every possible means to gain an advantage: drawing the enemy deep into his own territory through a strategic retreat, he burned villages and poisoned wells along the route; he employed guerilla tactics, using the local terrain to advantage; he even initiated a form of germ warfare, deliberately sending victims of infectious diseases into the Turkish camps. On 17 June 1462, he led a raid known in Romanian history as the "Night Attack." But the Sultan's army continued onwards and reached the outskirts of Vlad's capital city. There Vlad used his most potent weapon -- psychological warfare. The following is an account from the Greek historian Chalkondyles of what greeted the invaders:

"He [the Sultan] marched on for about five kilometers when he saw his men impaled; the Sultan's army came across a field with stakes, about three kilometers long and one kilometer wide. And there were large stakes on which they could see the impaled bodies of men, women, and children, about twenty thousand of them, as they said; quite a spectacle for the Turks and the Sultan himself! The Sultan, in wonder, kept saying that he could not conquer the country of a man who could do such terrible and unnatural things, and put his power and his subjects to such use. He also used to say that this man who did such things would be worthy of more. And the other Turks, seeing so many people impaled, were scared out of their wits. There were babies clinging to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made nests in their breasts."

The Sultan withdrew. But the war was not over. Mehmed threw his support behind Vlad's brother Radu, who with the support of defecting boyars and Turkish soldiers, pursued Vlad all the way to his mountain fortress at Poenari. According to oral legends that survive to this day in the village of Aref, near the fortress, Vlad was able to escape into Transylvania with the help of local villagers. But he was soon arrested near Braşov by Matthias Corvinus, who had chosen to throw his support behind Radu, Vlad's successor. Corvinus used as evidence letters supposedly written by Vlad that indicated he was a traitor to the Christian cause and was plotting to support the Turks; Romanian historians concur that these letters were forgeries and part of a larger campaign to discredit Vlad and justify Corvinus's actions.

Vlad is best known today in the West for the many cruel actions that have been attributed to him. Even his most ardent defenders will concede that he took drastic measures to achieve his political, economic and military objectives. Most of these occurred during the period 1456-1462.

One of his earliest actions was taken against the nobles of Târgovişte whom he held responsible for the deaths of his father and brother. According to an early Romanian chronicle, in the spring of 1457, Vlad invited the nobles and their families to an Easter feast. After his guests had finished their meal, Vlad's soldiers surrounded them, rounded up the able-bodied and marched them fifty miles up the Argeş River to Poenari, where they were forced to build his mountain fortress. His prisoners labored under very difficult conditions for many months. Those who survived the gruelling ordeal were impaled.

Impalement was an especially sadistic means of execution, as victims would suffer excruciating pain for hours, even days, until death came. It appears that Vlad was determined at times to administer it in ways that would ensure the longest possible period of suffering for the victim. While impalement was his punishment of choice, Vlad apparently employed other equally tortuous ways of dispensing with opponents. One of the German pamphlets (Nuremberg 1488) notes the following episodes:

"He captured the young Dan [of the rival Dăneşti clan] and had a grave dug for him and had a funeral service held according to Christian custom and beheaded him beside the grave.

"He had a large pot made and boards with holes fastened over it and had people's heads shoved through there and imprisoned them in this. And he had the pot filled with water and a big fire made under the pot and thus let the people cry out pitiably until they were boiled quite to death.

"He devised dreadful, frightful, unspeakable torments, such as impaling together mothers and children nursing at their breasts so that the children kicked convulsively at their mothers' breasts until dead. In like manner he cut open mothers' breasts and stuffed their children's heads through and thus impaled both.

"About three hundred gypsies came into his country. Then he selected the best three of them and had them roasted; these the others had to eat."

While it is impossible to verify all of these, there is no doubt that Vlad meted out his punishments with unusual cruelty. Several of the tales of his atrocities occur in three or more separate and independent accounts, indicating a large measure of veracity. One is this story of how he dispensed with the sick and the poor:

"Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He once noticed that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick in Wallachia to come to Târgovişte for a great feast, claiming that no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The princes guests ate and drank late into the night, when Dracula himself made an appearance. 'What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world,' asked the prince. When they responded positively Dracula ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Dracula explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this, 'in order that they represent no further burden to others so that no one will be poor in my realm."

Nobody was immune from his cruelty. Another widely disseminated tale involves the arrival in his court of two foreign ambassadors:

"Some Italian ambassadors were sent to him. When they came to him they bowed and removed their hats and they kept on the berets beneath them. Then he asked them why they did not take their caps off, too. They said it was their custom, and they did not even remove them for the Emperor. Dracula said, 'I wish to reinforce this for you.' He immediately had their caps nailed firmly on their heads so that their caps would not fall off and their custom would remain. Thus he reinforced it."

In other versions, the ambassadors are Turkish and the caps are turbans. But the essence of the story remains the same.

Impalement also proved to be a powerful deterrent to would-be criminals. Consider the following story, found in both Russian and Romanian narratives:

"Dracula so hated evil in his land that if someone stole, lied or committed some injustice, he was not likely to stay alive. Whether he was a nobleman, or a priest or a monk or a common man, and even if he had great wealth, he could not escape death if he were dishonest. And he was so feared that the peasants say that in a certain place, near the source of the river, there was a fountain; at this fountain at the source of this river, there came many travelers from many lands and all these people came to drink at the fountain because the water was cool and sweet. Dracula had purposely put this fountain in a deserted place, and set a cup wonderfully wrought in gold and whoever wished to drink it from this gold cup and had to put it back in its place. And so long as this cup was there no one dared steal it."

Perhaps his most horrifying atrocities were committed against the Germans (Saxons) of Transylvania, beginning with raids on a number of Transylvanian towns where residents were suspected of supporting a rival:

"In the year 1460, on the morning of St Bartholomew's Day, Dracula came through the forest with his servants and had all the Wallachians of both sexes tracked down, as people say outside the village of Humilasch [Amlaş], and he was able to bring so many together that he let them get piled up in a bunch and he cut them up like cabbage with swords, sabers and knives; as for their chaplain and the others whom he did not kill there, he led them back home and had them impaled. And he had the village completely burned up with their goods and it is said that there were more than 30,000 men".

But the incident that was to cause the greatest damage to his reputation took place in Braşov. When the local merchants refused to pay taxes in spite of repeated warnings, in 1459 Dracula led an assault on Braşov, burned an entire suburb, and impaled numerous captives on Tâmpa Hill. The scene has been immortalized in an especially gruesome woodcut which appeared as the frontispiece in a pamphlet printed in Nuremberg in 1499. It depicts Vlad having a meal while impaled victims are dying around him. As he eats, his henchmen are hacking off limbs of other victims right next to his table. The narrative begins as follows: "Here begins a very cruel frightening story about a wild bloodthirsty man Prince Dracula. How he impaled people and roasted them and boiled their heads in a kettle and skinned people and hacked them to pieces like cabbage. He also roasted the children of mothers and they had to eat the children themselves. And many other horrible things are written in this tract and in the land he ruled." A similar woodcut appeared the following year (Strasbourg) with the caption, "Here occurred a frightening and shocking history about the wild berserker Prince Dracula." Whether the accounts were accurate or not, Vlad's evil reputation was assured.

The Real Dracula (Part 1)

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, more commonly known as Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Ţepeş in Romanian) 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 Bătrân (Mircea the Elder). As Wallachian "voivode" (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" -- noblemes -- 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 Drăculeşti-Dăneşti feud that was to play a major role in the history of fifteenth-century Wallachia. In 1431, the year in which Vlad the Impaler may have been born (not confirmed), his father Vlad was stationed in Sighişoara as a military commander with responsibility for guarding the mountain passes from Transylvania into Wallachia from enemy incursion.

In 1431, the senior Vlad was summoned to Nuremberg by Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, to receive a unique honor. He was one of a number of princes and vassals initiated by the Emperor into the Order of the Dragon, an institution, similar to other chivalric orders of the time, modeled on the Order of St. George. It was created in 1408 by Sigismund and his queen Barbara mainly for the purpose of gaining protection for the royal family; it also required its initiates to defend Christianity and to do battle against its enemies, principally the Turks. As an indication of his pride in the Order, Vlad took on the nickname "Dracul" (the Wallachian word "drac" means "devil", but also was derived from the Latin "draco" meaning "dragon"). The sobriquet adopted by the younger Vlad ("Dracula" indicating "son of Dracul" or "son of the Dragon"), also had a positive connotation.

In Romanian history, Vlad is usually referred to as "Tepeş"; this name, from the Turkish nickname "kaziklu bey" (impaling prince), was used by Ottoman chroniclers of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries because of Vlad's fondness for impalement as a means of execution. The epithet, which echoed the fear that he instilled in his enemies, was embraced in his native country. No evidence exists to suggest that Vlad ever used it in reference to himself. By contrast, the term "Dracula" (or linguistic variations thereof) was used on a number of occasions by Vlad himself in letters and documents that still survive in Romanian museums.

We know little about Vlad's early childhood in Sighişoara. His mother was apparently Cneajna, of a Moldavian princely family. He was the second of three sons; his brothers were Mircea and Radu. The family remained in Sighişoara until 1436 when Vlad Dracul moved to Târgovişte to become voivode of Wallachia. 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. On the death of Sigismund, 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. The two boys may have spent up to six years under this precarious arrangement. Young Vlad would have been about eleven years old at the time of the internment, while Radu would have been about seven. It appears that they were held for part of the time at the fortress of Egregoz, located in western Anatolia, and later moved to Sultan Murad's court at Adrianople. The younger brother Radu, a handsome lad who attracted the attention of the future sultan, fared better than Vlad, a factor that helps explain the bitter hatred and rivalry that developed between the brothers later. Apparently, no serious physical harm came to the boys during these years of captivity, though the psychological impact on Vlad is difficult to assess. After their subsequent release in 1448, Radu chose to remain in Turkey. But Vlad returned to Wallachia to find that his father had been assassinated and his older brother Mircea buried alive by the nobles of Târgovişte who had supported a rival claimant.

Vlad was voivode for three separate periods, for a total of about seven years. Not too much is known of his first brief period of rule (in 1448). This reign was short-lived, and Vlad spent the next eight years plotting his return to power. Finally in 1456 he was successful and ruled for the next six years, the period about which most is known. After major battles against the Turks in 1462, he escaped across the mountains into Transylvania and was held as a prisoner by the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus until the mid-1470s. His recovery of the throne for a third time in 1476 was brief, for he was killed in battle during the subsequent winter.

Though Vlad was to reign for less than seven years, his reputation throughout Europe was widespread. There are several primary sources of information, which offer a variety of representations, from Vlad as a cruel, even psychopathic tyrant to Vlad as a hero who put the needs of his country above all else. Consequently, it is a virtually impossible task to reconstruct his political and military activities with certainty.

The most influential in establishing his notoriety throughout Europe, were the German sources, dating from as early as 1463 (while Vlad was still alive). The most popular were several pamphlets that began to appear late in the fifteenth century and which were widely circulated because of the recent invention of the printing press. Indeed, some of the earliest secular texts to roll off the presses were horror stories about Vlad Dracula. Written in German and published at major centres such as Nuremberg, Bamberg, and Strassburg, these had such unsavory titles as The Frightening and Truly Extraordinary Story of a Wicked Blood-drinking Tyrant Called Prince Dracula. Researchers have discovered at least thirteen of these pamphlets dating from 1488 to 1521. The printers of the Dracula tales also included woodcut portraits of the prince and, in some cases, illustrations of his atrocities.

Other historical documents include Russian sources, notably one which presented not only the cruel side of Vlad's behavior but also his sense of justice and his determination to restore order. Turkish chronicles, not surprisingly, emphasize the horrors that Dracula inflicted on his enemies, especially during the battles of 1461-62. By contrast there are the Romanian oral narratives, still preserved in the villages near the ruins of Vlad Dracula's fortress on the Argeş River. Here we find a very different Vlad: a prince who repeatedly defended his homeland from the Turks at a time when just about every other principality in the region had been subjected to Ottoman rule; and a leader who succeeded in maintaining law and order in what were indeed lawless and disorderly times.

All of these sources are biased. In the case of the German reports, the German Saxons of Transylvania were victims of incursions by Vlad into what was an independent state and the imposition of his harsh economic measures. One could hardly expect then to be objective informants. The Turkish chroniclers are hardly any more objective, downplaying Vlad's military successes and stressing their own demonstrations of bravery and cunning. Russian narratives were generally more unbiased. The Romanian narratives, by contrast, present a very different Vlad: a folk hero who endeavored to save his people not only from the invading Turks but from the treacherous boyars.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle (German: Törzburg; Hungarian: Törcsvár), situated near Bran and in the immediate vicinity of Braşov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, on DN73. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poienari Castle and Hunyad Castle), it is marketed as the home of the titular character in Bram Stoker's Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle. Furthermore, there are persistent myths that it was once the home of Vlad Ţepeş, ruler of Wallachia. This is not true. The historical person Vlad III never resided here.

The castle is now a museum open to tourists, displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Tourists can see the interior individually or by a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small open air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country.

In 1212 the Teutonic Knights built the wooden castle of Dietrichstein as a fortified position in the Burzenland at the entrance to a mountain valley through which traders had travelled for more than a millennium, although it was destroyed in 1242 by the Mongols. The first documented mentioning of Bran Castle is the act issued by Louis I of Hungary on November 19, 1377, giving the Saxons of Kronstadt (Braşov) the privilege to build the stone citadel on their own expense and labor force; the settlement of Bran began to develop nearby. The castle was first used in 1378 in defence against the Ottoman Empire, and later became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. The castle briefly belonged to Mircea the Elder of Wallachia. While Vlad Ţepeş did not actually live in the Bran Castle, it is believed he spent two days locked in the dungeon while the Ottomans controlled Transylvania.

From 1920 the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania. It was the principal home of Queen Marie, and is decorated largely with artefacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. The castle was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana, and was later seized by the communist regime after the expulsion of the royal family in 1948. In 2005, the Romanian government passed a special law allowing restitution claims on properties such as Bran, which was seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. In 2006, the Romanian government awarded ownership to Archduke Dominic of Austria, Prince of Tuscany, known as Dominic von Habsburg, an architect in New York State and the son and heir of Princess Ileana.

Nicolae Iorga

Nicolae Iorga (January 17, 1871, Botoşani – November 27, 1940, Strejnic, Prahova County), monumental personality of the Romanian culture, gifted with an extraordinary memory, the greatest polygraph of Romania (around 1250 published volumes and 25,000 articles), historian, university professor, literary critic, memorialist, playwright, poet, and politician.

During the primary school and the gymnasium he astonished his teachers. He finished the National Highschool in Iaşi (1888); then attended University of Iaşi (notably studying under A. D. Xenopol), where he graduated Magna Cum Laude after completing his undergraduate studies in a single year. He went on to study in Paris, Berlin, and Leipzig, obtaining his doctorate in 1893 and at 23 became at a correspondent member of the Romanian Academy (and full member in 1911). He traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his written works in many languages bear out the claim that he could read, write, and speak virtually all of the major modern European languages.

From 1902 to 1906 he was the editor of the nationalist Sămănătorul review, moving on in 1906 to found the newspaper Neamul românesc. For the rest of his life, even while serving in Parliament or as a minister, he was a daily contributor to that paper. As part of a group of professors, physicians, soldiers, etc., he helped bring Scouting to Romania. Iorga's scientific activities partly reflect his lifelong beliefs. As a moderate nationalist and an advocate of peasant traditionalism, Iorga became interested in tracing the history of the rural domains in old Wallachia and Moldavia. Thus, faced with the lack of sources related to Romanian events during the Dark Ages, and attempting to depict the process of transition from Roman Dacia to a Romance-speaking people (see Origin of Romanians), Iorga directed his efforts towards investigating the preservation of Roman customs by the peasantry. He spoke of peasant polities that would have survived to the Middle Ages, giving them the working title of Romanii populare (roughly: "People's Roman-like polities"). Iorga claimed that the Romanii would have served as the basis for relations between Hospodars (deemed peasant-voivodes) and the people (a development that was meant to cut off the medieval states from foreign influences). However, Iorga was by no means an advocate of Romanian preeminence and absolute originality. He was an internationally-acclaimed byzantinist (and the very first one in Romania), connecting the Romanian space with the Byzantine Empire and the Southeastern European sphere in general. His work Byzantium after Byzantium (1935) deals with the strong links established between the Empire and the two principalities in today's Romania. It depicts the developments after the Fall of Constantinople (1453), with the hospodars assuming the role of protectors of Eastern Orthodoxy (notably, by becoming the main patrons of Mount Athos), the perpetuation of Byzantine ceremonial customs, and the massive immigration of Byzantine clerks and intellectuals. Iorga moved away from the negative view most Romanian historians had taken of the Phanariotes.

He served as a member of Parliament, as President of the post-World War I National Assembly, as minister, and (1931-32) as Prime Minister. He was co-founder (in 1910) of the Democratic Nationalist Party. On November 27, 1940, Iorga was assassinated by a group of Iron Guard commandos, hours after the Jilava Massacre. The Iron Guard considered Iorga responsible for the 1938 death of their charismatic leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. A group of legionnaire commandos from Bucharest took him from his house to the Strejnicu forest near Bucharest, tortured him, shot him in the back, stuffed a copy of the September 9 Neamul românesc in his mouth, desecrated his body, and left it by the side of a road.