A search for the real life, historical Dracula usually begins in Sighisoara, Romania deep in the middle of Transylvania. After all Vlad Tepes – said to Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Count Dracula – was born there and committed several of his more notable, terrifying acts in Transylvania. To get a sense of the man, his life and times a tourist might consider starting in this small, charming city. If so, they will find something quite different than what they probably imagined.
Wooden Spoons – Not Wooden Stakes
The birthplace of Vlad still exists here or so it is believed. At the corner of a cobblestone street, in the quaint, medieval citadel district stands a three story house with a striking mustard yellow exterior. A small plaque attached to the outside states: “The Vlad Dracul House Built in the 14th-15th century. Between 1431 and 1436 residence of Vlad Dracu, member of Dragon Order. Vlad Tepes Draculea was born here in 1431.” It is hard to believe that the so called Prince of Darkness was born in a place that now features such a sunny exterior. Inside the surprises continue. Part of the house contains a souvenir shop specializing in hand crafted wooden spoons. These are not kitschy trinkets. Instead they are beautiful pieces of refined handiwork. That being said, it is something of a disappointment to find Vlad the Impaler’s birthplace trading in wooden spoons rather than wooden stakes. Another part of the house contains a bar and restaurant. There is no history exhibit within the walls nor anything that might give a hint of what the house and its surroundings might have looked like in 1431, the year of Vlad’s birth.
The Way it Has to Be, Not the Way it Was – Sighisoara’s Citadel District
Then again, the unknown is perhaps the way it has to be. After all, hardly any information is available on the specifics of Sighisoara during the 1430’s. Vlad’s father, Vlad Dracul, was headquartered in Sighisoara as commander of a frontier guard, between Transylvania and the region of Wallachia further to the south. He presumably lived with his family in the house that today stands at Piata Muzeului 6. If it was not this exact house, than it was surely in some part of Sighisoara’s citadel district. Saying that Vlad was born somewhere in Sighisoara does not have quite the cachet of a specific place that is designated as such. The tourist industry needs certainty for promotion’s sake. What they do not need is scrutiny. The historical record is much more mysterious and obscure than modern tourism can ever allow.
Tourism is Sighisoara’s economic bread and butter. It claims, with much truth to have one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Europe. Nonetheless, this small city which gave birth to such a fascinating and horrifying historical character is the antithesis of what life must have been like during its most famous son’s earliest days. The cobble stoned streets, with house after house painted sky blue, apricot, peach, and every other pastel that could possibly be ever imagined, is bright and clean. It is the very definition of pleasant.
One cannot but help sense the beauty and optimism that permeates these narrow streets. Paradoxically, such a cheerful aura is the not what a historian would define as medieval. Sighisoara is a lovely place, but precisely the opposite of its medieval historical antecedents. It would be hard for anyone to really believe that the Saxon burghers houses of Sighisoara were this bright and cheerful in the early 15th century. It is difficult if not impossible to imagine that the residences and structures within the citadel district as they look today are even a rough approximation of what the town was like during the Middle Ages, let alone at the time of Vlad Tepes birth. The old town has a veneer of refinement that stands in stark contrast to the foreboding and ominous Clock Tower which looms over the area.
Ghost of a Past – Vlad Tepes Earliest Days
The real historical apparitions in medieval Sighisoara come courtesy of the Clock Tower, citadel walls and a series of formidable towers that once made the town an impenetrable fortress. Of these structures, the Clock Tower with its spires stabbing skyward, offers the most darkly foreboding presence. It casts a looming shadow on the immediate surroundings. Hardly surprising since it is the largest and tallest structure in the citadel. Its eerie aesthetic is enough to convince the skeptical that Vlad Tepes could actually have been born here. It is also the first impression visitors get of the medieval old town. This ominous symbol gives little hint of the cheerful scene hidden within the citadel walls. It seems that medieval Sighisoara is full of unexpected surprises.
As for Vlad Tepes in Sighisoara, the mystery of his early existence is unlikely to ever become clear. He grew from infant to toddler here in four years, a time of which nothing is really known. We do not even know who his mother was. The mystery of his earliest years will forever stay that way. Some things are better left unknown, all that remains is a mystery to further encourage speculation. The imagination can conjure up any number of suppositions. In this case, the old cliché about truth being stranger than fiction has been turned on its head. What’s really stranger is the fiction of a cheerful medievalism, a bright and cheerful prosperity that obscures the truth about the place and the world into which Vlad Tepes was born.