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New Europe

Day Sixty: Sighisoara, Transylvania

Casa Vlad - Dracul 
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Bad for your blood sugar, good for business. The fictional Count Dracula was based on Vlad Tepes III, the legendarily cruel ruler of Wallachia, who was born in Sighişoara.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThere's still a school at the top and, after she's got her breath back, Ioana recalls how she lived happily here with Hungarians, Jews and Germans.

'When I was little it was very good between people, no problems at all. I was eating German, playing German, talking German all day, but I hated the food, so I never learnt the language.'

Now most of her German friends are gone. Things began to change for them when Transylvania was handed over to Romania in 1918, but it wasn't until the Ceausescu years of the 1980s that they were made to feel positively unwelcome, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall most of them accepted an offer of a safe return to Germany.

Sighisoara's celebrity rests on more than being a mere Gothic bastion. On a wall a few doors down from the hotel is a plaque which informs the passer-by that Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, on whom the fictional Count Dracula was modelled, was born here.

For Ioana, Vlad Tepes was a great man, a national hero who had fought bravely against the Turks and whose name has been gravely traduced.

I remember reading somewhere that Dracul meant 'devil'.

'No, no,' Ioana shakes her head briskly.

'In 1431 his father was made a knight of the order of Draco, which means "dragon". It was an honour to be in the order of the Dragon.'

She mistakes my disappointment for disbelief.

'Draco,' she repeats, 'is from the Slavonian. It means dragon.'

'But he did a bit of impaling?'

'Everybody did,' Ioana returns sharply. 'That's what they did then.'

I can't just let this drop. Transylvania may mean green fields and heartbroken Hungarians, but to those of us infected by Bram Stoker it means fangs and black cloaks and blood. After all, right below the plaque is a woman selling Dracula T-shirts, teeth and even a Dracula bottle opener. There are no dragons to be seen. The truth clearly doesn't sell.

Ioana concedes the point and agrees to take me into the heart of the Carpathians tomorrow, to the village of Bran and the half-palace, half-fortress that has become known, irretrievably, as Dracula's castle.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixty: Sighisoara, Transylvania
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Sighişoara
  • Book page no: 143

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