Sunday, June 19
I left for Romania with Tigran and Darius. My friend Fivos accompanied us. A Greek, he speaks Romanian. I had never been to this country before, and I decided to discover it with my eldest grandsons. We flew Aegean Airlines; the flight was comfortable. The airport in Bucharest is clean enough, very white, and empty as a new hospital that has yet to open.
We set out on the Romanian roads. The first few hours were full of flat green plains, rather banal and boring. From afar we saw the towers of Ploiesti and then wooded hills came into view. We found ourselves in an increasingly narrow and steep passageway covered by enormous trees. We were on the trail of Dracula, or rather, the person modelled after the famous historical figure named Vlad Tepes, “Vlad the Impaler”.
During our drive, I began to recount the story of Vlad to my travelling companions. He was born in 1431. His grandfather, Mircea, had brought glamour to this small dynasty. In fact, this family, like many other Romanian families, pinched between the Ottoman Turks, Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire and other Romanian principalities, only survived due to trickery, deceit, betrayal, and cruelty. Vlad’s father had received the rare honor of Knight of the Order of the Dragon, from Emperor Sigismund, whereby he became Vlad Dracul.
Now, Dragon is called Dracul In Romanian. His son was called Vlad Dracula, the son of Dracula. He received an excellent education, the monks taught him Cyrillic, old Slavic, and Latin.
Vlad’s father tried to make terms with the Ottomans, who were becoming ever more menacing. The Sultan invited over the father and his two sons, Vlad and his younger brother Radu. As soon as they arrived they were arrested. The father couldn’t leave unless he left his sons as hostages. From ages 12 to 16 Vlad Tepes remained a prisoner in the dark confines of Anatolia. He learned Turkish, and experienced other forbidden pleasures, and perhaps an initiation which would leave a mark on his life. He also developed a deep resentment towards his younger brother, which was reciprocated, who was prisoner alongside him. Radu was weaker and didn’t resist the advances of the Sultan’s second son, the prince Mehmed, who would make noise in history under the name of Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Constantinople.
One day, Vlad learned that his father had been assassinated, and his eldest brother had been buried alive. Vlad vowed to avenge them. He successfully escaped his Ottoman imprisonment. The prince who murdered Vlad’s father and his brother named him to the governing post that Vlad’s father had previously held. Vlad would use this position to regain the principality of Wallachia and other lands that had belonged to his family. His reign began in 1456, he was crowned during a solemn ceremony in the Targoviste Cathedral.
With his penetrating green eyes, his look of madness, his aquiline nose, his slender mustache and cruel mouth, he wasn’t handsome, but he fascinated and was not without a certain seduction. He dressed in rich western fashion. He was cultivated and profoundly religious. He married three times, each to grand Hungarian ladies, and for political reasons converted to Catholicism, as did many Romanian Princes, all the while continuing to protect Orthodoxy. Vlad also had many mistresses, one in each city, most were German, for whom he had a weakness. He had many children, who in turn produced children of their own, the descendants of whom are found in present day aristocratic and even royal families.
On the occasion of his accession, he threw an enormous banquet and invited all of his lords, amongst which were the true assassins of his brother and father. When everyone was drunk, Vlad gave the order. His guards leapt forward, seizing and impaling 500 of these men. The others submitted without discussion.
Vlad rarely stayed in one place during his reign. He was constantly at war against the Ottomans, the Hungarians, and other Romanian Princes. He defended himself while expanding his territory. Soon, he found himself facing off against Mehmed II, his former prison guard. The Sultan appealed to their friendship, Vlad responded with a provocation. When receiving a delegation of Ottoman Pashas sent by the Sultan, Vlad demanded they remove their turbans. They protested, saying they wouldn’t even remove them on the orders of their ruler. “If you keep them on, you will wear them forever,” Vlad replied. He then had their headdresses nailed to their skulls. Mehmed II was impervious, and requested a meeting. In reality it was an ambush. Vlad learned of this and not only successfully took the Sultan’s delegate hostage, but was also able to take the fortress where the meeting was to be held as well.
Vlad then sent to his suzerain, the King of Hungary, a few souvenirs he had taken from his enemies, along with an inventory which still exists today: 23,800 heads, with ears and noses cut off.