Bram Srocker’s fantasy novel seems to better match the look and feel of Bran Castle in Transylvania, a castle heavily marketed to tourists as “the Dracula Castle“. But it’s actually the Poenari Citadel the one fortress where Vlad the Impaler – the one who served as inspiration for Stocker’s main character, Count Dracula – really lived.
Once an important fortress and stronghold, the Poenari Castle is virtually unknown to the tourists, despite the strong ties it holds to Vlad Dracula. The Citadel lies basically in ruins, although it was recently partly renovated and made accessible to tourists.
Poenari Castle stands on a cliff overlooking the Arges River, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Its location makes is accessible to only those tourists willing to make the harsh trip to the fortress by ascending 1480 stairs up a steep hill. Be aware to always do the climb in groups, as this region has the highest concentration of wolves, bears and feral dogs in all of Europe.
But for visitors interested in both history and nature this is a very appealing destination, and the landscape and the view from the top is amazing. The views from the fortress of the surrounding mountains back down the valley and up the gorge verge on the surreal.
Can Poenari be considered the REAL “Dracula Castle”?
Unlike Bran Castle, which has been heavily marketed to foreigners as Dracula’s Castle, Poenari Castle actually has true ties to Vlad Tepes, the Impaler. The Poenari Citadel (Cetatea Poenari), is one of the favorite haunts of Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia and member of the house of Drăculești.
The castle was first built in the 13th century and came under Vlad the Impaler’s control in the 15th century. Realizing the potential for a castle perched on a steep rock high above the river valley, Vlad III the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure making it one of his main fortresses. The size and location of the castle made it difficult to conquer, making it Vlad’s favored citadel.
Legend sais that Vlad’s first wife rather committed suicide than being taken hostage by the Ottomans. The river was since called the Lady’s River (Raul Doamnei).
Benjamin Hugo, in his “Who was Vlad Dracula?” mentions: “…His first major act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Targoviste for not being loyal to his father. On Easter Sunday of what we believe to be 1459, he arrested all the boyar families who had participated at the princely feast. He impaled the older ones on stakes while forcing the others to march from the capital to the town of Poenari. This fifty-mile trek was quite grueling and no one was permitted to rest until they reached their destination. Dracula then ordered the boyars to build him a fortress on the ruins of an older outpost overlooking the Arges River. Many died in the process. Dracula, therefore, succeeded in creating a new nobility and obtaining a fortress for future emergencies. What is left of the building today is identified as Poenari Fortress”
Trip adviser, location and hazards
So what can be more scary than a world-famous vampire? Well, the answer is simple: an angry mother bear!
Around 6,000 brown bears live in Romania, making up 60% of the European population. As far as bear roaring but authorities also blame tourists for attracting the bears nearby, by leaving picnic food at the site. So make sure you do NOT do that or you risk seeing one eye to eye ….
Location: The castle is located on the plateau of Mount Cetatea, facing the west side of the Transfăgărășan, on a canyon formed on the Argeș River valley, close to the Făgăraș Mountains.
Distance: 108 miles northwest of Bucharest
Closest town: Curtea de Arges (15 miles north)
Nearest train station: Curtea de Arges
Nearest bus stop: Arefu
Winter season: 9 am — 3 pm (last admission at 2 pm)
Summer season: 9 am — 5 pm (last admission at 4 pm)
Nice to know: Arges county council has approved plans to build a tram car (cremaillere) to facilitate access to the fortress. Well, but that’s for the future …. right now, get ready to take on the 1480 stairs :)
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