Vlad the Impaler

Romania is another undiscovered country for tourists and thank God. With the Carpathian Mountains, the fertile farmlands of Translyvania and even a small coast along the Black Sea, it is a varied and diverse country. It is also quote beautiful.  It has traditionally been broken up in to three distinct areas that reflect 10th century principalities:   Translyvania, Moldavia (and Bessarabia) and Wallachia.  

Control over Translyvania has changed hands many times with the Hungarians and Saxons being the principle claimants and today there are still large ethnic Hungarian and German populations. The traditional rivalry manifests itself today as ethnic tensions although bloodshed is now rare.  Other big towns in Translyvania are Timisaora, Cluj-Napoca and Brasov.

Moldavia is the area east of the Carpathians and is all that remains of what was once the principality of Moldavia. The original Moldavia included areas of what is now Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova east of Romania. Iasi (pronounced YOSH) is the principal city. 

Wallachia includes Bucharest and most of southern Romania. It has always been the domain of the Romanian people: a mixture of the ancient Dacians and Roman legionnaires. Like Italian, the language derives from Latin except with a strong Slavic flavor.  It was also home to one of the most misunderstood characters in Romanian History: Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler. He is often (Romanians say unfairly) credited as being the inspiration for Dracula.  

The prince of medieval Wallachia was given the name for his fondness for impaling Turkish soldiers (and others). Impaling is a grim torture of running a wooden spike up the anus and through the shoulder which avoids all organs thus prolonging the misery of an already miserable death. It is also true he probably learned the technique from the Ottoman Turks, his constant nemesis. Vlad does deserve credit (Along with Stefan the Great and a few other leaders) of giving the Turks fits and while he did sign on as a vasal state late in his reign,  Romanians generally fared better than their surrounding brethren. He is seen today in Romania as a hero. 

His father was known as Vlad Dracul. Dracul (a latin or Wallachian term meaning dragon) came from an award he was given by the  Holy Roman Emperor -- the order of the dragon -- which was a cheap and easy way of encouraging people to protect Christianity from the "infidels", namely the Turks. Dracul (from the Latin Draco) also meant devil. Thus Vlad II may have been known as "Dracula" or son of the dragon/devil in the language. Pulp printings published in the late 1400s in Europe added to his legend as being a mean dude. History shows he was clearly a law-and-order prince and was harsh on the German Saxons who fought unsuccessfully against his attempts to conquer Translyvania. It should be noted that most of the unflattering pamphlets (such as ones that described his taste for drinking blood) were German-produced.  He was clearly a man capable of unspeakable brutality but hell, this was 1450...what king wasn't? 

By the way, Romanians HATE the Dracula stuff. See for more fun Vlad stuff. 

More recently, in 1989, a violent revolution took place ousting the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who had led the country for 25 years through his secret police called the Securitate. Ceausescu sent armored cars to squash a spontaneous student uprising that started during a speech he was making. Hundreds were killed and maybe thousands more over the next few days. Eventually Ceausescu was forced to flee Bucharest but was later caught, quickly tried and executed by firing squad. 

My pictures do not do justice to this beautiful country. 

House of the People (now Parliament - Bucharest -  Ceausescu's monument to the people...or maybe himself. Much of old-town Bucharest including 12 churches and 7000 homes were destroyed to build this massive complex which has more surface area than any building except the Pentagon. The entry carpet itself weighs 14 tons. Unfortunately, the country cannot afford to keep the fountains working.   Tower of Stefan the Great (1497) in Piatra Neamt - Stefan was another of the Turk-battling kings of Romania. Peatra Neamt is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains
The 14th Century Monastery at Cozia - Romania is filled with beautiful old monasteries many in remarkable condition St. John's Church (1498) - Piatra Neamt - This oddly shaped church with its simple yet beautiful design sits next to the belltower and was also built in the reign of Stefan the Great. The ruins of his court are nearby. 
Detail at Cozia The Orthodox Cathedral - Cluj - This beautiful relatively modern cathedral sits in the town of Cluj - Napoca in the heart of Translyvania. Napoca was the name of the ancient Roman settlement here. 
Lighting candles at Cozia Traditional Translyvanian houses in Sibiu - The town is the home of the self-proclaimed King of the Gypsies or Roma. Romania has more Roma than anywhere on earth. They are thought to have migrated from India.
The town of Craiova in Oltenia - Oltenia is the western part of Wallachia and Craiova is one of the many handsome towns in the region "Gypsy Castle" - The derogatory term is often applied to the homes of wealthy Roma. Two near Targu Mures on the road to Sibiu. 
Detail from the Church of the Three Holy Heirarchs in Iasi (1630) - The beautiful carved surface (using Armenian, Persian, Turkish, Arabian and Georgian motifs) was once covered in gold. Plans are to restore the gold when money is raised. Most of the rest of the church is under scaffolding. Town buildings in Targu Mures - The town has a large ethnic Hungarian population and it is reflected in these buildings. The one on the right is the palace of culture. During the time of Ceausescu, ethnic Romanians were resettled in the city to dilute the Hungarian population. The town was a hotbed of strife for years. 
Palace of Culture in Iasi - The palace includes 365 rooms - one for each day of the year  - and it attests to Iasi's importance at the turn of the century. Stained glass windows - These windows are from a top floor recital hall in the palace of culture in Targu Mures.


All material Copyright 2003 Drew Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
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