A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA
Dracula in Transylvania
Bram Stoker's famous fictional tale was first published in 1897 and introduced Victorians to not only the aristocratic vampire, Count Dracula, but also to many of the mysteries and superstitions swirling around Transylvania. Although it wouldn't be until after Stoker's death in 1912 that book sales really took off, thanks in no small part, to the unauthorised film version, Nosferatu, the flickering candle of fascination had been lit with tenuous links to the Prince of Wallachia, Vlad III, doing little to extinguish the flame.
"My favourite myth about Dracula is that it's a myth..."
– Count Tibor Kalnoky Read more
The origins of a legend
No matter whether you believe the blood-sucking Prince of Darkness to be fact or fiction there's no denying vampires and Transylvania are intrinsically linked and learning a little more about the history and folklore of the region certainly doesn't detract from the Gothic tales of yore. Right up until 1939 and the start of WW1, Transylvania was a major consideration of Hungary with 10th century Magyar (Hungarian) settlers, the Székely people, laying claim to the east and southeast of the region which they termed Erdely, or, in Latin: ultra silvam, meaning: 'beyond the forest'.
Laura Vesa, owner & tour leader of our supplier Transylvan: “The Székely are Transylvanian Hungarian-speaking people who many historians believe to be direct descendents of Attila the Hun. Due to their warrior skills, Székely men were employed to defend the borders of Transylvania from the Turks and in return they enjoyed the privilege of self-government - like Russia’s Cossaks - free from serfdom and foreign military service.”
Saxon (ethnic German) settlers came to Transylvania in the 12th century to help defend of Hungary's eastern borders. As colonial Germans, they were also granted special ‘estate’ privileges by the Hungarian nobility; although much more so than the Szekely, and certainly more so than the indigenous Romanians. By the early 1430s and Eastern Orthodox Romanians started to lose more of their social rights, mainly due to not being Roman Catholic, and pockets of peasant and Romanian resistance began to rise up against the Hungarian and German estate owners. Also around this time the second son of Vlad II Dracul (Vlad the Dragon) and the heir to the throne of Wallachia, Vlad III, was born in the city of Sighisoara.
The all-conquering Ottoman Empire invaded Transylvania in 1442 whereupon Vlad III and his brother were imprisoned to ensure their father remained loyal to the Ottoman Sultan. Five years later, after their father's loyalty had been proven, Vlad III and his brother were allowed to return to Wallachia however, their father, Vlad II Dracul, was slain and John Hunyadi, a Hungarian regent governor, laid claim to Wallachia and placed Vlad II Dracul’s cousin, Vladislav II, as the crowned prince.
Vlad III had full claim to the region of Wallachia and whilst John Hunyadi and Vladislav II were off fighting the Ottomans in 1448, he seized his chance and attacked at the head of an Ottoman army. As John Hunyadi and Vladislav II’s partially defeated armies returned to Wallachia, Vlad III fled to the region of Moldavia and wouldn’t return until eight years later with reinvigorated Hungarian support. After retaking Wallachia and killing Vladislav II and John Hunyadi in 1456, Vlad III went on to form closer bonds with the people of Brasov, in Transylvania, and swore to protect them against Ottoman attacks as long as they would do the same for Wallachia.
It was during this time that Vlad III gained something of a reputation for cruelty, regularly mounting charges into Transylvania and the villages around Brasov and Sibiu where local people would be tortured or carried off to be burned alive or impaled in Wallachia. Further forays ensued as Vlad III (who had quite rightly earned the nickname Vlad the Impaler) laid siege to southern Transylvania in an attempt to overthrow the Ottoman Empire. Historic documents state that over 20,000 men, women and children were impaled following one particular raid on an Ottoman encampment in Wallachia during 1462.