Sighișoara, Transylvania: Dracula's hometown
Transylvania is a region on the rise. Lonely Planet has pegged this mountain flanked swathe of central Romania as the #1 region to visit in the world for 2016, a distinction owed largely to it's historical preservation. The walled Old Town area of Sighișoara, an iconic Transylvanian city founded in the 12th century, may as well still house the guilds of German merchants and artisans who originally settled here -- they would feel quite at home considering how little has changed since the time of their occupation.
Although Transylvania deserves to have world recognition for it's alpine scenery and medieval charm, mention of the area most often inspires darker connotations. Thanks to the undying work of Bram Stoker, Transylvania has become synonymous with vampires. The basis for the fictional Count Dracula finds it's roots here in Sighasoara -- and is actually a bit scarier than our chocolate cereal spun off Hollywood vampire friend could ever hope to be.
"Vlad The Impaler", bloodthirsty prince of Wallachia in the 15th century, was born here in 1431. It takes a lot of dedication to earn a moniker like 'the impaler'. Having an estimated victim count between 40,000 and 100,000 certainly helps, but it's not quite enough. It's how you kill them, and the sadistic pleasure that you take while doing so, that earns you that name.
A fine example: "He roasted children, whom he fed to their mothers, and cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled." -- German pamphlet from 16th century decrying the evil prince
At least you have to admire his thoroughness -- "After that, he had them all impaled". It would have been a shame to let anyone off the hook so easily by just stopping after the mutilation and forced cannibalism. I guess you can say there was a lot at stake.
Vlad's political legacy reads like that of any late middle age royal appointed to preside over contentious lands -- support from the Ottomans, confrontation with Hungary, broken truce and subsequent imprisonment by Ottomans, escape and alliance with Moldova, alliance with Hungary, conquest of Bulgaria, imprisonment in Hungary, eventual decapitation by Ottomans who preserved his head in honey until they could display it on a stick in Constantinople for everyone to see...you get the idea.
The Old Town of Sighisoara today retains many of the same qualities young Vlad grew up surrounded by. It registers as one of the most authentically preserved medieval heritage sites anywhere in Europe -- with low key ATM's and Wi-Fi to make it a functional tourist draw, of course. Fear of the psycho killer prince has long ago faded, but his reputation survives thanks to the bankable brand he has provided. Souvenir shops scattered about sell t-shirts, mugs, and even cutlery with his name and likeness on them. It seems the only thing Vlad's staking people to anymore is a pay day!