Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.
The name “Dracula” signifies for most people the figure of the vampire immortalized in the novel Dracula (1897) by Irish author Bram Stoker. But behind the name are two major traditions: the folkloric and literary vampire that culminated in Stoker’s novel and the history of a fifteenth-century Wallachian prince best known in Romania as Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler). While many Westerners are surprised to discover that there was indeed a Dracula and are puzzled that he is still considered a national hero, just as many Romanians are dismayed when their voivode is confused with vampire legends. The best way to unravel these incongruities is to explore the separate histories of both Dracula the voivode and Dracula the vampire, to examine how each has had his own impact on contemporary culture and to ascertain the exact nature of the connection between the two.
The origins of Wallachia date back to the late thirteenth century when Romanians (descended from the ancient Dacians) migrated south out of Transylvania across the Carpathian range into the foothills and plains. Generally credited with founding this new state in the fourteenth century is Basarab I, who defeated an invading Hungarian army at Posada in 1330. His work was expanded and consolidated by later rulers such as Nicolae Alexandru and Vladislav-Vlaicu. By 1385, Wallachia was a clearly distinct and independent state, with its capital at Târgoviste. The dominant religious power in Wallachia was the Romanian Orthodox church. Though it had connections with the central Orthodox authority of Constantinople, the Romanian church was essentially autonomous, with its own chief bishop whose see was located at the original Wallachian capital, Curtea-de-Arges, where the first church had been built by Basarab I. The first Metropolitan of Wallachia, Iachint, was officially installed in 1359.
In addition, scattered throughout Wallachia were several monasteries which were centres of temporal as well as spiritual power. Many of the early voivodes supported the monasteries with significant endowments. There were some vestiges of Roman Catholicism in the form of a few abbeys, but this faith was far more prominent in Transylvania to the north. The Roman Catholic church had very little power and influence in Wallachia.
Vampires did not originate with Count Dracula. A revenant who returns from the grave to suck the blood of its victims in order to sustain its existence, the vampire has its origins in the folk legends of many countries, most specifically in central and eastern Europe.
From these roots it metamorphosed into the more familiar image that has dominated literature and popular culture for the past one hundred years. Attempts to identify the genesis of the vampire legend are fraught with difficulty.
Inquiry is further complicated by what folklorist Jan Perkowski refers to as “contamination,” the process by which the vampire has been merged with other supernatural beings such as the mora, strigoi, incubus, werewolf and poltergeist.
If one confines the search to legends associated with the word “vampire” or its many variants, the trail leads to the Slavic countries of Europe.
Most folklorists concur that the word “vampire” has Slavic roots, first appearing as a proper name (“Upir”) in an Old Russian manuscript of the eleventh century and as a generic term in a Serbian manuscript two hundred years later. The form “vampir” has been found in a fifteenth-century South Slavic source.
Perkowski defines the Slavic folkloric vampire as a half-human, half-supernatural being, a reanimated corpse that emerges from its grave to prey on the living and asserts that it arose as a consequence of the clash of orthodox Christianity with dualist heterodoxy. Other scholars contend that belief in vampires existed in southern and eastern Europe before the advent of Christianity and later spread among the Slavic people who apparently passed it to their non-Slavic neighbours. Some suggest that gyipsies may have brought some of the legends with them from India.
It was Dracula that firmly entrenched the vampire in literature. So influential has this novel been that to this day, every author working in the genre is conscious of writing in its shadow. What Stoker succeeded in doing was to bring together many disparate threads from folklore and legend, the Gothic novel and earlier vampire fiction into a novel that resonates with the fears and anxieties of his time as well as our own.
Romania is the centre of Dracula tourism. But this has created an interesting dilemma for Romanians: how to accommodate this demand while at the same time keeping clear the distinction between the fictional vampire and their own national hero. It is no easy task. Confronted with hundreds of Western tourists who visit Transylvania because of an interest in Count Dracula, Romanians are faced with a challenge: how to cope with the invasion of a “native son” who was never theirs to begin with. Sometimes confusion results.
It was, of course, a figment of the Irish author’s imagination, augmented by an obscure notation on an old map. But today, especially for those tourists who want to experience the fictional Dracula, the Castle Dracula Hotel awaits them. Opened in the early 1980s, it offers a panoramic view of meadows, forested slopes and distant mountains. More important for Western tourists on the Dracula trail, it is located in the region selected by Bram Stoker…
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