Romania is one of the hidden gems of Europe: many foreign travelers forget to include it in their itineraries and never realize what they’re missing. Aside from boasting spectacular landmarks and outstanding natural scenery, Romania is also home to the legend of Dracula. Not the fictional character from the Bram Stoker novel, but the real Dracula.

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A prince of the old kingdom of Wallachia, Dracula is one of the most controversial and fascinating figures in history. Though much about his life still remains a mystery, we do know some captivating facts about him. Read them below!

10 He Was A Prince Who Ruled Three Times

The real Dracula wasn’t a vampire who terrorized those who came to his castle. He was actually a Romanian prince who ruled over the kingdom of Wallachia, in what is now the southern part of the country. His real name was Vlad III or Voivode of Wallachia. During his lifetime, he ruled over the kingdom three times in the 15thcentury.

He is sometimes referred to as Vlad Tepes, as Tepes is the Romanian translation for “the Impaler”. As for why he was called the Impaler, we’ll get to that soon!

9 His Father Was Part Of A Secret Paternity Of Knights

Sometimes, Prince Vlad is also referred to as Dracula, a name that is now synonymous with an undead creature from horror stories. In Romanian, Dracula simply means the son of Dracul, which is what Vlad’s father was called. Dracul in this language means “the Devil.”

Vlad’s father was part of a secret fraternity of knights known as the Order of the Dragon, a religious society that was created by the Holy Roman Emperor, according to the official Romanian Tourism website. Because of the Romanian association between the Devil and dragons, this nickname came about.

8 He Grew Up As A Hostage

Vlad went on to do some pretty controversial things. His actions were praised in Romania and criticized elsewhere in Europe. But any brutality that he showed later in his reign may have stemmed from the fact that he had a very harsh upbringing. At the beginning of his life, Vlad was sent with his brother to live in Constantinople as a hostage of the Sultan.

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While he was a hostage in what is today Istanbul, Vlad witnessed some atrocities which impacted his overall view of the world. He was set free after his father was assassinated in 1447 and his older brother had been murdered.

7 His Favorite Method Of Punishment Was Impaling

Perhaps the most crucial thing that Vlad took away from his time with the Turks in Constantinople was the method of punishment known as impaling. This involved allowing criminals to slowly die while after being impaled and propped up on large sticks. This became Vlad’s favorite method of punishment, earning him the nickname Vlad the Impaler.

Nearly all crimes, from lying to murder, were punished with public impaling. This method proved to be effective at reducing crime during Vlad’s reign, as many were too scared to attempt breaking the law.

6 Many Romanians View Him As A Hero

Although he is remembered as a vicious and evil ruler in western and Turkish historical records, Vlad is actually viewed as a hero in Romania. This is because he managed to reduce crime and corruption during his reign, even if his methods were extremely harsh. He defended his country from the advancing Turkish invaders and while he sat on the throne, commerce and culture flourished in Romania.

Travel to Romania and you will find statues and tributes dedicated to Vlad, who other countries sometimes regarded as one of the evilest men in history.

5 His War Tactics Included Hit And Runs

During his reign, Vlad managed to have some military success against the Turkish army, which consisted of many more men than he had fighting for him. Historians note that Vlad had a few preferred military tactics up his sleeve in order to get the upper hand in battle. One of these was hit and run.

He would ambush the enemy with his army on horseback, quickly impale as many enemy soldiers as he could, and then retreat quickly before he could suffer too many casualties. This allowed him to defeat armies that were much bigger than his.

4 Some Of His Gruesome Image Was Propaganda

Over the centuries, many gruesome depictions of Vlad have been perpetuated. According to Rolandia these were mostly embellished or made up altogether by his enemies to tarnish his reputation.

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German pamphlets at the time claimed that Vlad liked to dip his bread in the blood of his victims after impaling them and then savor it. This likely contributed to the idea of the Dracula figure we have today—a vampire that drinks blood. Romanians argue that this, along with the rumors that Vlad ate human flesh, is nothing but propaganda.

3 He Was Married More Than Once

That’s right, even Dracula could land a spouse! Historians believe that Vlad was married twice during his lifetime, with some even claiming that he had three wives. Nobody knows the real identity of his first wife, but it is likely that she was a noblewoman from Transylvania. She bore his first son, Mihnea cel Rau.

After being imprisoned in Hungary, Vlad married again, wedding Ilona Szilagyi, who was the daughter of a nobleman from Hungary. With his second wife, Vlad had two more sons. The Romanian Tourism website reports that he was a caring father to all of his children.

2 Dracula Never Really Lived In Bran Castle

Transylvania is widely associated with the legend of Dracula, as is Bran Castle. This provides the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, leading many to believe that this is where Vlad really lived. But according to Live Science, the Wallachian Prince never owned anything in Transylvania.

The castle does look spooky and is located in the foggy mountains. They also hold Halloween parties there. But if you’re willing to let the truth get in the way of a good story, Vlad never lived there; he didn’t even go there. If the castle is haunted, it’s certainly not haunted by the spirit of Vlad!

1 The Whereabouts Of His Remains Are Debated

Many things about Vlad III remain a mystery, including his final resting place. Although a few sites have been named as holding his remains, historians still question the validity of these claims. Some believe that he is buried in a monastery on the edge of Bucharest. The monastery is located in the commune of Snagov and lies on a small island in the middle of a lake.

Others believe that Vlad is buried at the Monastery of Comana which is located between Bucharest and the Danube. This is closer to the location of the battle where Vlad actually lost his life.

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