Although Bran Castle is associated more often with Vlad Tepes, being known simply as “Dracula’s castle” by most people, it doesn’t have strong connections with the real Dracula in reality, as it’s mostly the fruit of Bram Stoker’s imagination. What few people know is that another castle, or better said a fortress, was Dracula’s place of retreat when he wasn’t at the Princely Court from Targoviste, or held as prisoner during his turbulent reign.
How to get to the Poenari Fortress
Poenari Fortress is located on top of the mountain above the Arges Gorges, near the Arefu village and close to the Vidraru dam. The fortress is often a destination visited by those who are traveling along the Transfagarasan road. Poenari Fortress can be visited from Thursdays to Sundays.
The history of Poenari Fortress
Poenari’s history begins with Negru Voda, the voivode who built a tower in the 14th century in the desire to extend a defense plan for northern Wallachia. In 1456, Vlad Tepes finds the place and decides that such a good site deserves better exploitation, so he adds four more towers, joined by solid brick walls, settling here his second residence after Targoviste. In fact, Tepes had to rebuild the original structure, seriously destroyed by the great earthquake that occurred in 1446. Its role was to provide a retreat for the voivode and to shelter a garrison of about 25-30 soldiers.
The fortress was built in two stages. The tower donjon was built in the 14th century by Negru Voda and has Transylvanian influences in its architecture, while the enclosure walls and the semicircular towers were built during Vlat Teps’ time, during the 15th century. The walls preserve influences from the Byzantine architecture.
The Poenari Fortress was built by Negru Voda directly in the rock, through an old Byzantine technique – the exterior of the walls was made of stone, and the interior, filled with pieces of rough stone, consolidated with earth or lime.
Later, the fortress was rebuilt by Vlad Tepes in just six months, as some chroniclers say, having five towers fordefense. The walls are 3 meters thick, like many fortified citadels in Transylvania; the wall on the north side of the fortress collapsed during an earthquake in 1915. The wall on the west side of the fortress is 14 meters long and still retains the entrance to the fortress and the bridge.
The southern side is 72 meters long and consists of three outer bastions with a semicircular plane. It is linked to the eastern side of the fortress, which is 16 meters long.
The legends of the Poenari Fortress
Given its mysterious location, in the mountains, at an altitude of 850 meters, there are a few legends surrounding this fortress, especially related to its role during the reign of Vlad Tepes. The first legend is related to the boyars who plotted the killing of Tepes, considering him to be a tough ruler. Which, he probably, was, as you can find out more details about Dracula’s story on our blog. Anyway, Vlad learned of their plan, gathered them at the Arges Gorges and forced them to climb the mountain and work on the construction of the fortress. Many of the boyars lost their lives while working at the construction.
The second legend is related to the wit of Vlad Tepes who, during the battle with the Turks of 1462, has tricked them by hitching the horses backwards, and then retreating without problems to the fortress, because the Turks thought he left when they discovered the hoof prints.
Last but not least, it is said that Anastasia, Vlad’s wife suicide in the same year of 1462 at Poenari Fortress. She was supposedly jealous because she found out that he intended to marry one of his mistresses, a girl named Katharina from Brasov. However, another variant of the legend says that Anastasia killed herself when Vlad was finally defeated in battle and she preferred to die rather than end up in the captivity of her husband’s enemies. Anastasia was the niece of the Queen of Poland died after throwing herself from one of the towers on the fortress into the Arges River.
The 1480 steps to the Poenari Fortress
The fortress is 400 meters high from the valley and consists of 5 towers. Its walls are about 3 meters thick. In order to reach the fortress, tourists have to climb 1480 steps made of concrete. The climb time takes 30 minutes on average, but it’s something to consider if you want to visit the fortress. However, if you reach the top, you can admire an impressive view over the valley of Arges. The view is so beautiful, that the fortress inspired another famous author to include it in one of his books. Poenari inspired the setting for Jules Verne’s book, “The Carpathian Castle.”
If you would like to know more about Vlad Tepes and visit some of the places related to this historic figure, you can book our In search of Dracula tour, to visit Poenari, the Royal Court from Targoviste and the Curtea de Arges Monastery. For more extensive tours focused on following Dracula’s story, we recommend you book our Dracula tour in Transylvania or our Real Dracula tour.