Vlad Tepes, Bucharest, and a Medieval Curse out of Context

Vlad Tepes Bucharest curse

Vlad Tepes built a fortified fortress in 1458 Bucharest part of his defense plan against Ottoman attacks, no curse here. Vlad’s princely court remained at Târgovişte, but with fortresses at Bucharest, Comana and Snagov Vlad Ţepeş knew that his chances of fighting off any Turkish bad spells increased.

Vlad the Impaler, Curtea Veche Bucuresti

Thus, the Royal Courthouse, Curtea Veche, Vlad’s royal palace soon became the heart of Bucharest, a city nesting between the rivers of Dâmboviţa and Colentina, and with the rivulet of Bucureştioara (Little Bucharest) as a defense moat for the fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest

Today the plains surrounding Bucharest, the capital city of Romania are flat, and intensely involved in agriculture. But during the Middle Ages a dense forest grew here, known as Codrii Vlăsiei, the Lowland Woods (stretching it a bit, the Vlach’s Woodland). It was here, on a hill in the town of Bucur, Bucuresti, that Vlad ordered master builders from Brasov to raise him a brick and stone fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest close up

It is Vlad the Impaler’s Charter from 20 September 1459 that is the first ever official mention on Bucharest, thus the city’s birth certificate.

Vlad-Impaler-fortress-Bucharest

Although legend says that Bucharest’s foundation was set by a shepherd, Bucur, it is most plausible that the city was founded by Mircea cel Bătrân, Mircea the Elder, Wallachian ruler and Vlad Tepes’ paternal grandfather, on a prehistorical site.

A paragraph was included at the end of the document signed by Vlad the Impaler, document that also mentions land being purchased and sold, and such wording was common during those times in order to oblige everyone to honor the terms of the contract:

document atestare Bucuresti Vlad Tepes

“S-a scris în septembrie 20, în cetatea București, în anul 6968 (1459) Io Vlad voievod, din mila lui Dumnezeu, domn”.
“Written on September 20, in the citadel of Bucharest, in year 6968 (1459), I Vlad voievode, by the mercy of God, ruler.”

Bucharest today
A building in Bucharest.

“And he and his flesh shall be destroyed by the word of the good Lord and in the afterlife his soul shall be with Judas and Arius and with others that said: his blood over them and over their children, what it is and it will always be forever, amen.”
In the Romanian translation (as the document was originally written in Slavic, the language widely used in the Tara Romaneasca at that time:
“Pe acela Domnul Dumnezeu să-l nimicească şi să-l ucidă aici cu trupul, iar în veacul viitor sufletul lui, să fie părtaş lui Iuda şi lui Arie şi cu ceilalti care au spus: sângele lui asupra lor şi asupra copiilor lor, ceea ce este şi va fi in veci, amin.”

Romanian Commercal Bank, BCR, at Universitate Square, Bucharest
Romanian Commerical Bank, BCR, at University Square, Bucharest

Taken out of context, along the years many decided to see this curse as having being cast upon the city of Bucharest itself, yet it is not. How could it be, when Vlad the Impaler’s heart beat for his land and his people – and Vlad wrote the above charter “with his whole benevolence, with a clean and enlightened heart,” – “cu a sa bunăvoinţă, cu inimă curată şi luminată“

Bucuresti Liceul Lazar
Bucharest Lazar Highschool near Cismigiu Park

Invoking Divine wrath against those who don’t follow the Price’s or Voievode’s command was common practice in documents written in both Latin and Slavic during those times (especially between the 14ht and the 17th centuries), by the rulers of Ţara Romaneasca and Moldova. Such fashion came from the Byzantine Empire, through the Orthodox church, or influenced by the rulers of the countries south of Danube. The Hungarian rulers, however, under the Catholic faith, used not such means of threat in their official documents.

Bucharest, closing the door on history
Bucharest, closing the door on history

I grew up in Bucharest and lived there for nearly three decades, I couldn’t have left this one slip, Vlad Tepes built a royal fortified fortress in Bucharest, Curtea Veche, but the Medieval curse connected with it is out of Context 🙂 Bucharest is a vibrant, beautiful city, filled with history, art, and wonderful people.

thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields? Unusual Thursday Doors

red carpet Thursday doors

If you would have to choose, red carpet or lavender fields, your choice would be… but before you answer, let’s see what’s all about on this week’s Thursday Doors.

One of the last places where I would like to be photographed is on my way to the ladies restroom, the toilet, the loo, the john, the privy, the outhouse… Yet there is such a place in Romania, although the flashes coming on as one would stroll along don’t take actual pictures. It is the Park Lake Mall in Bucharest.

With the Oscars around the corner, here’s how it might feel walking down the red carpet:

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors

Are you sure you are dressed up for the occasion? Left or right…

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall Oscars toilet entrance

If the red carpet is not your thing, then a field of French lavender, and this way’s to the Ladies room, past the French bistro.

The upside down toilet is all about decor, you have to take my word for it 🙂

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

And you may hold onto the wall as you make your way.

See? All is well inside.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

Oh, and before you leave the mall, do remember where you parked your car 🙂

Mini Cooper cars hinting towards the Ladies and Gents

Public toilets are never my favorite spot – whose are ? – but this place will always be remembered as an adventure 🙂

Now, I do owe you some doors, so here is the entrance to the Nazareth House in Pretoria, an NGO living facility for old people. My daughter’s high-school choir used to hold their annual concerts there 🙂

Nazareth House opened on the 26th of October 1952. The first Sisters of Nazareth arrived in South Africa in 1881 at the invitation of the Bishop of Cape Town. Their mission was to care for indigent elderly and orphaned children.

Doors are often seen as a place of transition, as well as an opportunity for good or evil forces to enter or leave, hence doorways are often guarded, as you can see in the images above.

Shh, choir practice 🙂

The door below, this one’s seen as a right of passage… you have to be a soprano or an alto, a tenor or a bass to walk through this door 🙂

Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel
Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel

I have fond memories of this place. The chapel is spacious, without being large, and it would always fill to capacity during the annual choir concert. Seated on long, wooden benches we would tighten the rows to make space for a late arrival. There was a feeling of togetherness. I wonder if it will prevail after all the space the Covid-19 Pandemic will leave behind.

Nazareth House, Pretoria, the chapel
Nazareth House choir performance
thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Travel Through Doors, Best of 2020

thursday doors, travel to Romania

Travel Through Doors and discover the best doors as seen in my 2020 Thursday Doors blog posts. Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, initiated by Norm who later presented the baton to Dan.

Dan has a Badge Idea contest for Thursday Doors running until 11:59 pm Thursday, December 31st (North American Eastern Time). Check his website for rules and maybe give it a try! The last image in this blog post is my entry.

Ans so it began, my journey around Europe (okay, mostly Romania) for Thursday Doors. We first traveled to Brasov, with The Church Door, a (very) short story:

Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov and the story of a door...
Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov

The Village Museum of Bucharest was next, with its carved wooden doors. We looked at a few and also at what their carved symbols mean:

Village Museum Bucharest, wood carvings, symbols and meaning
Village Museum Bucharest: a wood structure brought here all the way from the north of Romania, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins…

My all time favorite must be this 500 years old door from Corvin Castle who even made it through the great fire of 13 April 1854:

Corvin Castle, Romania, 500 years old door original
Corvin Castle, Romania, a 500 years old door

We looked at Corvin Castle’s Coat of Arms too and at two rather grand doors embellished with jambs, tympanum and pinnacles, and at a short history of door knockingfind it all here. And we returned in a second visit here.

And on we went to travel through doors with a guessing game! Bucharest or Paris?

guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?
guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?

Small shrines can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. This is a shrine from Brasov, before reaching the Black Church as you would stroll down a winding road from Șcheii Brașovului:

The second image above reads: ‘This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.’

Our next travel stop was at a monastery built for peace, Snagov Monastery, where we looked at medieval plots and at revenge:

Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story
Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story

Snagov Monastery has seen a long an troubled past. Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Next we visited Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania, renowed for its white-washed walls. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one:

Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince
Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince

If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.

For a chilling stop we traveled next to Fagaras Castle to see its Iron Maiden, this symbol of medieval violence:

Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence
Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence

Bran Castle means many things to different people. To me, it is a door to heaven.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. You will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones:

carnations on a balcony, Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

It was only fit to travel to a snowy place around the day of Saint Nicholas, December 6th, and we did so through a short story about Saint Nick and the meaning of the first snow in Sighisoara:

Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow and Saint Nicholas
Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow on Saint Nicholas

We said good bye and so long to 2020 with A Winter Story for Thursday Doors:

Sighisoara, face in door, Thursday doors
Sighisoara, a face in z door, for Thursday doors

Lastly, my suggestion for a Thursday Doors badge:

Thursday Doors - Around the World
Thursday Doors – Around the World

The Spiral Staircase, from Symbol to Mystery

spiral staircase symbol mystery

Carved out of stone or wood, to defeat or hide a secret passage, the spiral staircase still stands the test of time like a question mark between symbol and mystery.

In the perfect twilight of the room the girl was waiting, her hand on the banister of a spiral staircase, her mind a tornado of thoughts. Should she go up, towards the unknown? Was the spiral she was confronted with a symbol of a destiny written in her DNA, unavoidable, or a chance encounter mystery?

Usually narrow, often tucked away in the corner of a room, carved in stone or build out of luscious wood, a spiral staircase is like a mysterious creature watching you from the shadows. Alluring. Daring. Playful. Dare you take the challenge?

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, Bran castle, staircase
Above and below, staircases of Bran Castle, Romania

A spiral staircase is a confined space that obscures from sight what lays ahead, be it above or underneath you, and offering only two options: up or down. Or an open cavity that tricks you by deceitfully offering physical support while playing with your inner sense of equilibrium, spinning you out of balance as you descent into the unknown.

Either way, be it the glimpse of a promise, of something fascinating once reaching its top, or the 50 / 50 gamble that a sinister outcome might be lurking at its bottom, proves irresistible. And you take the first step.

The spiral staircase, stairs with a purpose. Which one?

Built to reach bird-level heights while conserving space, to solve a comfort or a safety issue, the movement one follows along a spiral stairway is influenced by the location of the stair, the amount of natural light, the material (medieval stone, classic wood, or modern steel), the stair’s geometry, and the presence of handrails (if any).

The spiral staircase appeared as a key element intent to fluidity the circulation in any multi-story building, and perhaps its first intent was for private use.

Would you run up a spiral staircase? Would you tiptoe up? Would you use a candle to light your way or trust the moonlight sliding through the top?

Just don’t run up a staircase with a sword in your right hand as you will find it difficult to maneuver upwards, especially on clock-wise winding stairs. Perhaps this is why spiral staircases were used as a defense mechanism in medieval castles. Just imagine how the attackers of a tower could not storm up in a group, but had to go up one by one along a narrow path. Less defenders stood a far better chance to protect and survive.

Below: the stone spiral staircase of the Catacombs of Paris, France (exit):

The spiral, a symbol

I can’t resist a spiral staircase. The sight of it, so similar to the DNA’s double helix, reminds me of the human (sub)conscious desire to achieve higher. Its spiral, like a maze of self-discovery through movement and sight, is both a riddle and a promise. It could be a secret passage way between two levels, or the chance to evolve, to self-discover, to take a risk.

Be it an iconic structure or an architectural inner whisper, take this trip with me along spiral staircases and let’s travel the world.

A Timeline of Spiral Staircases

First ever spiral staircases were mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as existing some 3000 years ago. These two spiral staircases were part of Solomon’s Temple and used to access a sacrificial altar.

Searching for actual archaeological remains, the earliest example of a spiral staircase is in the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily, (built c. 490–460 BC). A really skillfully engineered spirals of the ancient Greco-Roman empire.

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily - the earliest example of a spiral staircase
the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily – the earliest example of a spiral staircase

Still standing in Rome today is marble-built Trajan’s Column (built 113 AD) and this seems to be the oldest ‘preserved’ spiral staircase in the world.

Did you know that the outside of the column is covered with reliefs depicting the victories of Trajan’s army in the Dacian wars? Dacians were the forefathers of the Romanian people.

There are over 2000 marble carvings that spiral upward depicting the Roman – Dacian Wars (there were two of them) along Trajan’s Column, but its one overlooked characteristic is definitely the winding staircase hidden inside. Windows strategically placed allow enough light for the visitors walking up the stairs, but it is well worth it as at the top there is a viewing platform overlooking the Markets of Trajan, Trajan’s Forum, Capitol Hill, and the Campus Martius. Marcus Aurelius Column (176–192 A.D.) also has a spiral staircase inside. But Romans did not commonly use spiral staircases in buildings until after the third century.

Below: stone spiral staircase at Fagaras Castle, Romania:

Other impressive spiral staircases are located at the Baths of Caracalla (212–16 A.D.), the Baths of Diocletian (298–305 A.D.) and the Mausoleum of Constantia (c. 350 A.D.) among many others.

In Spain, the oldest spiral staircase is located at the archaeological area of the Roman villa of Las Gabias (6 century A.D.), south Granada.

More great spiral staircases are found at the Abbey Church at Cluny and Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (France); the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Köln and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Worms (Germany); and the Cathedral in Durham and in Canterbury (England).

Perhaps it is the years of history trapped in a staircase, the symbol it stood for, as well as the excitement to climb it and the anticipation of the mystery, of the view at the top what make any spiral staircase well worth a climb. Like this spiral staircase below, located in the Clock Tower of medieval fortress of Sighisoara, Romania:

Spiral staircase design had to wait for the development of the craft guilds that took place during the Middle Ages – so that extra technical skills required in their extended construction develop. Now they were mostly used to prevent the invaders from gaining access in castles. It is of importance to know here that the Gothic stone-masonry masters ensured the stability of a stone structure by determining the right dimensions for all its different parts.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery, marble spiral staircase, Romanian Atheneum, Bucharest
Marble spiral staircase at the Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest

The Helical Stair – a Timeline

With regard to the helical stair, the oldest examples can be found in the well-preserved towers at Aghios Petros on Andros Island and Pyrgos Chimarrou on Naxos Island, both dating to the Hellenistic period (4 – 3 century BC). Then it went dormant.

The helical staircase was not fully developed until later, during the 16th century, when it gradually developed in proportion and decorations, mainly composed of moldings on the wall handrail. Over time, its enclosing walls dissolved, improving the use of natural light.

Below, the stunning wooden carved helical staircase inside Peles Castle, Romania:

Around the 15th – 16th century the helical or openeyed staircase appears in Spain as an element of late Gothic architecture. This was also known as the mallorca staircase and the first, built between 1435 and 1446, is located in the turrets of La Lonja of Palma. Other helical stairs can be found in the Vélez Chapel in Murcia Cathedral, Colegio de Arzobispo Fonseca in Salamanca, and the Concepción Chapel in Segovia Cathedral.

During Renaissance times the helical staircase becomes a significant sculptural and elemental part of design. Like the one designed by Donato Bramante for Pope Julius II at the Belvedere Palace (and known as the Bramante staircase): a double helical staircase which was intended to separate the movement of people and animals.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery. the Bramante staircase, Vatican
the Bramante staircase

Helical staircases now become spacious and elegant and even a centerpieces of a building, like the one located at the exit of the Vatican Museum in Rome designed by Giuseppe Momo (1932), or the free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris below (built 1989) or the glass one towering at the new Exhibition Hall at the Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin (2003), both designed by Ieoh Ming Pei.

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, the free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris
The free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris (with an elevator inside its well)

Helical staircases inside Louvre Museum, Paris:

Andrea Palladio, 16th century Italian Renaissance architect, wrote in his book of The Four Books of Architecture, referring to spiral staircases :

“They succeed very well that are void in the middle, because they can have the light from above, and those that are at the top of the stairs, see all those that come up or begin to ascend, and are likewise seen by them.”

So, what is the difference between a Spiral and a Helical Staircase?

The common design of many ancient spiral staircase structures includes a center newel, crafted out of stone, with the stone stair slabs constructed around it.

The helical staircase follows the same basic rule, the rotation of a single-slab-step around a central axis BUT the newel is replaced by a small well. Nevertheless, the newel is kept but it is not located in the geometric center of the staircase but around it.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery, Spiral staircases in Carturesti Bookshop, Bucharest
Spiral staircases in Carturesti Bookshop, Bucharest – above and below

In case you wondered or perhaps you saw one, there are outside spiral staircases too, like this stunning one below that we happened to stumble upon while visiting the Da VinciThe Genius exhibition back in 2014, near the Maronite Catholic Church in Johannesburg, South Africa:

I hope you enjoyed our excursion along the spiral staircase, from symbol to mystery.

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Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery

Snagov monastery, paraclis wood carved doors

Almost 600 years old, these wooden doors of a medieval chapel, long sunken they say, built around 1453 near Snagov Monastery, 40 km northward from Bucharest, can still be admired in the Art Museum of Bucharest.

For the weary traveler, approaching the chapel as a meditation, its wooden doors with their visual and scripting messages would have been the first welcoming sign: arms folded in prayer, ready to open, to receive, and to fold around, in absolution.

On the history of Snagov Monastery

Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Vlad Țepeș (Vlad III or Vlad Dracula) too improved the monastery and he would have come here to pray, for his people, for Wallachia, for good fortune in fighting the Turks.

And perhaps Vlad Țepeș came here to pray for enlightenment and forgiveness too.

Will he forgive the double crime?

It is said that a storm pulled the chapel from the ground and threw it in the lake nearby, where it sank. Its doors floated on the waters to the nearby hamlet of Turbați (today Siliștea Snagovului). The nuns from the convent here rescued, dried and kept the carved, kingly doors safe. The hamlet was aptly named Turbați, Rabies, for the nuns were skilled in curing rabies.

On a Monastery Built for Peace and on Medieval Plots and Revenge

You see, in 1447, while Sultan Murad II had young Vlad III and his brother Radu in captivity, their father Vlad II (Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon), ruler of Wallachia, had to balance his crusader oath and his his pledge of neutrality to the sultan. To honor and protect Christianity. Or to keep his two younger sons alive.

John Hunyadi, leading Hungarian military figure, wishing his puppet, Vladislav II, on the throne of Wallachia, invades it. So the local boyars (noblemen) revolt against Vlad II. Caught between the three forces Vlad II is captured and killed by Vladislav while his oldest son Mircea is tortured by boyars and burried alive.

So Vladislav II now rules Wallachia. And in 1453 he build the chapel of Snagov Monastery with these wooden sculpted doors.

Come 1456, Vlad Țepeș defeats Vladislav II in a hand-to-hand combat. Fair and square.

Thus Vlad Țepeș second reign of Wallachia had begun.

Finally, the Chapel Door and its Three Panels Carved in Wood

The carved wooden doors are meant to depict the Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The top panel: Angel Gabriel (on the left side) and Virgin Mary (on the right side, praying).

Do you see the vase with flowers? One of them should be a white lily, believed to be the first flower cultivated by humans, associated with purity and, Christianity, the Blessed Virgin.

the Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery. top panel - Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The median panel depicts saints: Saint Basil the Great (Vasile cel Mare), Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Grigorie din Nazianz), Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (Ioan Gură de Aur) and Saint Nicholas (Sfântul Nicolae).

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The lower panel: we see Saint George, Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe, on his horse, slaying the dragon with his spear, a symbol of Christian faith, at any cost.

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The inscription is a prayer in Slavonic, for hospitality that each weary traveler shall find in this place of worship.

Since we are at Snagov, you might like to know tat in 1475, the year before he was killed, Vlad Țepeș ordered that a defense wall be raised around Snagov Monastery, a bridge, a prison for robbers as well as a secret underwater passage that will confer a secondary exit from the island.

For Norm’s Thursday Doors, joining art and photography lovers from around the world.