The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

Rocking the modern perceptions of the Middle Ages, the Iron Maiden found at Fagaras Castle, Romania, is a medieval torture device that is real, and yet not.

The stone castle of Făgăraş was first mentioned (that we know of) in 1455, but the initial fortification, built with sturdy fir trees from the nearby forests, goes back to 12th – beginning of the 13th century.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, Engraving of the Făgăraș Citadel by Ludwig Rohbock (1883)
Engraving of the Făgăraș Citadel by Ludwig Rohbock (~1883)

We also know that, traditionally, the duchies of Almas and Fagaras were fiefs of Wallachian prince. Yet John Hunyadi, appointed Voievode of Transylvania at that time (as Transylvania, although a Romanian county today, was part of the Kingdom of Hungary during he Middle Ages to say the least) seized them. Hunyadi gave Almas to the citizens of Sibiu and kept Faragras for himself.

But before being seized, the duchies of Almas and Fagaras belonged to the Voievode of Wallachia, and he would have been Vlad Dracul, Vlad II (Vlad Țepeș‘ father) and Mircea cel Batran, Mircea the Elder before him (Vlad Țepeș‘ grandfather).

We know further that Vlad Dracula, Vlad Țepeș, was finally able to title himself “Lord and ruler over all of Wallachia, and the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș” on 20 September 1459, thus showing that he had regained possession of both these traditional Transylvanian fiefs of the Wallachian rulers.

Făgăraş Castle, also know as Mihai Viteazul Fortress, in an inter-war postcard
Făgăraş Castle, also know as Mihai Viteazul Fortress, in an inter-war postcard

Now, back to the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle.

Documents mentioning Fagaras Castle dated more than a century ago do mention the existence of a mechanism of death, known as the “Iron Virgin” or “Iron Maiden”.

It seems that the device was brought into the fortress during the 18th century and used as an instrument of torture. The person sentenced to death was told on the day of his execution that he would be allowed one last kiss, that of the Mother of God, whose image hanged inside this coffin-like device. But the devices was thus created that when the convict stepped to kiss the image, the coffin would close with lightning speed and the knives and spikes that protruded on the inside would pierce his body. The spikes were short and positioned so that the victim wouldn’t die immediately.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle
The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

Also, thanks to another device, a hole would opened at the feet of the Iron Maiden so the body of the convict would free fall from a height of 8-10 meters in a dungeon where horizontal swords with very sharp edges would chop the falling cadaver into several pieces.

Through another device water from the fortress’ moat was channeled through this dungeon, thus washing away any traces of blood or flesh, taking them out through the northwestern part and directing them to Olt river, flowing only 800 meters away.

Sounds far-fetched?

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The Iron Maiden as an image for Medieval violence

Truth is that the Iron Maidens were a myth brought to life during the 18th century because they fitted so well with the idea of Medieval violence, especially the physical maltreatment of another being, with the weapons being so readily available during those times, and with the fact that violence was seen as an understandable response to most acts.

Let’s face it, during the Middle Ages violence was a common response. If one wanted to share an idea, to share a meaning – symbolic vengeance was expected.

But crime and violence did bothered the commoners during the Middle Ages. It frightened them too. Life had a value, certainly was valued less than we value it today.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The true history of the Iron Maiden

Johann Philipp Siebenkees was an 18th century German Professor of philosophy. He was a keen archeologist too. He was the first to describe the execution of a 1515 coin-forger by the use of an iron maiden in the city of Nuremberg. But the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, and one of the the most famous such devices, was only built in the early 1800s and destroyed in an Allied bombing in 1944.

Siebenkees might have read about a 5th century A.D. Latin book of Christian philosophy that describes the torture of the Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus, who was locked in a nail-studded box. Or he might have read the works of the Greek historian Polybius (100 B.C.) who told the story of the Spartan tyrant Nabis who constructed a mechanical likeness of his wife Apega. When a citizen refused to pay his taxes, Nabis would have the mechanical wife wheeled out and made to hug the wrong doer – only that the nails were on the outside of her body.

We all know stories about torture during the Middle Ages, and some of the devices used by the Ottoman Empire or those used to obtain false declarations during the Witch Hunts come to mind… but torture is very much present during our times too.

Perhaps it just makes us feel safer to look only at those times long gone.

doors towards the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

This, the Iron Maiden, is one door I do not wish to open – for Norm’s Thursday Doors blog weekly meme.

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An Ancient Door, Corvin Castle, Romania

ancient door, Corvin Castle, Romania

The visit to the ancient door of Corvin Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle in Romania takes us through a short history of knocking on doors and a look at some magnificent coat of arms.

Most doors shield a home from the outside world, and for that reason are both an invitation and a restrain, a question and a warning.

A short history of door knocking

Why do we knock on a door? Because it’s polite or because we’re weary of what we might discover on the other side if we enter unannounced? Any toddler or teen parent would agree on the importance of knocking on a door 🙂

Door knocking obviously follows the use door bells and door knockers…

Door knockers originate in Ancient Greece. Greeks were rather picky and didn’t like unannounced visitors entering their homes so they expected their guests to knock first. Wealthy Greeks had slaves chained to a heavy ring attached to the door, slaves meant to greet the guests. But Greece is a rather hot country and Greeks have always been renowned for their siesta hours… thus, in the event the door-slave had fallen asleep, the guest would jiggle and strike the knocker to awake the slave or rouse the home owner.

So the Romans, besides the art, philosophy, science, math skills, and trade inherited from the Greeks, continued using the door knocker and, obviously, it spread across the Roman empire, a habit that lasted until the 15th century. And as blacksmiths developed their skills, so did the door-knocker’s designs.

Three doors in Corvin Castle, Romania

Corvin Castle (Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle) as we know it today, was built and rebuilt over centuries, the first significant construction here being a small, oval fortress with towers built sometime between 1299 1399, although the site had been occupied since the a beginning of the Bronze Age.

By 1409, Voicu Hunedoara, or Romanian birth, was granted rights to the fortress and surrounding lands through the Donation Act of King Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary & Croatia. Voicu’s son, Ioan de Hunedoara (Iancu Hunedoara, János Hunyadi or John of Hunedoara) inherited the estate and improved on the existing fortress, making it stronger to withstand the Ottoman’s attacks. His son, the revered Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, inherited the castle after his death and improved it further inspired by the Italian Renaissance, until the end of the 15th century.

On 13 April 1854, Corvin Castle was struck by lightning, severely damaged and abandoned until 1869.

Elements of the original fortress’ construction remain to this day.

All these doors below are part of the fortress built by Iancu de Hunedoara in approx. 1442 and they are on the ground level.

The first two doors are facing the castle’s courtyard that has been in constant use since the original stone fortress was constructed in the 14th century. Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

On the first door you will want to notice three elements:

  • the jamb columns on either side of the door, creating a small recess for the door;
  • the tympanum, the semi-circular / triangular decorative wall surface above the door, displaying the coat of arms;
  • the two pinnacles (small spires) siting atop two buttresses on each side of the tympanum.
An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Romania, John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus coat of arms
Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

The door leads to the circular stairway.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara Romania, Coat of Arms of Hunyadis
Detail of the Entrance to the spiral staircase tower of the Corvin Castle representing the coat of arms of John Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus (the Hunyadis)

The use of a quarter shield is important as in Hungarian heraldic usage the quarter shield was only used by kings.

The raven (corbie) with the ring, profile, is for the House of Hunyadi (quadrant 1)
The white lion with the crown and the rampant lion with the crown are variants of the coat of arms of King Matthias Corvinus, his son (quadrant 2 and 3). The top right lion has a lion passant, tongue naissant from the crown, while the bottom left lion is rampant and holds the crown.

The presence of the two angels holding the coat of arms is also meaningful.

And this is why we looked at this door 🙂 the Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus coat of arms.
Below is the Hunyadi coat of arms on a shield (raven with ring and rampant lion holding the crown) with a helmet on top. On the right side is an image of John Hunyadi as appeared in the Thuróczi Chronicle, Budapest, 1488.

The azure behind the crow represent the righteous soul of János Hunyadi., the red lion represents the hero himself who defended the crown and offered it up to the king. There are a few legends surrounding the Hunyadi coat of arms, a raven with a ring in its beak, an image that understandably stimulated the imagination of many, and a story for another time as are the legends that surround Corvin Castle, some about Vlad the Impaler too… But more about this next time.

Looking at Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms were first used on seals and to establish identity in battles – that’s when they first made they appearance during the Middle Ages.The use of heraldic display in architecture reflects the social differences in medieval society, with the first heraldic display in Transylvania dating from beginning of the 14th century. Here, the first heraldic symbols appeared on the tombs of well-to-do aristocracy as well as on the churches they built and sponsored.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania, coat of arms Iancu de Hunedoara, Raven with a ring
A different version of the Hunyadi coat of arms on a secondary door of Crovin Castle.

The ancient door of Corvin Castle

One spots this door on entering the Corvin Castle. It is the door to the dungeon and to the torture chambers and it is 500 years old. It is said to be the only wooden door to have survived the great fire of 13 April 1854.

An Ancient 500 years old Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania
The 500 years old door of Corvin Castle
a 500 years, original wooden old door, Castelul Hunedoara, Hunyadi Castle
The oldest, original wooden door of Corvin Castle

We will return to Corvin Castle soon…

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

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Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Targoviste-history

The importance of Târgoviște royal palace (curtea domnească) in history emerges, first of all, from the significant role it played in the life of Vlad Țepeș and during the medieval period. Among other royal residences of Wallachia, the royal court of Târgoviște was the third oldest and the second most used, without significant interruptions, over a period of 300 years.

The geographical location of Târgoviște was also favorable, hills on one side, planes on the other, Ialomita river passing through, as well as Dambovita river nearby.

Around 1400 Mihail I, son of Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) and co-ruler with his father was the first to settle his royal court here, where there was already a rural settlement as well as a more recent one, 14th century, belonging to Transylvania Saxon settlers. Later, as one of the important border villages of Wallachia, Târgoviște receives special privileges for commerce.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Royal Palace, Curtea Domneasca - source Facebook
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Curtea Domneasca de la Târgoviște

The royal palace of Târgovişte was designed as a group of buildings with various purposes: to host the administration of the country, as well as to offer protection and lodgings for the ruler, his family and their various courtiers and servants. Here were special rooms for the high government’s ministry and for the court to meet and for the prince (ruler) to sign his decrees and receive foreign guests and emissaries.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

Târgoviște – etimology

Târgoviște = Târg + -iște. Târg means market, but Târgoviște means an older market, one well-established.
As a name for a town, Târgoviște is also found in Croatian, trgovištse, Serbian, trgovište, Ukraine, torhovytśa, Slovakian, trhovište, and Polish, targowisko.

The Royal court was at Târgoviște because from there were easy connections with other parts of the Wallachian state, the city of Târgoviște being better positioned from an administrative and commercial point of view.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History
The Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Church View. Photo by Diana Popescu, Wikimedia

On 23rd August 1437 Vlad Dracul (Vlad II, the father of Vlad Tepes) signed a document in Târgoviște to declare that Vlădești will belong to the boyar Bodin, and exempts him and his sons Mircea and Vlad of services and tributes for as long as they live. The bequest starts with:

“In the name of the God Almighty, the all faithful and all honorable and Christ Loving, I Vlad and lord by the mercy of God and through the Benevolence of God ruler of all Hungarian-Wallachian Country, and duke of Amlaş and Făgăraş. My lordship has deign to offer this hereby true gift of property to my servant boyar Bodin and his sons, so that Vlădești village may be his land… ” and ends with “I Vlad Lord, with the mercy of God, ruler.”

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Vlad Dracul and the people of Târgovişte

The influential boyards, the patricians of a town (such as Târgovişte was), were called good men, “om bun“. We encounter one of the first mentions of such good men in a letter of Vlad Dracul addressed to the people of Brasov perhaps during his first reign (1436–1442). The letter concerns Zanvel, a good man, but also a wealthy one, from Târgovişte, who had been killed and mugged while traveling for business in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul requests that all of Zanvel’s valuables be returned: 250 Florins, 500 Perperi (=250 Ducats), a money bag with 300 Aspri (silver coins) and a gold ring valued at 10 Florins. The man’s clothes are also mentioned, clothes of Ypress (one of the largest commercial communities of Medieval Belgium, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry), a hat and also a sword. Vlad Dracul allows for one week only, during which Zanvel’s killer had to be found and punished, and the wealth be returned to his family.

Smuggling weapons through Târgovişte

During the 14th century, the weapon craftsmanship of Braşov’s inhabitants (Transylvania) was greatly trusted by the rulers of Wallachia, such as Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare) and Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III – son of VladDracul, Vlad II). Thus, weapons trade beyond the borders of Transylvania was common, especially with Wallachia.

For example, at the end of 1445 the Wallachian Voivod Vlad Dracul requested the delivery of “bows, arrows, firearms and saltpeter” for his conquests in southern Wallachia. The Voivod was dependent on this delivery to strengthen the defenses of the seized town.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, the cellars
Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History – the cellars

Not much later, the new Wallachian Voivod Vladislav II (who fought over the ruling of Wallacia with Vlad Tepes), requested in a document from 1453 that a delivery of weapons to Kilia (Chilia) to take place via the towns of Târgovişte and Brăila, so that the delivery could proceed in secret and without danger. A year later a similar request was made by John Hunyadi himself.

Vlad Țepeș’ main political objective was reinforcing his central authority. He expressed this in a letter written in Târgoviște, on September 10th 1456 (during his 2nd reign) and addressed to the people of Braşov:

“Think about how when a man or a ruler is powerful and strong he can make peace in any way he wants to; but when he is powerless, another one will come and rule him as he pleases.” (“Considerandum est vobis: quando homo vel dominus est potens et fortis, tunc pacem potest facere sicut vult; cum autem impotens erit, forcior super eum veniet et faciet secum sicut vult”).

Targoviste Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Targoviste, Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

The massacre of 1457: Vlad Ţepeş and the Boyards

We cannot go further without mentioning the relations between the townspeople of Târgoviște and Vlad Ţepeş and the existence of some conflicts between them. The only incident recorded by chroniclers mentions that Vlad Ţepeş considered the townspeople guilty of the death of his older brother, Mircea, whom they buried alive in 1447, and of that of their father, Vlad Dracul.

Vlad Ţepeş and his ruling policy

Having lived through his father’s political struggles, at the Ottoman and Moldavia court, as well as through his own first reign of almost three months, in 1448, Vlad would have learned that only a strong ruler can keep a country united, and that only a strong, united country can withstand a foreign attack.

As it was obvious during the Medieval times, the boyards held much power and through their intrigues they could control a country, often opposing the rule and power of a ruler. Vlad knew too well that one of biggest issues that opposed a strong head of state were the boyards and made it clear during a meeting he had with them. When asked under how many rulers they served during their life time, most acknowledged at least seven, which came and went, yet they remained in position.

But the Lord, Vlad Ţepeş, punished the townspeople differently: the big boyards and the old ones were impaled, while the young ones were taken together with their families on Easter day (a day of rest and Christian joy) to work on the Poenari fortress.
It was Vlad Ţepeş’ desire for revenge, along with his need to consolidate his power, that drove him to commit one of the most notorious acts of his career.
After this, Vlad gave positions in his council to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and even to some foreigners and free peasants.

ruinele Cettii Domnesti de la Targoviste

The punishment of the townspeople was placed by historians in 1457, when Vlad Ţepeş was in Târgovişte. The conflict should be understood through the context of power struggles between the two branches of the royal family (Dănești and Drăculești), in which both the great boyar groups and the influential members of the townspeople took part, whose political involvement is now revealed. The fact that the punished were put to work at the fortress is a rare situation; the obligation to work appears formally mentioned in several acts, but the event described above is the only attestation of a forced implementation of this duty. Among the internal chronicles, the History of Wallachia relates only the sending of young people to work, while in the Histories of Gentlemen it is written about the sending of women and children. Exceptional is the sending of people to work on Easter day, proving that the punishment applied to the citizens was a serious form of the duşegubina (a medieval payment for killing someone, or for theft, incest, adultery or kidnapping of girls).

Only in 1458 does Vlad Ţepeş begins building his Bucharest fortress to supervise and defend the road leading from Giurgiu, a Romanian city found under the ruling of the Turks.

It is documented by Chalcocondil (a Byzantine chronicler contemporary with Vlad Ţepeş), that in 1462, when the Ottoman troops came searching for Vlad (to remove him from the throne of Wallachia) they found him at Târgovişte

night attack at Targoviste royal palace - by night

The Night Attack at Târgoviște

It was Vlad Ţepeş outstanding victories against the Turk army under the command of grand vizier Mahmud Pasha that caught the eye of Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was celebrated by Saxon cities of Transylvania, as well as by the Pope Pius II. So the Sultan decided to deal with Vlad himself, thus preparing an army equal to what he had behind him when he conquered Constantinople. 150 000 Turks including fierce Janissary troops, archers, cavalry, saiales (slaves, medieval Turkish Kamikaze), pikemen, beshlish who handled firearms, 120 cannons and an entire fleet… and Radu the Handsome, Vlad’s half brother who commanded 4 000 horsemen…as well as engineers who would build bridges and roads if necessary, priests, astrologers…
And Vlad? With no support from Hungarians ruled by Matthias Corvinus he relied on his people: all men of military age, but also women and children over the age of twelve ; and included Gypsy slaves, about 30 000 people all together, armed with lances, swords, and daggers, and most probably prong forks too.
Vlad was able to stop part of the Turkish attacks by scorching the earth, poisoning the water, creating marshes and pits, even adopting guerrilla tactics.

Still, on June 17 the Turks set camp outside Târgovişte
There was one last thing Vlad could do to protect his town.

That evening, Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp (Vlad was fluent in Romanian, church Slavic, German, Latin, Turkish). Here, he wandered around to find the location of the Sultan’s tent and learn about his plans of attack.
A contemporary historian, Chalkokondyles, mentions that Mehmed had interdicted his soldiers to wander about the camp during the night, as to not cause panic in case of an attack.
So Vlad decided to attack the Turkish camp during that night.
Vlad’s men infiltrated the camp, then made noise from their buglers and illuminated the battle with their torches launching a series of attacks from “three hours after sunset until four the next morning”. Vlad Țepeș himself aimed for the tent of the sultan, but mistakenly went for the tent of his two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha (the same one that Vlad had already defeated in a previous battle).
The sultan Mehmed II abandoned camp and fled for his life.

The Night Attack at Targoviste - Theodor Aman
The Night Attack at Târgoviște, Theodor Aman

The Chindia Tower, Turnul Chindiei

It was Vlad Tepes who started building the lovely Chindia Tower for military purposes and to store the treasury. The tower rose on the place of an old manor house, although its final stone was put in place during the 19th century. It is believed that Hungarian commander Stephen V Báthory saw Chindia Tower and later refereed to it as the castle, in his letter from November 11, 1476.

A big feast or festival where people dance is known in Romanian as chindia, and this could be one explanation for the tower’s name, here being the place for such happy gatherings. But chindie, of Turkish origin, ikindi, also means sunset, the time of day when the guard gave the curfew signal, before closing the city’s gates. And this time was rather important as afterwards it was prohibited to enter or leave the city, and the residents were required not to pass through its streets and not to maintain outdoor fires that would have made the town visible from a distance and thus render it unsafe.

Today the Chindia tower rises at a height of 27 meters and measures 9 meters in diameter. When Prince Bibescu restored it, his builders also rose the tower by 5 meters.

For this reason, out of pro-Christian or pro-Ottoman beliefs, the Wallachian rulers of 16th century will shift the location of their princely court from Târgovişte to Bucharest and back again. Also, Târgovişte was often used as a summer residence, while Bucharest as a winter one.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Chindia Tower, inside view, black and white photo
Chindia Tower, Târgovişte – source Wikimedia

Dealu Monastery was built by Radu IV the Great at the very beginning of the 16th century, on a previous monastic settlement. This is rather important, as previously in Târgovişte we only had a Franciscan and a Dominican monastery, but not a Christian Orthodox one.

The grand Metropolitan Church was raised under the ruling of Neagoe Basarab, early 16th century. During the same time the seal of Târgovişte town depicting Virgin and Infant is created.

Târgovişte sees another rebirth at the end of the 16th century, under the ruling of Petru II of the Earring, who brings Italian and French cultural influences. Franco Sivori, Petru’s private secretary, mentions gardens designed after the Italian fashion as well as the Prince’s menagerie found at Târgovişte.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - reconstruction by Radu Oltean from Art Historia
Târgovişte Royal Palace and royal grounds the way they would have looked during the 16th century – reconstruction by Radu Oltean, Art Historia

Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) rules from here for a short time briefly bringing the three principalities under his personal union at 1600.

Although fortified, Târgovişte falls during the Turk-Tatar invasion of 1658 and is destroyed, its ruins being brought back to life 30 years later under the ruling of Constantin Brâncoveanu – till his tragic death.

18th century Târgovişte was on the world map

The most usual route on the way to Istanbul from western Europe, crossing Transylvania and Wallachia, passed through the towns of Cluj – Alba-Iulia – Sibiu, where it divided into two roads to Bucharest.
One crossed the Carpathians through the gorge of Turnu Roşu, going down to the capital by Râmnicu Vâlcea and Piteşti, and the other passed through Braşov Rucăr pass – Câineni – Câmpulung – Târgovişte, or along Valea Prahovei through Ploieşti, both routes passing through Bucharest.

Read the observations of an 18th century traveler returning from Istanbul and passing into Wallachia, a province still under the domination of the Porte (Ottoman Empire). Daniel Clarke traveled by carriage and this is his account on the different types of mentality he witnessed:
“On April 16”, – writes Daniel Clarke – “we crossed the Danube [moving north, towards Wallachia]. On the other bank, the carriages of Wallachia’s ruler. […] Some of the Turks had never before sat in a wheeled vehicle and when the carriages set in motion they stuck their bearded heads out the windows throwing the most pitiful looks one can imagine. […] For us the change wasn’t less memorable either, as one year and a half had passed since we had left Russia and we had spent the entire time traveling without once having at our disposal a wheeled carriage”

Cetatea Targovistei, Valeriu Pantazi pictura
Valeriu Pantazi, Cetatea Targovistei

As he crossed the Danube river, the British traveler on his way from Istanbul to England entered Wallachia. But for the travelers there was no militarized border with the Ottoman Empire as Wallachia had been for a few centuries under the domination of the Ottoman Porte (Sublime Porte), and in the 18th century the Ottoman Empire had increased its presence in the Romanian space.

There is an incredible 19th century story about the local villagers who fought for the conservation of the princely court with the Wallachian ruler of the time who had been named in position by the Ottoman court: Ioan Caradja (of Greek-Turkish origin). Caradja wanted the court demolished, but the villagers not only opposed, but they also preserved and rebuilt it.

The royal court of Târgovişte has next witnessed the Russo-Turk war, an earthquake and a fire, before a final rebirth during the late 19th century under the exemplary ruling of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Carol I.

Half a century after Dealu Monastery was built, a Military Highschool rose in Târgovişte in 1912, while King Carol I lead the Romanians. In 1930 Mihai I (the last King of Romania) and great-grandson of King Carol I (from his brother’s blood lineage) studied here. And Mihai was thus named after Romanian King Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), the first to rule over an united Romania in 1600.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - interbellic postcard
A postcard depicting the royal palace of Târgovişte during the two world wars

Sources:
*Markus Peter Beham, Braşov (Kronstadt) in the Defence against the Turks
*Laurentiu Radvan, Orasele din Tarile Romane in Evul Mediu
*Sorin ŞIPOŞ – FOREIGN TRAVELLERS IN THE ROMANIAN SPACE AND BORDER SYMBOLISM (1797-1810)
*Camelia TEODORESCU, Laurentiu Stefan SZEMKOVICS, Roxana RADU, FROM VLAD ŢEPEŞ – WALLACHIAN RULER – TO DRACULA. CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS REGARDING HIS NAME AND “FAME”
*DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

My next work of fiction is a contemporary story glancing over the shoulder at some incredible events dating from Medieval Romania. Subscribe to my newsletter ad be among the first to know when it will come out 🙂

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Exploring Romania, Top Medieval Movie Locations: Corvin Castle

Corvin Castle

Next in exploring Romania and its top locations is Corvin Castle, a fortress fit for a movie – and a book *wink*!
While we were able to spot the elegant Peles Castle in various movies after visiting it for quite a few times, for Corvin Castle we decided to watch the movie before planning the visit. The reason was that Corvin Castle is tucked away in Hunedoara County, at a significant distance from major railway stations or airports.

To visit Corvin Castle we traveled by train from Bucharest to Brasov where we planned a stop over and allowed an entire day only to visit Corvin Castle, including traveling to and returning to Brasov by car. We couldn’t have done it without the amazing support and advise of Mr Cornel and Mrs Cristina, the owners of Guesthouse Casa Cristina in Brasov, always welcoming, offering the same top accommodation and a hearty breakfast for the past ten years that we’ve been visiting them (this endorsement is not backed by any financial gain).

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire, the movie shot at Corvin Castle

You might be familiar with the sight of dark marbled towers topped with pointy, burgundy roofs – a result of the smoke and red dust produced by the industrial furnaces of nearby Hunedoara’s Iron foundries. This stern looking fortress is often associated with Vlad Tepes, although his true presence here still fuels debates between historians.

Welcome to medieval Corvin Castle, or Hunyadi Castle / Hunedoara Castle.

Corvin Castle as seen in Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire.
Corvin Castle as seen in Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire.
top movie locations - exploring Romania Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle as we saw it during the summer of 2019.

This fairy-tale castle of Gothic-renaissance architecture, built on an old Roman fortification, is a stunning sight with a three pointed drawbridge and high battlements. Five marble columns with delicate ribbed vaults support two halls, the Diet Hall above and the Knight’s Hall below, both from 1453 – what you first see as you look at the castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire - looking up at Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – looking up at Corvin Castle, Knight Hall on the right.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire is the third in the Dragonheart movie series. When the king of Brittania dies, the dragon who shares his heart must find a new ruler. We meet the monarch’s twin grandchildren, twin boy and girl who bear the mark of the dragon, thus had to be hidden away at birth. To save the kingdom, Drago the dragon (voiced by Patrick Stewart) must forge a bond between the estranged twins and locate the Heartstone, the source of his power, stolen by a common enemy.

Above, Edric (Tom Rhys Harries), the twin boy, a young man with incredible strength, enters Corvin Castle. Below, the entrance in the castle as we saw it.

exploring Romania Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle, summer 2019

On the right side of the main entrance is the original torture chamber. On the left side, the torture bastion and above it the gold chamber.

holiday in Transylvania, Hunedoara, Huniazi fortress
Greetings from Corvin Castle, from yours, truly 🙂

The castle wall was built out of 30m solid rock by Turkish prisoners. The fortress was extensively restored by Iancu de Hunedoara (Janos Hunyadi in Hungarian) from 1452 onward. The castle’s last restoration dates from 1952.

On the far right of the picture above are the Neboisa Gallery and the Neboisa Tower.

But what would you do if a dragon suddenly lands in front of you, as you approach the castle’s gate tower?

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire   -entrance to New Gate Tower
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire
Corvin Castle, New gate tower, built 1440-1444 at the order of Iancu de Hunedoara
New gate tower, built 1440-1444 at the order of Iancu de Hunedoara

The new gate tower (above) was built during Iancu de Hunedoara’s first stage of construction (1440-1444) on the North-West side of the fortress. At that time it was only a rectangular defense tower, with three levels. During the 17th century its defense floors were turned into bedrooms and a new entrance into the castle was opened through its ground level, still in use today.
Believe me, it is well worth exploring Romania and its castles, especially the medieval Corvin Castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - Drago on the valley near Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – Drago on the valley near Corvin Castle
Corvin Castle, the valley

This stream is as old as the fortress, Zlasti Stream, and the hills profiling behind are part of the Poiana Rusca Mountains. Something tells me that this stream was running with more force back in medieval Romania, a true defender of Corvin Castle.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - main courtyard of Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – battle scene in the main courtyard.
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire  - stairs to the Chapel.
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire – the stairs going to the Chapel.

Below, the main courtyard of Corvin Castle today.
Right in front is the Matia wing. The same stairs as above can be viewed on the right side – leading to the Chapel Complex and the Neo-Gothic gallery.
On the left are the Knights Hall (ground level) and the Council Hall or Diet Hall (first floor).

Corvin Castle, main court: Matia wing in front, Chapel Complex on the right, Knights Hall and Diet Hall on the left
Corvin Castle, main court: Matia wing in front, Chapel Complex on the right, Knights Hall and Diet Hall on the left
Corvin Castle -  the Neo-Gothic gallery
Corvin Castle – the Neo-Gothic gallery

But when night falls, dragons return to Corvin Castle:

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire - dragons in the night at Corvin Castle
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire

Looking less scary during daylight, I admit. Right in front is the administrative palace and the Bethlen palace on the left (the square-ish building).

Corvin Castle,main court

Below, a view of the main court of Corvin Castle, looking towards the Bethlen palace and the administrative palace, while standing on the first floor balcony of the Matia wing.

Huniazi fortress

Initially built by the Anjou family on a Roman camp, in a zone dating from the Bronze age and rich in iron, along trade routes between Alba Iulia, Hunedoara and Hateg, Corvin Castle changed rulers, fought the Ottoman Empire, and it still stands, one of the seven wonders or Romania.

Corvin Castle, the history of a name

Its name derives from the regents who built it, Iancu de Hunedoara (aka John Hunyadi), and his son, Matthias Corvinus (King of Hungary between 1458 and 1490). The Corvin family was renowned for stopping the Ottoman Empire from conquering Belgrade and advancing towards Western Europe during the 15th century.

Not many know, but Vlad Tepes’ father, Vlad Dracul II, supported Iancu de Hunedoara’s campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. Later, his son, Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, won great, significant battles against the Turks. The Corvin family was related to Vlad the Impaler, sharing a tumultuous history fitting for those dark times and filled with passions, conspiracies and betrayals…

The oldest door of Corvin Castle, 15th century, medieval
The oldest door of Corvin Castle, 15th century

I hope you enjoyed exploring medieval Romania and Corvin Castle. We left the door to Corvin Castle open – as we wish to return there. If not by train, then surely in the pages of a book…

Until then, you might like to read:
A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania
Looking UP: Street Lamps from Brasov and Fagaras Castle, Romania
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

Exploring Romania’s Top Movie Locations: Peles Castle

Romania Movie Locations Peles Castle

I invite you to join me in exploring Romania’s top movie locations – Peles Castle today! I’ll show you the locations as depicted in the motion pictures as well as the genuine places.

As a reader and a cinefile, I do love a good location, more so if I’ve walked the streets or explored the castles depicted in it. And if I haven’t, a visit is often planned. Or at least dreamed of.

A Princess for Christmas and Peles Castle, Sinaia

A charming Christmas romance suitable for all ages, A Princess for Christmas was shot during 2011. At the invitation of her late sister’s father in law, a young American woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe ahead of Christmas, where she charms everyone with her kindness and art knowledge , including a dashing Prince… It is Europe, after all! Staring Katie McGrath, Roger Moore, and Sam Heughan (yes, Outlander’s very own Jamie Fraser) as well as a few Romanian actors, Razvan Oprea, Oxana Moravec, Madalina Anea.

Let’s go exploring this Romanian movie location, Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations, A Princess for Christmas, Peles Castle
First sighting of Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
exploring Romania movie locations, Peles Castle featured in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the winter of 2016, when we last visited

Peles Castle belongs to Hohenzollern Family, a German ruling dynasty. The castle was built between 1873 – 1914 in Neo-Renaissance style, at the order of King Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Kind Carol I was the monarch of Romania between 1866 – 1914 and under his reign Romania gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in May 1877.

King Carol I first visited this pristine area in 1866 and fell in love with the majestic mountainous scenery. In 1872 the Crown purchased 5 square kilometers of land near the Piatra Arsă River naming it the Royal Estate of Sinaia.

Peles Castle in summer
Peles Castle during the summer of 2012

The architectural plans submitted by German architect Johannes Schultz were the fourth ones presented to King Carol I and the most original ones. The King did not want a copy of some European castle, but something unique. The cost of the work on the castle alone was estimated to be 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold (over. US$ 120 million today). King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth lived in Foişor Villa nearby during the construction of Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations - Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas, the Rolls pulls in front of the castle
Peles Castle as featured in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A wider shot of the castle’s main entrance
Main gate of Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of the main entrance
Peles Castle, Sinaia, the main entrance
Here is the same main entrance of Peles Castle during our summer visit.

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians, the wife of King Carol I, on the building process of Peles Castle

‘Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were laborers. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes.’

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians
exploring Romania movie locations. Sam Heughan at Peles Castle, Romania, in movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of Sam Heughan as he arrives in A Princess for Christmas at Peles Castle
exploring Romania movie locations
The same entrance as above – known as the visitor’s entrance.

Several auxiliary buildings rose simultaneously with the castle: the guards’ chambers, the Economat Building, the Foișor hunting lodge, the royal stables, and a power plant. Peleș became the world’s first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity.

King Ferdinand I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen followed King Carol I at the throne of Romania, 1914 – 1927 (his death), since King Carol I, his uncle, was childless. Ferdinand was nicknamed the Unifier’, Întregitorul as during World War I he sided against the Central Powers. Thus, at the war’s end, Romania emerged as a much-enlarged kingdom, including Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania. Ferdinand I was crowned king of ‘Greater Romania’ during a gorgeous ceremony in 1922.

There was a heartbreaking romance budding between young Ferdinand I and Elena Vacarescu, one of Queen Elisabeth’s ladies in waiting. Yet they both knew that the 1866 Constitution of Romania was forbidding the heir-presumptive to the throne to marry a Romanian. Their love story stirred a dynastic crisis in 1891. Soon after, Ferdinand I married Princess Marie of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter (of the United Kingdom).

King Ferdinand and Queen Marie also stayed at Foisor Villa during the construction of Pelișor Castle. Pelisor Castle is located near Peles Castle and was built by order of King Carol I for his nephew, future King Ferdinand I. Ferdinand and Marie had six children, the first born is future King Carol II who reigned as King of Romania from 8 June 1930 until his abdication on 6 September 1940.

A morning shot at Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
A morning shot in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle
And the picture we took 🙂

The symbology behind Peles Castle

Carol II, son of Ferdinand I and Marie, was born at Peles Castle in 1893. Carol I previously bestowed upon Peles Castle the label ‘cradle of the dynasty, cradle of the nation’, so the birth of his first son and heir here was the perfect embodiment of Peles’ true meaning. Carol II spoke Romanian as his first language and was the first member of the Romanian royal family to be raised in the Christian Orthodox faith (the religion of the Romanian people).

But Carol II had a tumultuous personal life that kept him too busy to rule. His son, only five years old, ruled Romania as King Mihai I between 1927 (when King Ferdinand I died) and 1930 when King Carol II felt like returning as a ruler. His ill-planned reign was marked by Romania’s re-alignment with Nazi Germany (something King Carol I of Romania fought against), the adoption of anti-Semitic laws, and ultimately it evolved into a personal dictatorship lasting from 1938 until 6 September 1940, when he was forced by his Prime Minister and authoritarian politician Ion Antonescu to leave the country and live in exile abroad.

Peles Castle as movie location in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
The same shot, taken during the day 🙂

King Carol II was succeeded in 1940 by his beautiful, smart and patriotic son King Michael I. These were dark times for Romania and the Royal Family. In 1944, King Michael I participated in a coup against military dictator Ion Antonescu. In March 1945, political pressures forced Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government for Romania. From August 1945 to January 1946, Michael went on a “royal strike” and unsuccessfully tried to oppose pro-Soviet government by refusing to sign and endorse its decrees.

In November 1947 King Michael I was in London, attending the wedding of his cousins, the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. On the morning of 30 December 1947, Groza, the pro-soviet prime minister of Romania, met with King Michael I and blackmailed him into abdication – or 1 000 imprisoned students, supporters of the Monarchy, will be executed. Michael was forced into exile, his properties confiscated, and his citizenship stripped. In 1948, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (thenceforth known as Queen Anne of Romania), with whom he had five daughters and lived in Switzerland.

The Castle was declared a museum in 1953 and is still open for visitors. Peles Castle is located in the northwest of Sinaia (use Sinaia train station to visit Peles). Sinaia is located 48km from Brasov and 124km from Bucharest.

If you do wonder, more movies were shot at Peles Castle, its majestic allure and romantic charm making it fir for royal love-stories and Christmas happy-endings (2018 Royal Matchmaker and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding) but also historical drama (1975 Stephen the Great – Vaslui 1475, 2013 Roxanne, 2001 Carol I), documentaries (2011 Wild Carpathis), or adventure (2008 The Brothers Bloom).

Next time we will explore another one of Romania’s movie locations, Corvin Castle. Why don’t you subscribe to my newsletter and make sure you don’t miss a post?

And, you might like: A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania.

Looking UP: Street Lamps from Brasov and Fagaras Castle, Romania, part 2 #travel #pictures

Street lights of Brasov

I hope you enjoyed looking up with me and discovering the intricate street lights of Bucharest, some separating the past from the present.

Brasov, Corona in Latin or Kronstadt in German, is a historical and cultural city found in the heart of Transylvania, in the heart of Romania, and not far from Sighisoara. It was first mentioned in 1235 and, not many know, it was the birth place of Katharina Siegel, the only woman Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is said to have ever loved.

One of my favorite places in Brasov is not a coffee shop… but Rope Street, Strada Sforii, dating from 17th century, the narrowest alley in Romania and one of tightest passages in Europe, initially built to facilitate a quicker access for firemen. Its width varies between 111-135 cm / 44-53 inch, measuring 80 m / 260 ft in lenght.

A lamp post bordering Strada Sforii, Rope Street, in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A lamp post bordering Strada Sforii, Rope Street, in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now let’s walk along Rope Street, looking up:

A light street looking like an eye on Strada Sforii, Rope Street, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A light street looking like an eye on Strada Sforii, Rope Street, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now look up and far, do you see the giant letters spelling BRASOV, placed high on Mount Tampa? And opposite the “eye” street light there is a mural of an eye!

"Eye" street light on Rope Street, Strada Sforii, and the Hollywood-style 'Braşov' sign up on the mountain. Image by @PatFurstenberg
“Eye” street light on Rope Street, Strada Sforii, and the Hollywood-style ‘Braşov’ sign up on the mountain. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Next I saw this classic looking street light and his friends, the red carnations:

A classic street light and red carnations in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A classic street light and red carnations in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

This modern, yet lonely light pole, neighboring an old, solo attic window, caught my attention:

A modern street light near an old attic window in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A modern street light near an old attic window in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

The lamp post below is placed on Schei Gate. Down from here is Schei Gate Street where Katharina Siegel lived with her family, at number 20. Back then the street was called White Lane, Ulita Alba.

Lamp post on Schei Gate, Poarta Schei, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Lamp post on Schei Gate, Poarta Schei, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

This light post, looking like Little Bo Peep’s curly stick, is located exactly in front of Katharina Siegel’s house, the light green one with three windows visible on the first floor and two windows on the attic:

Street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I wonder if Vlad Tepes would have approved with this street light or he would have preferred something like these:

Street lights of Brasov, Romania. Image via@PatFurstenberg
Street lights of Brasov, Romania. Image via@PatFurstenberg

The street light attached to buildings seem to have such elegant arms and top caps, don’t you think?

Speaking of green houses, and the buildings of Brasov are vibrant, here is a street light matching its residence:

A green street light in front of a green house, Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A green street light in front of a green house, Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I looked up next and saw an elegant lamp post perched on a green building (what shade is this – sea foam, mint?), next to an entire row of red carnations:

Green buildings in Brasov, lampshades, red carnations. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Green buildings in Brasov, lampshades, red carnations. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I called this street light a serenading one, it just seems to be serenading the window placed above:

A serenading street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A serenading street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now this street light looked like it was doing a split across the road:

A lamp post doing a split in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A lamp post doing a split in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Shadows come out in plain daylight too:

Street lights and shadows in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street lights and shadows in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Believe it or not, this all dressed up lamp post was affixed to the building of the National Bank:

Spirals and leaves on a cast iron in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Spirals and leaves on a cast iron in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

A frosted lamp post against a marble wall. It reminded me of iced cappuccino.

A frosted lamp post against a marble wall in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A frosted lamp post against a marble wall in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

When two windows whisper to each other over a lamp posts and red carnations bend over the balcony to thank a street light, you have to stop and look up:

Street lights from Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street lights from Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

The lamp post next to the window that wasn’t meant to be:

The lamp post next to the window that wasn't meant to be. Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
The lamp post next to the window that wasn’t meant to be. Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

On Mount Tampa, the light poles are as tall as the trees. And so is the passion of those who keep them looking neat, such as this old Lady who was painting them on a hot summer’s day.

Lamp posts on Mount Tampa, Muntele Tampa, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Lamp posts on Mount Tampa, Muntele Tampa, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles are as pretty at bell flowers.

In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles  are as pretty at bell flowers. Image by @PatFurstenberg
In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles are as pretty at bell flowers. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Last two pictures of lamp posts, and I hope you made it this far, are from Fagaras Fortress, built in 1310 on the site of a former 12th century wooden fortress:

A hand-help light inside Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A hand-help light inside Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Do you see the wire sculpture of a man on the horse? On the grounds of Fagaras Fortress there are plenty of modern light poles:

Light poles and the wire sculpture of a man on a horse on the grounds of Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Light poles and the wire sculpture of a man on a horse on the grounds of Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I hope you enjoyed the street lights of Brasov. Next in the #LookUp series are the lamp posts of Constanta and Mamaia, by the Black Sea!