Medieval Sighisoara and the House where Vlad the Impaler was Born

medieval Sighisoara, House where Vlas the Impaler was born

What turns a house into a home? Is it the light that peeks inside through its windows? The scents rising from the kitchen? Or is it the people, the mingle of generations, of shared laughter and tears?
While we visited the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes, was born, I asked myself: what was the light like inside? What street noises reached every morning to little Vlad’s room and woke him up? What childhood memories he kept locked in his heart that reminded him of his mother and home – while imprisoned by the Turks? Or when he was fighting them, surrounded by the sights and the stench of war?

Imagining the medieval Sighisoara fortress at the time Vlad Tepes was born

Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.

Sighisoara - narrow streets stone paved.
Sighisoara – narrow streets stone paved.

Well worth looking up, their roofs have sharp slopes to reduce the weight of the snow in winter, as well as a small window acting as a watchtower, for protection. One can see far away from the tiny, dark attic as well as keep an eye on whoever approaches the house. Friend or foe?

Sighisoara - slanted roof and a peep-window
Sighisoara – slanted roof and a peep-window

The doors are narrow and so are the windows – functionality and safety are paramount. If the house has an extra floor, then the inner stairway is narrow and most probably dark.
The homes are built close together, often sharing a wall, making for narrow, dark streets and passageways. Comfort, as we know it and understand it today, meant a shelter overhead and safe, strong walls during the Middle Ages.
Yet shiny stones pave the streets and there are gutters too, aiding to the drainage of rain-water, melted snow, and – how else – the household’s gray water.

Sighisoara - typical house

The city has only eight wells for drinking water, not enough for the increasing number of inhabitants or siege or fire hazard situations. But it is fresh, clean water, and it is almost enough for their families’ usage during peaceful days, when they can also up the supply from the river.

Let’s meet little Vlad, his family and the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

The house where Vlad Tepes was born

As you leave the Clock Tower behind, just ahead and on your left, on the corner of Cositorilor Street (Tin-makers Street) stands a tall terracotta house with clean lines. Today it rises with two levels above the ground floor plus a dark attic. You will want to have a good look at it as, although not supported by plenty of historical documents but letters signed by Vlad II and written from Sighisoara , so not impossible, it is the house where Vlad Tepes was born, also known as House Paulinus after its 18th-century owner.

The house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler was born - A house like any other.
A house like any other.

But when it was just built in the vicinity of the Clock Tower, out of river stones and with only one level, this house belonged to the guards protecting the main entrance into the fortress.

Vlad’s family was well-off, his father, Vlad II, a first-class member of the Order of the Dragon and lawful prince of Wallachia but without a kingdom at this stage. They settled in Sighisoara and rented guestrooms in a house of stone, awaiting the right moment to raise an army of trusted boyars and reclaim his land.

This is the house, the oldest one in the fortress and still standing because it was built of stones thus withstanding the big fire of 1676. The round vault on the ground floor is the original one, constructed with the stones picked from the nearby rivers, Tarnava Mare especially. Its second floor rose much later, during the 18th century.

The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born
The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born

It appears that in the basement of this house there was a coin mint at that time – when the coinage was only the monopoly of the Hungarian Kings ruling the Kingdom of Hungary. This is another proof of Sigismund’s trust and respect towards Vlad Dracul II as Vlad II minted his own silver ducats, the “new ducat”. He did this in preparation for his expected ruling. These coins were first used in Transylvania, then in Wallachia too (yay!). They had the eagle on the head side and a winged dragon on the coin’s tail.

Vlad II Dracul ('the Dragon') coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing, head right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings spread
Vlad II Dracul (‘the Dragon’) coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing left, head towards the right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings are spread. Source

It was now, during the time Vlad Dracul II spent in exile in Sighisoara preparing for his rule over Wallachia, that the Romanian name of the fortress appears in writing for the first time. Double yay!

Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 (or some sources state 1429), the middle son of Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia and son of Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Eldest) from the Basarab Dynasty. King Sigismund of Luxembourg held Vlad Dracul II in high regard, awarding him, as mentioned before, the Order of the Dragon on the 8th of February 1431 in Nuremberg, for ultimate services in the gruesome fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Dragon order insignia
Dragon order insignia

The Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistarum, Society of the Dragonists) was a monarchical chivalry order awarded only to selected members of the nobility. Founded in 1408 by the Hungarian King Sigismund von Luxembourg (later Holy Roman Emperor), it was similar to the military orders of the Crusades. Its members were expected to defend Christianity against all enemies, especially the Ottoman Empire.

The Order of the Dragon on a medieval sleigh
The Order of the Dragon on a sleigh

I liked the dragon featured on the sign above the door, I thought it is a great reference to the Order of the Dragon.

a dragon on the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler was born

The symbol of the Order was a dragon with the tip of its tail coiled around his neck and a red cross on his back, the Red Cross of Saint George.

Calling him Vlad Dracul, correct or not?

Before 1475 Vlad III signed his name simply Vlad. But from 1475, before his third ruling as Prince of Wallachia, he signs as Ladislaus Dragwlya (or Dragkwlya, Drakulya) which appears on his seal too.

Hence Vlad the Impaler’s nickname Dracul (and identical with the Romanian word for devil) or Draculea, his ancestors named Draculesti, from dragon, or Drachen in German.

Vlad’s mother was also of Romanian royal blood, Chiajna Musatin, a Moldavian Princess and the eldest daughter of Alexandru cel Bun as well as aunt of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), of the Musatin Dynasty.

So, Vlad Tepes and his parents hopefully lived in Sighisoara until 1436. Just imagine, young Vlad might have used one of these cups to drink fresh milk.

medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul
Medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul

Vlad would have been five or seven years old when his parents moved to Targoviste when his father took over Wallachia (the principality located south of Transylvania) and was – finally – crowned the rightful Prince of Wallachia.

In the middle of the 20th century, a hidden mural was discovered in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, that of a man resembling his father, Vlad II.

Comparing Vlad II with Vlad III, Tepes, the Impaler. Notice similarities.

A Sad Reality

Without saying too much, here are some pictures from the upper level of Vlad’s house as it looked when we visited. No skulls here, just misunderstood advertisement.

inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul, Dracula was born

A Secret Entrance into Vlad the Impaler’s House

Most tourists are familiar with the front entrance of the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

house Vlad Impaler born

Yet if you play “what if” and follow the narrow street on the left, walking underneath the arch connecting the two buildings and feeling tiny compared to their height…

house Vlad Impaler born

You will soon discover the back entrance, through a small, walled yard:

house Vlad Impaler born

We took this way in.

The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born
The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born

Sighisoara City: Coat of Arms and blazon symbology

Sighisoara’s coat of arms is so fitting for its rich medieval ancestry. It depicts a rampant golden lion and a silver fortress with three towers on a red shield topped with a silver crown with five crenelated towers.
The lion, facing right, dexter (with respect to the person carrying the shield), wears a gold crown, his tongue sticks out and holds a gold sword.

Sighisoara's coat of arms today
Sighisoara’s coat of arms today

The fortress on the shield symbolizes the medieval Sighisoara and its crucial economical and military strengths as well as the cultural and religious roles it played. The lion, through the way it is depicted on the shield, symbolizes the judicial autonomy Sighisoara held, having the right to decree the death penalty, the right of the sword, jus gladii. The lion also symbolizes strength, generosity, and beauty.
The crown shows that today, Sighisoara is a municipality.
It is worth noticing that the lion’s hind legs are apart, symbolizing stability.

Medieval Sighisoara has much more to reveal besides the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, with its history and secrets.

Moving on from it, our eyes fell upon a beautiful building with clean lines and… a pair of horns.

We’ll open the door to this story next time.

Sighisoara, a medieval door

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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

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Looking UP: in Mamaia and Constanta, by the Sea

Looking up in Mamaia and Constanta

While holidaying in Mamaia at the Black Sea this August we booked a tour in a double-decker bus. Just as spectacular as Sighisoara, Brasov or Bucharest, here are some of the sights we spotted while looking up…

Mamaia is one of the oldest Romanian holiday resorts at the Black Sea and one I visited since I was a baby. It is famous for its sandy beaches and endless beach. I almost forgot that one of the hotels there has the same name with my Mom:

Hotel Doina, in Mamaia. My Mother's name is Doina :)
Hotel Doina, in Mamaia. My Mother’s name is Doina 🙂

Here is the same gondola from Mamaia seen at sunset:

The pedestrian crossroad:

Also in Mamaia, looking up from the double-decker bus:

In Constanta, modern buildings often alternate with older houses. ses. Look at this charming balcony. It reminded me of Brasov.

Saint Mary is the Patron Saint of Romanian Naval Forces so 15 August is a massive celebration in Constanta, both Christian and military. We went there two weeks after… Look at all the Romanian flags still adorning the city:

I liked the wave design of this light-post found in Constanta Park, near the Cazino, The statue is that of Carmen Sylva, the pen name of Elisabeth, Queen of Romania 1881-1914.

Two different types of street lights right next to each other:

And look at all those birds:

Now this is not a street light, as it is a beacon light, a signaling light – but not a light house…

Still looking up, Constanta is gorgeous:

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

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5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for via @PatFurstenberg #travel #castle #monument #history #culture

5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes

Whenever I read a book depicting real locations, actual places I can find on a map, a novel in which genuine artwork is described, and tangible, concrete buildings I know I can also visit are part of its setting, I tend to be more immersed in its story-line. The storytelling becomes more credible and, if by chance or choice, I visit those place I find myself immersed in that particular book again and, often, I pick it up and read it again.

On researching location for my latest novel, “Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” I discovered a few sensational places; some new to me, secrets buried by history and war, others I have heard of but had not known how inspirational and amazing they were. I know, now, that I’d like to visit them all, one day when traveling to Afghanistan for tourism will be a safe endeavor once again.

1. Buddhas of Bamyan

The two Buddhas of Bamyan - the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001
The two Buddhas of Bamyan – the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001 – Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.
It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

The Buddhan of Bamyan were two colossal statues carved during the 6th century into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley, once along the Silk Road, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, 230 km NW of Kabul, its capital city.

The bodies of the Buddhas were carved in the mountain cliff, while delicate details have been modeled out of mud and straw and coated with stucco for resistance. The faces, hands, and folds of the Buddhas’ robes were painted for an enhanced effect. The big Buddha, 53 m tall, was painted carmine red while the smaller Buddha, 35 m tall, was painted in multiple colors. They represented the Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni.

“Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage.

And still, they did not stop here.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia

But there is hope.

7 June 2015: Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang , a Chinese adventurist couple, created a 3D image of the Buddhas and donated projector used for the installation, worth at $120 000. The 3D projection was able to fill once more the void cavities where the two majestic Buddhas once stood.

2. Qala-e Bost Fortress

“Qala-e-Boost or Bost Fort is the remnant of Alexander the Great’s Fortress in Afghanistan. What still stands today from this millennial old fortress is an impressive ruin. Helmand’s crown jewel is located on the east bank of the Helmand River, near Lashkar Gah, a city in southwestern Afghanistan and the capital of Helmand Province.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

Lashkargah, or Lashkar Gah, means “army barracks” in Persian language.

Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too, then the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left. Still, Bost remained.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia

” At noontime, the sun spat yellow venom over the desert surrounding the ruins of the Qala-e-Bost fortress, over this war-cursed land where a misconceived culture and an overpowering international necessity to meddle fatalistically merged, long-stalling the Afghan peace process.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

What is amazing about Qala-e-Bost Fortress is not what is visible above the ground, but what is hidden underneath, the entire Bost castle, 5 levels, being in the shape of a well hidden underground.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for"
Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”

“As an eerie glow spread over the flat expanse of sand, from his high point Marcos caught a glimpse of what Qala-e-Bost’s crumbling walls would have been in its time of glory. No longer a ghostly silhouette, a mere reminder of an existence long forgotten, but a castle again.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

I researched so much about this underground castle that stood the test of time. It would be incredible to walk its corridors, to see the light bouncing from the walls of its shaft, to hear the echoes of history as it was buried in its secret rooms.

3. An Afghan garden

Gardening says a lot about the nurturing abilities of a person. When an entire population has a gift for gardening it means that they have peace in their hearts and know the value of life.

An Afghan garden
An Afghan garden

I was amazed to discover how much gardening means to the Afghan people and how connected they are to their roots, to the soil of Afghanistan, nurturing or arid. How inventive the Afghans proved to be, making the best out of each situation, when it comes to gardens.

I tried to depict their nurturing nature in the pages of “Silent Heroes“.

“Afghans are gardeners at heart, did you know? Before they are mujahideen or insurgents or Taliban-bloody-criminals, they love to garden.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

4. A Military Base in Afghanistan

Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

During the two years plus it took me to research and write “Silent Heroes” I researched in depth the living conditions of the US Marines deployed in Afghanistan and of all the military fighting there.

2012 army photo competition.Amateur Portrait category runner-up Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West.Picture Captain Richard Willing MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images
Army Photographic Competition 2012. In this handout image supplied by the Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright, photo entitled ‘LIGHTNING AND HIS HANDLER’, depicting Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West. (Army Amateur Portrait category runner up; Photo by Captain Richard Willing/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)

What is outstanding is the level of organization and, at the same time, the little comfort these amazing soldiers put up with every day in order to do their duty towards their own countries and to keep peace for us all.

And anything reminding them of home is treasured. Like the small American flag in the image below.

A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images
A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images

“Between the building and the sheet of the tent was a corridor-wide enough for a human to pass through, two would have to negotiate. From a drain pipe facing the main door hung a small size American flag, the one civilians wave on the 4th of July, its sole purpose of connecting them with home.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

5. A field of poppies

In Afghanistan, poppies – opium poppies – mean death and poverty. I, “Silent Heroes” I tried to explain the vicious cycle that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan means. It was fascinating to learn how it started, why, and what its consequences meant for the Afghan population as well as internationally.

A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan
A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan

“The hamlet’s reputation of frightfulness came from the complete lack of vegetation. As if the poppy field that once flourished nearby sucked away any drop of water that might have concentrated in the adjacent earth, like some type of incongruous alien.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

International affairs and their local implications are never as simple as they appear at the beginning.

“So ‘The Golden Triangle’ (Burma, Thailand, Laos) was soon replaced by ‘The Golden Crescent’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran).”

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia

Still, there is something magical about a field of poppies. I think that poppies seeds, with their ability to remain dormant throughout the years, are a fantastic representation of what hope and resilience is all about. Never give up.

Maybe because poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day. Why? Scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed, arid earth throughout the world. Poppies grew naturally after the Napoleonic wars of the 19th Century and again on battlefields of WW1.

An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset
An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

I hope you enjoyed reading about the five locations that inspired and amazed me while writing “Silent Heroes“.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

Do you have a favorite place you read about in a book?

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