Poenari Fortress: The Eagles’ Nest of Vlad the Impaler
A visit to the medieval Poenari Fortress is a great chance to dig in some centuries old history, but also a good way to exercise as you have to go up 1,480 stairs. But, don’t worry too much. The fortress is more than worth the effort, and you can always reward yourself with some of the many traditional sweets sold at the foothills.
The fortress of a legendary prince
Surrounded by legends and forests, overlooking the abys from its high-altitude location, the fortress of Poenari is part of the legacy of the mythical Vlad the Impaler. This medieval prince, praised for his victories against the Turks and his ultimate sense of justice, was also dreaded for his extreme punishments against traitors.
He is the one who enlarged the fortress of Poenari, initially a squared tower built sometime in the first part of the 14th century by Basarab the 1st, the founder of Walachia (Southern Romania). The strategic importance of the fortress was obvious. Placed on top of the Cetatuia Mountain, north from the main political centers of Targoviste and later Bucharest, the position of the fortress made it difficult to conquer while offering a panoramic perspective over potential attacks.
Vlad the Impaler who ruled Walachia three times (1448, 1456-1462, 1476) built a 60 meters long and 10-15 meters wide rock curtain around the original three levels tower. Curious enough, the legends of the time mention the prince forcing traitor boyards to build the fortress by themselves as punishment for their conspiracies. Well-prepared for longer stays, the fortress had an impermeable water room and even a dungeon for prisoners while the only entry was equipped with a mobile deck. You can still see part of these rooms today.
In the coming centuries, the fortress belonged to the Hungarian kings and gradually entered a process of degradation until final ruin.
In a better shape than many other medieval fortresses from that time, the fortress of Poenari is the authentic legacy of Vlad the Impaler, a prince many Romanian people admire for his courage against the Ottomans. Unfairly associated with the myth of Dracula, Vlad the Impaler most likely never set foot in Bran Castle. Don’t go there to find out more about this legendary prince, choose instead the fortress of Poenari that he actually built and used during his battles.
The fortress can be visited daily, until 7 pm during summer days. It’s also very close to a major dam, Vidraru, as well as the high-altitude mountain road Transfagarasan.
On your way to the fortress you can stop in Curtea de Arges to visit one of the most beautiful churches in Romania, the one where Kings Carol the 1st and Ferdinand as well as the Queens Elisabeta and Maria are buried.