Even without its bloody historic ties, Poenari Castle, also known as Poenari Fortress, would be a majestic, exciting place to explore on its own merit. Architecture buffs would marvel at the 13th century mortar work, lovers of fantastic scenery would find the cliffside view mind-blowing. Poenari Castle doesn't need a sordid story to be spectacular, but it happens to have that as well.
The story is a legendary one and to many, a confusing mixture of truth, history, legend, and fiction due to the convolution between the novel “Dracula” and the factual history of Vlad III Dracula “The Impaler”, whose name inspired the book. Bram Stoker modeled some of his main character on the more basic facts about Dracula's actual life, but his knowledge of Romanian history and the true story of Vlad the Impaler remains suspect.
The true Dracula, (Turk-impaling Prince of Wallachia as opposed to the sultry blood sucker) fell in love with Poenari Castle in the 15th century, and realizing its potential as a major stronghold with an amazing vantage point, consolidated and fixed up the crumbling fortress, making it one of his main places of residence. It's said that his first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, flung herself from the towers of Poenari during a siege by Vlad's muslim brother, Radu Bey. Before flinging herself into the Arges River below, she exclaimed she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than to be a captive of the Turks.
In the end the walls of Poenari would not keep Dracul the Dragon safe, but it was not the fortress that failed him. Vlad's brother Radu cel Frumos was given the daunting task of leading the Ottoman Empire to victory, which positioned him directly at odds with his infamously brutal older brother. While Vlad could not be defeated in battle, his habit of alienating allies and undermining their authority became his downfall. After running out of money for his mercenaries, he went to his supposed friends for help, and they quickly betrayed him, and had him arrested for high treason. While he managed to untangle himself and went on to declare a third reign, it was an uphill battle that eventually killed him, and he never returned to his castle on the hill.
Poenari Castle is located on the right side of the Transfăgărăşan road in Argeş County, on a cliff near the Făgăraş Mountains. In 1888, a landslide brought a portion of the fortress crashing down the cliff, but otherwise the structure has been mildly maintained and can still be visited today, but there is quite a climb to reach the ruins – over 1,000 steps.
Know Before You Go
There are tour buses that go directly to the castle from Bucarest. If you'd like to go on your own, the closest town is Arefu, the closest modern town is Curtea de Arges. From Curtea de Arges, you can catch a minibus to Arefu, and let the driver know you are headed for Poenari Castle. They will get you as close as possible, but there is no town too nearby the castle, so it's a walk. There are signs, and a small but bustling tourist area with an inn, gift shop and the like to help lead the way.