Tag Archives: Pope

Grosseto – Italy


grosetto3You always know when you are entering Tuscany……the surroundings suddenly begin to look sculpted, as if you were walking in a work of art…

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Our destination is Grosseto, whose origins can be traced back to the High Middle Ages.

Grosseto was first mentioned in 803 as a fief of the Counts Aldobrandeschi, in a document recording the assignment of the church of St. George to Ildebrando degli Aldobrandeschi, whose successors were counts of the Grossetana Mark until the end of the 12th century.

Grosseto is enchanting, in part, due to the fact that the city is surrounded by ancient Medicean Walls.


The walls embrace this beautiful city and no vehicles are allowed!  Peaceful, quiet and simply divine!

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  Grosseto has a long and turbulent history.  In 1137 the city was besieged by German troops, led by duke Henry X of Bavaria, sent by the emperor Lothair III to reinstate his authority over the Aldobrandeschi.

In the following year the bishopric of Roselle was transferred to Grosseto.

In 1151 the citizens swore loyalty to the Siena, and in 1222 the Aldobrandeschi gave the Grossetani the right to have their own podestà, together with three councilors and consuls.

In 1244 the city was reconquered by the Sienese, and its powers, together with all the Aldobrandeschi’s imperial privileges, were transferred to Siena by order of the imperial vicar.

Thereafter Grosseto shared the fortunes of Siena. It became an important stronghold, and the fortress (rocca), the walls and bastions can still be seen today.


In 1266 and in 1355, Grosseto tried in vain to win freedom from the overlordship of Siena. While Guelph and Ghibelline parties struggled for control of that city, Umberto and Aldobrandino Aldobrandeschi tried to regain Grossetto for their family. The Sienese armies were however victorious, and in 1259 they named a podestà from their city. But Grosseto gained its freedom and in the following year and fought alongside the Florentine forces in the Battle of Montaperti.

Over the next 80 years Grosseto was again occupied, ravaged, excommunicated by Pope Clement IV, freed in a republic led by Maria Scozia Tolomei, besieged by emperor Louis IV and by the antipope Nicholas V in 1328, until it finally submitted to its more powerful neighbour, Siena.

The pestilence of 1348 struck Grosseto hard and by 1369 its population had been reduced to some hundred families. Its territory, moreover, was frequently ravaged, notably in 1447 by Alfons V of Sicily and in 1455 by Jacopo Piccinino.

Sienese rule ended in 1559, when Charles V handed over the whole duchy to Cosimo I de Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Later you will see that we had the privilege of dining in an ancient Medici building that was an amazing experience.

In 1574 the construction of the Medicean Walls was begun and we are so glad they survived and protect this beautiful city today.

We knew that our visit to Grosseto would include staying at the marvelous Grand Hotel Bastiani

grosetto4We had stayed here once before and fell in love with the old world charm and elegance of the hotel

It is located just inside the ancient Medicean Walls and on the Piazza Gioberti, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Grosseto…

grosetto6I do not usually gush on about hotels; however, this one is on the top of the list of our favorites…

A beautiful staircase….

europe2 162World Class service and an elegant dining room…

europe2 161Our suite was so very luxurious and comfortable…

europe2 163…..and nothing……….nothing beats an Italian Breakfast……..nothing….

europe2 160Okay, enough gushing…………..onto the city….

The Romanesque cathedral, the main monument of the city, is named for its patron St. Lawrence, and was begun at the end of the 13th century, by architect Sozzo Rustichini of Siena.

It was erected over the earlier church of Santa Maria Assunta, it was only finished in the 15th century (mainly due to the continuing struggles against Siena).

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The façade of alternate layers of white and black marble is Romanesque in style, but is almost entirely the result of 16th century and 1816–1855 restorations: it retains decorative parts of the original buildings, including Evangelists’ symbols.

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The layout consists of a Latin cross, with transept and apse.

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The interior has a nave with two aisles, separated by cruciform pilasters. The main artworks are a wondrously carved baptismal font from 1470–1474 and the Madonna delle Grazie by Matteo di Giovanni (1470).

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The campanile (bell tower) was finished in 1402, and restored in 1911.

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The Church of San Francesco is located on the Omonym Square, it was built in the Middle Ages.

It was an important Benedictine convent, before moving to the Franciscans.


At the center of the cloister stands the characteristic Pozzo della Bufala (Well of the Buffalo) in travertine; another well is located in the square outside the church.

Then there is the Church of San Pietro. the oldest religious building in Grosseto, it was built along the stretch of the Via Aurelia that crossed the center and was originally a plebeian and stational church along the old consular road.


The beautiful Palazzo Aldobrandeschi whose origins are medieval.  It is now a Neo-Gothic edifice with ogival mullioned windows and merlons in the upper part of the walls.

It houses the seat of the province of Grosseto. The architect was Lorenzo Porciatti.

europe2 165The city is filled with marvelous shops and the people are all so relaxed and friendly……………

…..I do believe it is the absence of vehicles!

europe2 166The weather was perfect during our visit and we enjoyed the moon during the daytime….

europe2 173As we venture about town we stumble upon an ancient structure whose upper portions have collapsed over the years…

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The Ristorante Locanda de Medici de Peccianti…WOW……….we must eat here!

europe2 176We find the entrance into the ancient Medici cellars that now house this fantastic restaurant…

We learn that these ancient cellars were used as bomb shelters during World War II…..

europe2 168We venture into a world of culinary delight….

grosetto10What a charming place and the wine selection……..oh swoon…….

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Leonardo, the Chef – Owner waits on us!  The pasta is hand made………no machines….

grosetto13The Cheeses are aromatic and delightful…

grosetto12the Seafood fresh and delightful…….

grosetto14What a delightful and enchanting visit we have had here in Grosseto…….now it is off to bed to dream of the rest of the journey ahead….

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……….until next time ciao!


Avignon – France



Avignon  is located in southeastern France bordered by the left bank of the Rhône river.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is a place I have dreamed of visiting since I was around ten years old.

When we checked into the hotel and opened the window, we were greeting with an amazing view of the Palais des Papes

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Often referred to as the “City of Popes” because of the presence of popes and antipopes from 1309 to 1423 during the Catholic schism.

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Avignon is one of the few French cities to have preserved its ramparts.

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In addition, its historic center, the palace of the popes,

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 and the bridge of Avignon………..

……… Pont d’Avignon  Only four of the eighteen piles are left; on one of them stands the small Romanesque chapel of Saint-Bénézet.are well-preserved.

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But the bridge is best known for the famous French song Sur le pont d’Avignon.

In 1309 the city, still part of the Kingdom of Arles, was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence, and from 9 March 1309 until 13 January 1377 was the seat of the Papacy instead of Rome.

The Palais des Papes is an amazing building….

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By choosing to “move” the Vatican to Avignon Clement caused a schism in the Catholic Church.

At the time, the city and the surrounding Comtat Venaissin were ruled by the kings of Sicily of the house of Anjou.

The French King Philip the Fair, who had inherited from his father all the rights of Alphonse de Poitiers (the last Count of Toulouse), made them over to Charles II, King of Naples and Count of Provence (1290).

Nonetheless, Philip was a shrewd ruler. Inasmuch as the eastern banks of the Rhone marked the edge of his kingdom,

when the river flooded up into the city of Avignon, Philip taxed the city since during periods of flood, the city technically lay within his domain…..interesting tax laws!

Here the flood levels were recorded ….

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The Popes who resided in the Palais des Papes were

Clement V: 1305–1314

John XXII: 1316–1334

Benedict XII: 1334–1342

Clement VI: 1342–1352

Innocent VI: 1352–1362

Urban V: 1362–1370

Gregory XI: 1370–1378


This period from 1309–1377 – the Avignon Papacy – was also called the Babylonian Captivity of exile, in reference to the Israelites‘ enslavement in biblical times.

The inside of the Palais is eerie and haunting…

europe2 799It feels strange to walk these empty rooms and hallways….

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….and of course there is the garden of the Rocher des Doms…

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Now time for some lunch at 46 Bistro……….escargot …….of course…

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…then a walk about town……to the place to be…………the Place de l’Horloge..

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….looks like these two have been sitting around here for a while…

…amazing Carrousel…La Belle Epoque…

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We visited the most wonderful Musee Lapidaire, CLICK HERE to read about that visit…..

……………..we encountered wonderful architecture, as we strolled about….

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….of course the cafes attract our attention….

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….and we decide to have dinner at lou Mistrau….beautiful outdoor dining with wind shields….good because it is quite nippy….

we begin with………….you guessed it escargot…..the best we have ever eaten…

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….followed by my very favorite dish on the planet…..Cassoulet……

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….then perhaps some beef and potatoes….

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……ahhh but let us not forget dessert and cappuccino ….

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walking about we encounter these wonderful ladies dressed in vintage clothing….

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It has been a most wonderful visit, filled with discovery, wonderment, lavender, culinary delights…..

…..but we must move on….

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Some Papal Facts and Firsts


The Papal Insignia

The crossed keys symbolise the keys of  Simon Peter.   The keys are gold and silver to represent the power of loosing and binding.   The triple crown represents the pope’s three functions as “supreme pastor”, “supreme teacher” and “supreme priest”.   The gold cross on a crown surmounting the tiara symbolizes the sovereignty of Jesus.

The Pope holds the office and jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, who presides over the central government of the Roman Catholic Church.

The term Pope was orginally applied to all the bishops in the West and also used to describe the patriarch of Alexandria, who still retains the title.

In 1073 Pope Gregory VII restricted the use of the title “Pope” to the Bishop of Rome

There have been 266 (possibly 267 read on) Popes


St. Peter

Peter was allegedly the first Pope, at least according to Catholic tradition, as well as the one who brought Christianity to Rome

All the evidence indicates; however, that Christianity came to Rome well before he would have and even once there he did not serve as bishop or any sort of leader


St. Sixtus I (Xystus)

Pope 115 thru 125

The first known Pope to have also been the son of a priest

During this time period there was no requirement that priests be celibate

St. Victor I

Pope 189 thru 199

First African Pope.  First Pope to attempt to exert authority outside Rome and neighboring communities

He threatened excommunication for anyone who refused to celebrate Easter on Sunday

St. Pontain

Pope 230 thru 235

First Pope to resign his office.  Yes there have been seven Popes to resign the office

Pope Gregory XII was the last Pope to resign in 1417

St. Innocent

Pope 401 thru 417

The first Pope whose father was also a Pope, Anastasius I

Anastasius was married prior to entering the priesthood, had Anastasius’ marriage not been valid, Innocent would have been an illegitimate child and therefore been ineligible for the priesthood

St. Gelasius

Pope 492 thru 496

First Pope to use the title “Vicar of Christ”

Last Pope of African descent

Anastasio II

Pope 496 thru 498

First Pope not to become a Saint

Boniface II

Pope 530 thru 532

First Pope with German Heritage

John II

Pope 533 thru 535

First Pope to adopt a new name when elected.

His given name was Mercurius, a pagan god

St. Silverius

Pope 536 thru 537

First Pope who was subdeacon at the time of his election

Second Pope whose father was also a Pope (Hormisdas)


Pope 556 thru 561

First Pope not actually elected at all – he was appointed by Emperor Justinian

John IV

Pope 640 thru 642

First and Only Pope from Dalmatia

St. Paul I

Pope 757 thru 767

First Pope who succeeded his own brother, Stephen III

Stephen IV

Pope 767 thru 772

First Pope who declared that the laity could not have any voice in the election of Popes anymore

Adrian I

Pope 772 thru 795

Oldest Person EVER elected Pope

Pope Joan  yesssssssss Joan not John

Pope 855 thru 858

First and only female Pope

“John Anglicus, born at Mainz, was Pope for two years, seven months and four days, and died in Rome, after which there was a vacancy in the Papacy of one month.   It is claimed that this John was a woman, who as a girl had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers.   There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and, afterward in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience.   A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city; and she was chosen for Pope. While Pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion.   Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the “shunned street” between the Colisseum and Basilica di San Clemente.   After her death, it is said she was buried in that same place.   The Lord Pope always turns aside from the street, and it is believed by many that this is done because of abhorrence of the event.   Nor is she placed on the list of the Holy Pontiffs, both because of her female sex and on account of the foulness of the matter.”

from Martin of Opava’s ”Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum”

Adrian II

Pope 867 thru 872

Last married Pope – his wife Setphania and his daughter lived in the Vatican Palace with him


Pope 872 thru 882

First Pope to be assassinated : First he was poisoned and then beaten to death, by a relative who wanted his possessions

Boniface VI

Pope 896

When he was elected he had already been defrocked twice because of immoral behavior

Stephen VII

Pope 896 thru 897

Had the body of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, dug up and placed on trial

Upon finding Formosus guilty Stephen had his Papal robes removed and the two fingers (used for the blessing) removed from his right hand

The body was thrown in the Tiber River

After the trial public opinion turned against Stephen and the was overthrown and strangled to death

Sergius III

Pope 904 thru 911

Sergius ordered the death of his predecessor, Pope Leo and the antipope Christopher

John XI

Pope 931 thru 935

First (and presumably only) Pope who was the illegitimate son of a previous Pope (Sergius III)

John XII

Pope 955 thru 963

First and only teenager elected Pope

Was 18 years old at his election and was of such a sex fiend that the Papal Palace became known as a brothel

He is known to have had massive orgies and took particular pleasure in defiling holy sites, like the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul


Pope 963 thru 964

First Pope who was a layman at the time of his election

John XV

Pope 985 thru 996

First Pope to canonize a saint – Ulrich of Augsburd  in 993

Gregory V

Pope 996 thru 999

First German Born Pope

Sylvester II

Pope 999 thru 1003

First French Pope

Benedict IX

Most Confusing Pontificate in History

He served as Pope three times

He was elected, ejected, returned, abdicated, deposed, returned again, ejected again and eventually excommunicated



Hope you enjoyed this quick looks at Papal Firsts

Should you be interested in more Papal History, here are some interesting resources:






The Origins of Count Dracula


Let’s face it, we have all fallen under the spell of Dracula at one point in our lives.

The sensual appeal of this sharp-toothed legend entering our boudairs in the night to embrace us and drain our lifeforce has set many a heart a flutter…….

……..are you ready to come with me as we turn around and follow this Vampire path to its beginnings………

………..in the real Castle of Dracula…..

……..the home of Prince Vlad III of Wallachia, a member of the House of Draculesti

Long before the likes of the “Twilight Series”

or even the birth of Ann Rice’s New Oleans Vampire family

………..or even Bram Stoker‘s Dracula……

………..there lived the real Dracula, the father of all legends…….’Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who was a member of the House of Drăculești, a branch of the House of Basarab, also known by his patronymic name: ”’Dracula”’. He was posthumously dubbed ”’Vlad the Impaler”’, and was a three-time Prince of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462, the period of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.   His father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe.

Vlad III spent much of his rule campaigning against the Ottoman Empire and Ottoman wars in Europe.   During his lifetime, his reputation for excessive cruelty spread abroad, to 15th-century Germany and elsewhere in Europe.   The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands. The name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’ was inspired by Vlad’s patronymic.

Vlad’s  Romanian patronymic ”Dragwlya” ”Dragulea, Dragolea, Drăculea’  is a diminutive of the epithet ”Dracul” “the Dragon” carried by his father  Vlad II Dracul, who in 1431 was inducted as a member of the  Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order  founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Hungary in 1408.

”Dracul” is the Romanian definite form.  The noun  “dragon” itself continues Latin ”  In Modern Romanian, the word ”drac” has adopted the meaning of “devil” the term for “dragon” now being  balaur or dragon.   This has led to misinterpretations of Vlad’s epithet as characterizing him as “devilish”.

A woodcut depicting Vlad Țepeș published in Nuremberg in 1488

on the title page of the pamphlet  : Die geschicht dracole waide.

Vlad was born in Sighișoara, Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary, in the winter of 1431 to Vlad II Dracul, future voivode of Wallachia.  Vlad’s father was the son of the celebrated Voivode – Mircea the Elder.   His mother is believed to be the second wife of Vlad Dracul, Princess Cneajna of Moldavia], eldest daughter of Alexandru cel Bun and aunt to Stephen III of Moldavia- Stephen the Great of Moldavia.   He had two older half-brothers, Mircea II and Vlad Călugărul, and a younger brother, Radu cel Frumos – Radu III the Handsome.

In the year of his birth, Vlad’s father, known under the nickname ”Dracul”, had traveled to Nuremberg where he had been vested into the Order of the Dragon.   At the age of five, young Vlad was also initiated into the Order.
Vlad and Radu spent their early formative years in Sighișoara under the care and tutelage of their mother and the wives of other exiled boyars.   During the first reign of their father, Vlad II Dracul, the Voivode brought his young sons to Târgoviște, the capital of Wallachia at that time.

The Byzantine chancellor Mikhail ensured that, at Târgoviște, the sons of boyars and ruling princes were well-educated by Romanian or Greek scholars commissioned from Constantinople.   Vlad is believed to have learned combat skills, geography, mathematics, science, languages (Old Church Slavonic, German, Latin), and the classical arts and philosophy.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul ascended the throne of Wallachia. He was ousted in 1442 by rival factions in league with Hungary, but secured Ottoman support for his return by agreeing to pay the Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) to the Sultan.

Vlad II also sent his two legitimate sons, Vlad and Radu, to the Ottoman court, to serve as hostages of his loyalty. Vlad was imprisoned and often whipped and beaten for being defiant, while his younger brother Radu was much easier to control. Radu converted to Islam, entered the service of Sultan Murad II’s son, Mehmed II (later known as the Conqueror), and was allowed into the Topkapı Palace.   Radu was also honored by the title Bey and was given command of the Janissary contingents.

These years presumably had a great influence on Vlad’s character and led to Vlad’s well-known hatred for the Ottoman Turks, the Janissary, his brother Radu for converting to Islam and the young Turkish prince Mehmed II (even after he became sultan).   He was envious of his father’s preference for his elder brother, Mircea II and half brother, Vlad Călugărul.   He also distrusted the Hungarians and his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon’s oath to fight the Ottoman Empire.

Vlad was later released under probation and taken to be educated in logic, the Quran and the Turkish language and works of  literature.   He would speak this language fluently in his later years.   He and his brother were also trained in warfare and riding horses.   The boys’ father, Vlad Dracul, was awarded the support of the Ottomans and returned to Wallachia and took back his throne from Basarab II and some unfaithful Boyars.

Vlad’s first wife was Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, with whom he had two sons: Mihnea I “the Bad”  and Mihai.

According to local legend, she died during the siege of Poenari Castle, which was surrounded by the Ottoman army led by his brother Radu Bey and the Wallachian Janissary.   A woodland archer, having seen the shadow of Vlad’s wife behind a window, shot an arrow through the window into Vlad’s main quarters with a message warning him that Radu’s army was approaching.   McNally and Florescu explain that the archer was one of Vlad’s relatives who sent the warning out of loyalty despite having converted to Islam and served in the ranks of Radu.   Upon reading the message, Vlad’s wife threw herself from the tower into a tributary of the Argeș River flowing below the castle, saying she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish of the Argeș than be led into captivity by the Turks.   Today, the tributary is called Râul Doamnei, the “Lady’s River”, also called the Princess’s River.

Gradually winning back King Matthias’s favour, Vlad married Ilona Szilágyi of Wallachia,  a sister or cousin of the king,  and in the years before his final release in 1474, had her as a companion in his captivity.

Two of Vlad Tepes’ sons, Vlad Țepeluș and Mihnea I “the Bad”, have been claimed to be ancestors of Mary of Teck, grand-mother of Elizabeth II,  Queen of Great Britain.   In October 2011, Prince Charles publicly claimed that genealogy shows that he is a distant relative of Vlad the Impaler.   The claim accompanied his announcement of a pledge to help conserve the forested areas of Transylvania.

In December 1447, boyars in league with the Hungarian regent,  John Hunyadi,  rebelled against Vlad II Dracul and killed him in the marshes near Bălteni. Mircea, Dracul’s eldest son and heir, was blinded and buried alive at Târgoviște.

To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and put young Vlad III on the throne; however, this rule was short-lived as Hunyadi himself now invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II of Wallachia, of the House of Dănești clan, to the throne.

Vlad fled to Moldavia, where he lived under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.   In October 1451, Bogdan was assassinated and Vlad fled to Hungary.   Impressed by Vlad’s vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II,  Hunyadi reconciled with his former rival and made him his advisor.

After the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II in 1453, Ottoman influence began to spread from this base through the Carpathians, threatening mainland Europe, and by 1481 Ottoman wars in Europe conquering the entire Balkans peninsula.  Vlad’s rule thus falls entirely within the three decades of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.

In 1456, three years after the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople, they threatened Hungary by besieging Belgrade.   Hunyadi began a concerted counter-attack in Serbia: while he himself moved into Serbia and relieved the siege (before dying of the plague), Vlad led his own contingent into Wallachia, reconquered his native land and killed Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat.
Vlad found Wallachia in a wretched state: constant war had resulted in rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Regarding a stable economy essential to resisting external enemies, he used severe methods to restore order and prosperity.

Vlad had three aims for Wallachia: to strengthen the country’s economy, its defense, and his own political power. He took measures to help the peasants’ well-being by building new villages and raising agricultural output.   He understood the importance of trade for the development of Wallachia.   He helped the Wallachian merchants by limiting foreign merchant trade to three market towns: Târgșor, Câmpulung and Târgoviște.

Vlad considered the boyars the chief cause of the constant strife as well as of the death of his father and brother.   To secure his rule, he had many leading nobles killed and gave positions in his council, traditionally belonging to the greatest boyars, to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and some to foreigners.   For lower offices, Vlad preferred knights and free peasants to boyars.   In his aim of fixing up Wallachia, Vlad issued new laws punishing thieves.   Vlad treated the boyars with the same harshness, believing them guilty of weakening Wallachia through their personal struggles for power.

The army was also strengthened.   He had a small personal guard, mostly made of mercenaries, who were rewarded with loot and promotions.   

He also established a militia or ‘lesser army’ made up of peasants called to fight whenever war came.

Vlad Dracula built a church at Târgșor (allegedly in the memory of his father and older brother who were killed nearby), and he contributed with money to the Snagov Monastery and to the Comana Monastery fortifications.

Since the Wallachian nobility was linked to the Transylvanian Saxons, Vlad also acted against them by eliminating their trade privileges and raiding their cities.   In 1459, he had several Saxon settlers of Brașov] (Kronstadt) impaled.   In 1459, Pope Pius II called for a new crusade against the Ottomans, at the Council of Mantua.   In this crusade, the main role was to be played by Matthias Corvinus, son of John Hunyadi,  the King of Hungary.   To this effect, Matthias Corvinus received from the Pope 40,000 golden coins, an amount that was thought to be enough to gather an army of 12,000 men and purchase 10 Danube warships.    In this context, Vlad allied himself with Matthias Corvinus, with the hope of keeping the Ottomans out of the country.

Later that year, in 1459, Ottoman Empire Sultan Mehmed II sent envoys to Vlad to urge him to pay a delayed Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) of 10,000 ducats and 500 recruits into the Ottoman forces.   Vlad refused, because if he had paid the ‘tribute’, as the tax was called at the time, it would have meant a public acceptance of Wallachia as part of the Ottoman Empire.   Vlad, just like most of his predecessors and successors, had as a primary goal to keep Wallachia as independent as possible.   Vlad had the Turkish envoys killed on the pretext that they had refused to raise their “hats” to him, by nailing their turbans to their heads.

Meanwhile, the Sultan received intelligence reports that revealed Vlad’s domination of the Danube.   He sent the Bey of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha, to make peace and, if necessary, eliminate Vlad III.   Pasha planned to set an ambush.   Hamza Pasha, the Bey of Nicopolis, brought with him 10,000 cavalry and when passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad launched a surprise attack.   The Wallachians had the Turks surrounded and defeated.   The Turks’ plans were thwarted and almost all of them caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha impaled on the highest stake to show his rank.


In the winter of 1462, Vlad crossed the Danube and devastated the entire Bulgarian land in the area between Serbia and the Black Sea.   Disguising himself as a Turkish person,  he infiltrated and destroyed Ottoman camps.   In a letter to Corvinus dated 2 February, he wrote:  “I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen.   We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him Sultan Mehmed II.

In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, and in spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia.   Commanding at best only 30,000 to 40,000 men,  Vlad was unable to stop the Ottomans from crossing the Danube at June 4, 1462 and entering Wallachia.   He constantly organized small attacks and ambushes on the Turks, such as The Night Attack when 15,000 Turks were killed.  This infuriated Mehmed II, who then crossed the Danube.   With the exception of some Turkish references all the other chronicles at the time that mention the 1462 campaign state that the Sultan was defeated.    Apparently, the Turks retreated in such a hurry that by July 11, 1462 the Sultan was already in Adrianopolis.   According to the Byzantine historian Chalcocondil,  Radu, brother of Vlad III and ingratiate of the Sultan, was left behind in Targoviste with the hope that he would be able to gather an anti-Vlad clique that would ultimately get rid of Vlad as Voivode of Wallachia and crown Radu as the new puppet ruler.

Vlad the Impaler’s attack was celebrated by the Saxon cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope.   A Venetian envoy, upon hearing about the news at the court of Corvinus on 4 March, expressed great joy and said that the whole of Christianity should celebrate Vlad Țepeș’s successful campaign.   The Genoese from Caffa also thanked Vlad, for his campaign had saved them from an attack of some 300 ships that the sultan planned to send against them.

Vlad’s younger brother, Radu cel Frumos and his Janissary battalions were given the task of leading the Ottoman Empire to victory at all expense by Sultan Mehmet II. After the Sipahis’  incursions failed to subdue Vlad, the few remaining Sipahis were killed in a night raid by Vlad III in 1462.   However, as the war raged on, Radu and his formidable Janissary battalions were well supplied with a steady flow of gunpowder and dinars; this allowed them to push deeper into the realm of Vlad III.   Radu and his well-equipped forces finally besieged Poenari Castle,  the famed lair of Vlad III.   After his difficult victory Radu was given the title ”Bey of Wallachia” by Sultan Mehmed II.

Vlad III’s defeat at Poenari was due in part to the fact that the Boyars, who had been alienated by Vlad’s policy of undermining their authority, had joined Radu under the assurance that they would regain their privileges. They may have also believed that Ottoman protection was better than Hungary.   It was said as well that Radu (through his spies or traitors) found the place where some Boyars’ families were hidden during the war (probably some forests around Snagov) and blackmailed them to come to his side.

By 8 September, Vlad had won another three victories, but continuous war had left him without any money and he could no longer pay his mercenaries. Vlad traveled to Hungary to ask for help from his former ally, Matthias Corvinus.   Instead of receiving help, he found himself arrested and thrown into the dungeon for high treason.   Corvinus, not planning to get involved in a war after having spent the Papal money meant for it on personal expenses, forged a letter from Vlad III to the Ottomans where he supposedly proposed a peace with them, to give an explanation for the Pope and a reason to abandon the war and return to his capital.

Vlad was imprisoned at Oratia, a fortress located at Podu Dâmboviței Bridge.   A period of imprisonment in Visegrád near Buda followed, where the Wallachian prince was held for 10 years.   Then he was imprisoned in Buda.

The exact length of Vlad’s period of captivity is open to some debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 until 1474.   Diplomatic correspondence from Buda seems to indicate that the period of Vlad’s effective confinement was relatively short.   Radu’s openly pro-Ottoman policy as voivode probably contributed to Vlad’s rehabilitation.   Moreover, Steven the Great, a relative of Vlad intervened on his behalf to be released from prison as the Ottoman pressure on the territories north of the Danube was increasing.

The Final Chapter……………
After Radu’s sudden death in 1475, Vlad III declared his third reign in 26 November 1476.   Vlad began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia in 1476 with Hungarian support.   Vlad’s third reign had lasted little more than two months when he was assassinated.   The exact date of his death is unknown, presumably the end of December 1476, but it is known that he was dead by January 10, 1477.
The exact location of his death is also unknown, but it would have been somewhere along the road between Bucharest and Giurgiu.
Vlad’s head was taken to Constantinople as a trophy, and his body was buried unceremoniously by his rival, Basarab Laiota,  possibly at Comana, Giurgiu, a monastery founded by Vlad in 1461.   The Comana monastery was demolished and rebuilt from scratch in 1589.

In the  19th century, Romanian historians cited a “tradition”, apparently without any kind of support in documentary evidence, that Vlad was buried at  Snagov,  an island monastery located near Bucharest.   To support this theory, the so-called ”Cantacuzino Chronicle” was cited, which cites Vlad as the founder of this monastery.   But as early as 1855, Alexandru Odobescu had established that this is impossible as the monastery had been in existence before 1438.   Since excavations carried out by Dinu V Rosetti in June & October of 1933,  it has become clear that Snagov monastery was founded during the later 14th century, well before the time of Vlad III.   The 1933 excavation also established that there was no tomb below the supposed “unmarked tombstone” of Vlad in the monastery church.   Rosetti (1935) reported that “Under the tombstone attributed to Vlad there was no tomb.   Only many bones and jaws of horses.”   In the 1970s, speculative attribution of an anonymous tomb found elsewhere in the church to Vlad Tepes was published by Simion Saveanu, a journalist who wrote a series of articles on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Vlad’s death.  Most Romanian historians today favor the Comana, Giurgiu  monastery as the final resting place for Vlad Tepes.


The Legacy Lives on………….

Even during his lifetime, Vlad III Țepeș became famous as a tyrant taking  sadistic  pleasure in torturing and killing.   He is shown in cryptoportraits made during his lifetime in the role of cruel rulers or executioners such as Pontius Pilate ordering the torture and execution of Jesus Christ,

 or as Aegeas, the Roman proconsul in Patras, overseeing the crucifixion of Saint Andrew.

 Estimates of the number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000, comparable to the cumulative number of executions over four centuries of European witchhunts.  According to the German stories the number of victims he had killed was at least 80,000.   In addition to the 80,000 victims mentioned he also had whole villages and fortresses destroyed and burned to the ground.

Impalement was Vlad’s preferred method of torture and execution.  Several woodcuts from German pamphlets of the late 15th and early 16th centuries show Vlad feasting in a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brașov,  while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims. It was reported that an invading Ottoman army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses on the banks of the Danube.   It has also been said that in 1462 Mehmed II, conqueror of Constantinople, a man noted for his own psychological warfare tactics, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad’s capital of Târgoviște.

Allegedly, Vlad’s reputation for cruelty was actively promoted by Matthias Corvinus,  who tarnished Vlad’s reputation and credibility for a political reason: as an explanation for why he had not helped Vlad fight the Ottomans in 1462, for which purpose he had received money from most Catholic states in Europe.   Matthias employed the charges of Southeastern Transylvania, and produced fake letters of high treason, written on 7 November 1462.

……..enter the modern day Dracula thanks to the great Bram Stoker………………..

The connection of the name “Dracula” with vampirism was made by Bram Stoker, who probably found the name of his Count Dracula character in William Wilkinson’s book, ”An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them”.   It is known that Stoker made notes about this book.   It is also suggested that Stoker may have heard of Vlad through his friend, Hungarian professor Ármin Vámbéry, from Budapest.   The fact that character Dr. Abraham Van Helsing states in the 1897 novel that the source of his knowledge about Count Dracula is his friend Arminius appears to support this hypothesis, although there is no evidence that Stoker and Vambéry (they met twice) ever talked about Wallachian history.

Unlike the fictional Dracula films, there have been comparatively few movies about the man who inspired the vampire.   The 1975 documentary ”In Search of Dracula” explores the legend of Vlad the Impaler.   He is played in the film by Christopher Lee,  known for his Hammer Films productions of Dracula of the fictional Dracula in films ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In 1979, a Romanian film called ”Vlad Țepeș” (sometimes known, in other countries, as ”The True Story of Vlad the Impaler”) was released, based on his six-year reign and brief return to power in late 1476.   The character is portrayed in a mostly positive perspective, though the film also mentions the excesses of his regime and his practice of impalement.   The lead character is played by Ștefan Sileanu.

Perhaps my most favorite reference to this great historical place is from The Rocky Horror Picture Show….

……you remember the marvelous Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter…..the one from Transexual Transylvania..

…Let’s do the Time Warp again………….oh you forgot the steps…

………….I have to run get out my costume and put on the music…….just for a moment……..


………….aaahhhhemmmmm……pardon me………I did digress a bit…..back to Dracula……
I hope you have enjoyed this journey through time to explore a wonderful bit of history, pop culture and the basis for a smashing tourist success for a small town in Romania…


Mountain Top Rainforest, Mexico – with the Aztec People


This is a real place inhabited by one of the ancient cultures of our planet. The Aztec. Sure, Cortez came with his great gift of smallpox and the grand civilization died off and the Catholic priests burned all of the written history of these great people; however, the descendents remain….living with continued dignity and harmony with the planet, high in the mountains hidden in the beautiful rain forest. Their culture, their language and most important, their spirit very much alive. We have the great fortune of knowing one of these families and being invited into the sacred forest with them to join in their everyday lives, feast times and to hear, listen with the heart and join in the spirit as they tell their stories. You see they speak Nauhtl (http://www.omniglot.com/writing/nahuatl.htm) , the native tongue…….not at all like Spanish. We are so lucky as to have been taught some phrases. It is such a beautiful language and interestingly enough I noticed that one must smile when speaking it. It is only the current generation living in these forests who also speak Spanish, so tightly do these beautiful people hold to their culture. In order to reach them one must travel some of the most treacherous roads I have ever seen, clinging to the side of the mountains. Of course, we could go on foot through the ancient trails……….but I am afraid of snakes and do not have the stamina of an Aztec runner……so it is to the small muddy trail I go.

Even with this the trip is a day long, in the back of a truck with chickens and small children. We have known Diego for several years and he has become part of our family so I feel very safe and secure……….that is until I glance to my right and see the clouds far, far, far below me. The rain falls constantly and the road is not wide enough for one vehicle….the soil primarily clay so we slide ever so precariously to the edge now and then. My heart beats rapidly as I fear that I may never see the village at the top and become another sacrifice pitched into the yearning mouth of the skies.

Along the way we find where someone has built a catchment of sorts for the water that continuously pours from the mountaintop.

We finally reach the end of the road and now must continue our travels on foot. Here where the road ends is a small cinderblock building that we are told is a school constructed by the Governor to teach the Nauhtl language and culture to ensure that it does not die….smart guy that one! We also find a hand crafted statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe; even here high above the clouds Catholicism has reached and become entwined with the ancient beliefs……although I doubt the Pope would recognize the full interpretation.

Finally we come to our destinationon. It is so beautiful and lush. Surrounding me are coffee plants, giant bamboo, banana trees, mango, papaya, oranges and many, many other plants that I do not know and their names are given to me in Nauhtl so I cannot even write or remember them. All I see is forest, thick, green, lush and the most incredible sound that we have forgotten exists……silence. silence so deep …… so broad… you can hear the droplets of rain on each leaf…and i promise you …. you can hear each leaf give thanks for the rain…..amazing..

I do not take many photos while we are here. I can tell it is not appreciated and I do not want to offend our most gracious hosts. I do snap a photo of the lady of the house in her kitchen. A kitchen constructed of the giant bamboo that grow here…. she is preparing some wonderful treat for us.

What a marvelous time we had. Their homes are not one building, but a separate building for each room: the kitchen (built far away from the others in case of a fire breaking out) the sleeping rooms, separate buildings and all built around a center plaza, if you will, each roof top draining into an above the ground cistern to catch rain water and wherever you turn, vegetables growing and flowers, flowers, flowers……..the trees covered in bromeliads………orchids….oh my this is such a paradise. The family was apologizing for being poor and I told them that I felt they were some of the richest people I had ever or would ever meet. As the sun set someone ran off to get the (“the” not “a”) lightbulb to put into a socket on the plaza. The Governor also made sure his people had electricity. I learned much had changed for them since the election of this Govenor…….you see he is Aztec too….or as they say he is indigenous not Spaniard. I wish I could meet him …. he impresses me at every turn.

The earth was so pure and perfect, the water so clean and pristine……wow…..guess I forgot what it was supposed to look like.

You often hear that the Aztecs were mystical and magical people……you know what… they still are. I would not trade my time with these people for anything and I hope to return someday. My only hope is that they and their culture will be able to survive so the we can return from time to time to remember who we should be.

This post is dedicated to Diego and his wonderful family, their culture, hospitality and oneness with our planet.