Poenari Castle is a little-known ruin that was once an important stronghold. It is best known for its ties to Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler or the real-life inspiration for Dracula.
The crumbling Poenari Fortress exists high in the Făgăraș Mountains. It is accessible to the few tourists willing to make the harsh trip to visit it by ascending 1480 stairs up a steep hill. Unlike Bran Castle, which has been heavily marketed to foreigners as Dracula’s Castle, Poenari Castle actually has true ties to Vlad Tepes. Yet, it remains a rarely visited attraction due to its remote location, accessibility and likely due to its small size and deteriorated state of appearance.
The Poenari Citadel was first erected towards the start of the 13th century by Wallachian’s in Romania. It stood for many years and served differing purposes during this time, as well as holding different families and rulers. It was, however, eventually abandoned and did not see new life until the 15th century when it became associated with Vlad Tepes.
Poenari Castle and Dracula
After Poenari Castle was left abandoned and fell into a ruined state by its first inhabitants, it was noticed by Vlad Tepes. It is told that Vlad noticed the hilltop former stronghold and its potential to be revived and usefulness for defensive strategy.
Legend states that to rejuvenate the castle, Vlad cornered and enslaved his enemies, who were noblemen plotting against him. He then used them as the manpower required to complete his newest project. It is told that these men worked around the clock in harsh conditions. First creating a pathway up the steep mountainside to the ruin and then painstakingly re-building the stone structure. It is said that they literally worked the clothes off their backs and many of them perished in the valley surrounding the castle.
Whilst there are various tellings of this story and some with conflicting endings, it is sometimes believed that Vlad has these workers killed or impaled in the valley once the castle was completed.
Vlad Tepes lived within Poenari Castle until it was besieged by an enemy army. With the castle surrounded and under bombing attacks from nearby mountaintops, Vlad fled through the valley. Legend has it that he made his way to the nearby town of Arefu. It was here that he met with several blacksmith brothers. They assisted Vlad’s escape by turning the horse shoes on his horse’s hooves backwards. This fooled his enemies who weren’t able to track him.
Though Vlad was lucky enough to escape, the fate his wife faced during this siege was not as pleasant. This leads into the first ghost story that surrounds Poenari Castle.
Haunted Poenari Castle Ghost Stories
The most famous ghost story associated with the haunted Poenari Castle is related to that of Vlad Tepes’ wife. It is told that during the siege upon Poenari Fortress, which Vlad managed to escape from, his wife was left behind. Out of fear and desperation, she flung herself from one of the Castle’s towers, off the side of the mountain to the Arges River below. Sadly, the option of death seemed more appealing to her than the thought of being captured by the invading enemy forces. Legend has it that the river ran red with her blood and was nicknamed The Lady’s River following her death.
Since then, many claim that Vlad’s wife continues to roam the ruined Poenari Castle. Many have claimed to sight what they believe to be her apparition within the castle, as well as near the river cutting through the valley below.
The ghosts of those who were enslaved and killed in order to rebuild the fortress are also rumored to haunt the area. Many claim to have sighted them in the surrounding valley and castle. There are also frequent reports from visitors claiming to see unexplainable light anomalies in the valley, which quickly ascend to the castle up the hill, where no apparent pathway exists.
Finally, many believe that Vlad himself may still haunt the area which he had his stronghold created.
Visiting Poenari Castle
Visiting the Poenari Castle is not a straight forward task. It will be made much easier for those with access to a car (though one is not necessary to visit). Be warned to plan your visit ahead of time. Access to the castle is only granted twice daily. Both at 10am and 3pm only (don’t be late for these). During these times staff will escort anyone waiting at the small gate located near the souvenir shop to the castle. Payment for entry is cash only and made at the top of the hill. This is done after ascending 1480 stairs, so be prepared with money. The walk is easily manageable for most fitness levels and the group walks together at a reasonably slow pace. The group is then able to explore the castle ruins together. Before descending together so security can lock the gate systems behind them.
The ruin is quite small and can be explored reasonably fast. There are signposts along the way, which provide historical information about the castle, its past and Vlad. Be prepared to spend an extremely short amount of time within the castle. After 15 minutes exploring the ruin, all other visitors had left and I was asked by security to also leave. I managed to negotiate for 5 extra minutes to the dissatisfaction of the staff escorting me.
There is one hotel at the foot of the castle within the valley. It contains a restaurant and wasn’t listed online to book accommodation. I stayed in the nearby town of Curtea De Arges. There are affordable minibus services there, which run to Arefu. I caught one of those and then walked for about 40 minutes to get to the foot of the castle.
If you enjoyed this read and are looking for other haunted locations with ties to Vlad Tepes, I recommend checking out the Witches Pond. It is said this is the place where Vlad was beheaded.
Thanks for reading!