A forbidding silhouette of battlements and needle spires looms over the citadel of Sighişoara, perched on a hill overlooking the Târnave Mare valley; it seems fitting that this was the birthplace of Vlad Țepeş, the man known to posterity as Dracula. Look out for the Medieval Arts and the Inter-ethnic Cultural festivals held annually in July and August, when Sighişoara may be overrun by thousands of beer-swillers.
The route from the train station to the centre passes the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral, its gleaming white, multifaceted facade a striking contrast to the dark interior. Across the Târnave Mare River, the citadel dominates the town from a hill whose slopes support a jumble of ancient houses. Steps lead up from the lower town’s main square, Piața Hermann Oberth, to the main gateway, above which rises the mighty clock tower. This was built in the fourteenth century when Sighişoara became a free town controlled by craft guilds – each of which had to finance the construction of a bastion and defend it in wartime.
Sighişoara grew rich on the proceeds of trade with Moldavia and Wallachia, as attested by the regalia and strongboxes in the tower’s museum. The ticket also gives access to the seventeenth-century torture chamber and the Museum of Armaments next door, with its small and poorly presented “Dracula Exhibition”.
In 1431 or thereabouts, the child later known as Dracula was born at Str Muzeului 6 near the clock tower. At the time his father – Vlad Dracul – was commander of the mountain passes into Wallachia, but the younger Vlad’s privileged childhood ended eight years later, when he and his brother Radu were sent to Anatolia as hostages to the Turks. There Vlad observed the Turks’ use of terror, which he would later turn against them, earning the nickname of “The Impaler”. Nowadays, Vlad’s birthplace is a mediocre tourist restaurant.