The Princely Court of Târgoviște and the Sunset Tower

IMG_9026Leaving Transylvania and northern Wallachia we entered into Romania’s lowlands.

From the mountainous terrain of the Carpathians to the south the land quickly turns flat. As in, Midwest Chicago-style flat. One minute you are looking at an autumn panoply of steep hills and the next you are barreling down a highway dodging horse carts (oh yes, just being on a highway doesn’t mean you don’t see horses on the road there) with a carefully laid out grid of square farmland in every direction.

Before the Wallachian court was moved to București (something that we can actually thank Vlad Ţepeș himself for – Vlad was always uncomfortable with Târgoviște’s poor strategic location) the princely court was in the town of Târgoviște (pronounced TAR-go-veesh-teh).

The old court in Târgoviște lies in a central palace complex hosting the Chindia Tower – also known as the Sunset Tower – built by Vlad Ţepeș’ father Vlad Dracul, the remains of Vlad Ţepeș’ palace and several other, mostly post-Vlad buildings, most impressively an old church with some remarkable wall paintings.

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The Sunset Tower sat on one end of the complex, mobbed morning and evening with magpies taking their due from the spread of green surrounding the tower and otherwise acting like the true lords of Târgoviște. The tower itself is now a museum to, predictably, Vlad Ţepeș, with a number of documents signed by him as well as a fair number of interesting maps and contemporary paintings.

Târgoviște is, first and foremost, a town that knows what it is famous for.

An idyllic park and – no joke – “Vlad Tepes Beerhouse” – is studded with busts of the various princes of Wallachia, but even there, Vlad Ţepeș gets top billing with a half-statue of him, sword drawn, sitting in the middle of the park.

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After the death of his hated brother Radu the Handsome in 1476, Vlad made his third bid for power in Wallachia with Hungarian support. Vlad succeeded, seizing power and for the third and final time claiming the voivodeship of Wallachia.

Unlike Vlad’s second reign, his third reign would prove to be short – barely more than two months – before his death.

Appropriately for such a posthumously famous individual, Vlad’s death was as mysterious as his legacy. Innumerable stories exist for how he died – in battle, betrayed by his own men, assassinated – the details are myriad and contradictory.

What is firmly documented is that his head was sent to the Ottoman Court in Edirne, so that Mehmed II, Conqueror of Constantinople, might finally know that his lifelong enemy was, at last, dead.

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Târgoviște is a sleepy town for its size, so two days after our arrival we took off for Snagov Monastery, built by Vlad’s predecessor and by folklore the site of Vlad’s burial, though modern Romanian scholars are highly skeptical of this, preferring the site of Cormana Monastery instead, though even that is speculative given that Cormana was leveled and rebuilt in the intervening years.

Next Article: Istanbul, the Pearl of the Ottoman Empire. Also, the City of Cats.

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