My search for the lost tomb of Vlad Dracul, Dracula's father, was equal parts adventure and comedy of errors. While trying to track down the location of the mural depicting Vlad Dracul in Sighișoara (spoiler alert, it's in a banquet hall in Casa Vlad Dracul that is generally closed to the public), I was reading the Wikipedia article on Vlad which indicated that his tomb is located at Dealu Monastery in the hills above Targoviste.
With great excitement, I planned to visit the monastery as a side-trip on the rather long drive from Transylvania back to Bucharest. Upon arriving at Dealu, a peaceful spot at the top of a winding mountain road with commanding views of the valley below, I was delighted to discover there was an information sheet (in broken, but readable English, thankfully) posted at the entrance with some basic facts about the location. Included on the sheet was a listing of people buried at the “princely necropolis” on the monastery grounds. Shockingly, Vlad Dracul was not among those listed on the sheet.
I entered the chapel located in the center of the inner courtyard and was immediately confronted with two large sarcophagi in the ante-chamber. I figured one of these must contain the body of Vlad Dracul, but I was wrong. Even with my limited understanding of Romanian, I was able to decipher the names on the tombstones as belonging to Radu the Great and Michael the Brave. Despite a thorough search of the chapel and the rest of the monastery, I was unable to locate the tombs of the other princes listed online and on the information sheet.
Thinking perhaps they were buried in the cemetery near the entrance gate, I went back outside and peered over the fence, but all the graves in the cemetery were modern. In any case, a Voivode would never have been buried outside with the common riffraff. Feeling quite defeated, and unable to solve the mystery of the missing graves, I went back to the chapel and sat outside, thinking the problem over in my head. In trying to imagine the location of Vlad Dracul's grave, I asked myself one simple question: where was his son's grave located? The answer: in the floor.
I re-entered the chapel and noticed for the first time that in addition to the long carpet running down the central pathway between the entrance and the altar, there were also blue carpets on either side of the central path. After looking over my shoulder to make sure I was alone, I bent down and pulled up the carpet to reveal a hidden tombstone underneath. Although I can't be sure, I most likely squealed with delight at this discovery.
I quickly pulled up the rest of the carpets, revealing five more tombstones, for a total of six burial vaults below ground in addition to the two large sarcophagi above ground. Around this time, stray visitors began entering the chapel, and not wanting to alarm them with my carpet pulling frenzy, I replaced the bulk of the carpets while I photographed each tombstone individually. The text on these burial vaults was in Old Church Slavonic, a language that I knew nothing about at that time, so try as I might, it was impossible for me to know for certain which of these graves might contain the remains of Vlad Dracul. I was just happy to have discovered them at all.
Back in Bucharest, I examined the pictures of the tombstones in further detail and started researching Old Church Slavonic. Through this process, another issue presented itself: according to Wikipedia, there were eight bodies buried at Dealu Monastary, however, the monastery's own information sheet states there are eight bodies buried there, but two of them are different from those listed on the Wikipedia article. This meant one of the two sources was incorrect, and the number of supposed people buried at the monastery did not match the number of tombstones in the chapel.
The easiest way to solve this discrepancy would have been to just ask one of the nuns at the monastery who was buried in which vault. However, not one of them spoke a word of English, and by the time I had made my under-the-carpet discovery, they had all wandered away from the chapel for vespers (or something) and were nowhere to be found. I resorted to attempting to translate the text on the burial vaults myself. This may seem like a relatively straightforward task: punch the inscriptions into Google Translate and move on with my life.
The first problem is that the Old Church Slavonic on the tombstones is in a highly artistic font, almost like cursive, meaning it's difficult to determine what the individual characters even look like. These tombstones do not simply contain a single name with a date, but instead, they are comprised of an extremely dense collection of words that details who the person was and a mini- biography that hit the high points of their lives. Second, there is no translation engine for Old Church Slavonic. As a long dead language, the only living people who can read it are either academics, historians, or Orthodox monks who most likely don't speak English.
Undeterred, I found a reference sheet online that explained some of the Old Church Slavonic grammar conventions and and list of individual characters and began my own translation efforts. After all, I really just needed to pick out a single name from the long lines of script, so that should be easy, right? Not really. The text was not simply written in a dead language using unfamiliar grammar, the spelling of the words was not in anything close to English, so even though I might be able to identify individual characters, stringing them together meant little because the words were still in Old Church Slavonic.
I figured that I could at least try to find the word “Wadislav” and “Voivode” which would indicate I was at least headed in the right direction. After several hours of careful translation work, I successfully decoded the words “Vlad” and “Voivode” on two different tombstones. Several of the other tombstones were too faded for me to get anything significant, or the translations just seemed like gibberish to me. But at least I knew they COULD be translated by someone who knew what the heck they were doing.
After some serious searching on the Internet, I found an expert in Old Church Slavonic, Antoaneta Granberg, an associate professor of Slavic Languages at Göteborgs University in Germany. Her faculty page contained her contact info, so I sent her a translation request and shared my preliminary work, just to prove that I know how freaking hard it must be and how much I value her time and unique skill set. To my eternal delight, she confirmed that my initial translations were correct and she further agreed to translate the rest of the tombstones for me.
Here's where the comedy of errors begins... As it turns out, none of the burial vaults in the princely necropolis contain the body of Vlad Dracul. He died and was buried at the site of the monastery prior before the existing structure was even built. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew the dates of his execution and the date of Dealu's construction didn't add up, but Wikipedia said he was buried there and it's never wrong, right?
Well, actually, Vlad Dracul is buried on the monastery property, but he was buried there when the only structure on the site was a wooden chapel, which had since been torn down and replaced with the stone buildings that occupy it today. It gets worse: one of the floor burial vaults is actually empty. It had once contained the head of Michael the Brave, but the head was disinterred, carried around Romania for a few years, then re-buried in a modern sarcophagus alongside the sarcophagus of Radu the Great.
In the end, I was able to definitively determine the identities of the seven princely people buried in the eight tombs: Radu the Great (d. 1508), Pătrașcu cel Bun (d. 1557), Michael the Brave (d.1601), Vladislav II (d. 1456), Vlad V cel Tânăr (d.1512), Mihail Movila (d.1608), and Lady Jupâniţa Caplea (d. 1511). As well as the three Voivodes who are buried on the monastery grounds without tombstones to mark their graves: Vlad Dracul (d. 1447), Radu VIBădica (d. 1524), and Vlad VII Înecatul (d. 1532). The moral of this story is: “Fuck Wikipedia.”
Since the work is already done, here are the translations of the more interesting inscriptions on the tombstones:
Vladislav II - Voivode who was deposed and executed by Vlad Dracula, so his grave site is of special interest here. The tombstone reads: “Voivode Vladislav died in 6963 , on August 22 - and this stone was made in the days of Voivode Basarab Neagoe. Barbul Banul and Pârvul Vornicul made it with their brothers, the sons of Neagoe from Craiova, because Voivode Vladislav made them boyars.”
Jupâniţa Caplea - Daughter to prince Vlad (Vlad V, also buried here), sister to prince Radu (Radu VI also buried here), and mother to the great Zhupan Bogdan (a Moldovian Boyer / Nobleman). Died February 21, year 1511.
Vlad V cel Tânăr - Prince Vlad who was brother to prince Radu and son to Vlad the Monk. He became ruler when he was 16 years old and that he was ruler 11 years and 9 months. There was a battle with prince Basrab who decapitated Vlad under a pear tree in Bucharest 23rd of January, year 1512.