Dracula’s Dungeon Found in Turkey? Historical Tale Gets Tangled

A portrait of Vlad the Impaler, circa 1450, is based on a painting in Castle Ambras in the Tyrol. Getty Images file

A Turkish archaeologist has reported the discovery of two prison-like dungeons where the man who inspired the Dracula vampire saga, Vlad III the Impaler, was held captive in the 15th century. The find has sparked a buzz on the Internet, but it's also sparked follow-up questions.

Archaeologist Ibrahim Cetin, who has been working on excavations at Turkey's Tokat Castle, said in a Sept. 9 report published by the Hurriyet Daily News that excavators have unearthed "very mysterious" secret tunnels surrounding the site, plus a military shelter and dungeons.

"It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here," Cetin told the Turkish newspaper, without elaborating.

Dracula graveyard bodies on view

Young Dracula

The report notes that Vlad the Impaler's captivity lasted from 1462 to 1474, but those dates actually refer to his arrest in modern-day Romania and imprisonment in Hungary. If Vlad spent time at Tokat Castle, it's far more likely to have been long before the Wallachian prince started impaling his enemies on stakes.

"Maybe the reference here is to the time Vlad and his brother Radu were held as hostages in Turkey as young boys," Elizabeth Miller, a Canadian scholar who specializes on the myths and realities behind the Dracula tale, told NBC News in an email.

On the Ancient Origins website, researcher-writer April Holloway sides with that scenario as well. Historians agree that Vlad and Radu were held by the Ottoman Turks as political hostages in the 1440s, during their teenage years, to ensure the loyalty of Vlad II Dracul, their father. Tokat Castle, a Turkish fortress in the northern region of Anatolia, was a natural place for the boys to have been held.

Mysteries and missteps

Their life in Turkish captivity wasn't exactly solitary confinement. It's said that Vlad was educated in the Turkish language and literature, as well as warfare and horsemanship. But it's also said that the young Vlad developed his intense hatred for the Turks during this time. After the death of Vlad's father and his brother in 1447, the Turks freed the two hostages — and by some accounts helped engineer Vlad III's initial rise to power in 1448.

Over the decades that followed, Vlad III, his rivals in Wallachia and the Turks went through more shifts in fortune than a "Game of Thrones" novel. After several reigns of terror, Vlad the Impaler was killed under mysterious circumstances in late 1476 or early 1477, and his head was sent to the Turks as a trophy. Historians say the rest of his body was buried in present-day Romania, either at the Comana monastery or the Snagov monastery — but archaeologists have found no traces of the body.

A few months ago, Estonian scholars claimed to have found evidence that Vlad III ended up being buried in Naples, Italy, rather than Romania — but those claims were quickly debunked. The episode could well serve as a cautionary tale for anyone reading the reports about "Dracula's Dungeons."