Has the tomb of Vlad III the Impaler, the historical Dracula, been found in the center of Naples in Italy? Not really.
Experts and bloggers are now debunking the claim that circulated late last week, saying it’s not rooted in real history but rather resembles a Da Vinci Code conspiracy novel.
According to a report in the Italian daily Il Mattino, the remains of the 15th century Romanian prince upon which Bram Stoker's gothic novel "Dracula" is based, lie in a cloister in the Santa Maria La Nova church in Naples.
The report cited historian Raffaele Glinni, his brother Giandomenico, a researcher at the University of Tallin in Estonia, and Nicola Barbatelli, director of Italy’s Museum of Ancient Populations as the team behind the discovery.
Following a tip from a student Erika Stella, who was researching the cloister of Santa Maria Nova in Naples for her doctorate, Glinni and colleagues investigated a marble tomb covered in what they believe are clear symbols pointing to Dracula: a dragon and two opposing sphinxes.
"The dragon means Dracula and the two opposing sphinxes represent the city of Thebes which the Egyptians called Tepes. In these symbols, the very name of count Dracula Tepes is written," Raffaello Glinni told Il Mattino.
Glinni and colleagues, who have already filed an official request to open the tomb, believe Vlad III, the Prince of Wallachia, didn’t die in a battle sometime between October 31 and December 31, 1476, as it was previously assumed, but was imprisoned by the Turks.
According to the researchers, his daughter Maria Balsa, who was brought to the Neapolitan court at the age of seven and later married to Count Giacomo Alfonso Ferrillo, paid the ransom. Vlad eventually died in Naples and was buried in the church of Santa Maria Nova in the grave of the Ferrillo family.
As intriguing as it might sound, the story appears to have many holes.
"The article doesn’t say how credible these researchers are. A simple Google search would have been enough. In 2009 they claimed to have discovered a Leonardo da Vinci self portrait," art historian Tomaso Montanari wrote in the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Raffaele Glinni, a lawyer and self declared historian, appears with his brother in the website "Mysterious Lucania" which reveals his somewhat mixed area of research.
"Knights Templar? Check. Freemasonry? Check. Da Vinci? You bet. Gibberings about non-specific magical vortices? Not looking too good," The BS Historian wrote.
The blogger noted that basic errors emerge in Glinni quotes: "Vlad was not a 'Count' like his fictional namesake, he was a voivode (prince)." Glinni should have known that.
Moreover, while the dragon was indeed the main element in the badge of the Order of the Dragon to which Vlad III's father belonged, none of the Order dragon depictions resemble that on the Italian bas-relief.
As for the sphinxes, the "Thebes/Tepes connection seems to be entirely spurious," the BS Historian said.
"Thebes itself is a Greek placename, Tepes a Turkish word for Impaler. Where's the connection?" the blogger asked.
It is unlikely the Tepes nickname was used in Vlad’s lifetime since it was considered an insult.
Indeed Vlad, born sometime between 1428 and 1431, probably in Sighişaora, Transylvania, gained the infamous nickname from his cruel method of execution. During the fight against Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1462, he impaled some 20,000 people outside the city of Targoviste. The sight was so shocking that the Ottomans retreated to Constantinople.
As for Vlad's secret daughter, a historical figure named Maria Balsa does exist, but there is no account which links her to Vlad, whose recorded offspring are only sons.
Most historians believe that Dracula was killed on a road between Bucharest and Giurgiu, Romania, during a fight to reconquer Wallachia from its Turkish ruler Basarab Laiota.
Laiota beheaded Vlad and sent the head as a trophy to Constantinople.
"The body was buried without special ornaments or a more distinguished tombstone, in the nearest church built by or connected to his name," medieval historian Constantin Rezachevici, chief researcher with the Nicolae Iorga Institute of History of the Romanian Academy, wrote in a paper presented at a symposium on Vlad the Impaler in Romania in 2001.
According to Rezachevici, one such building in the area was the monastery of Comana. Built by Vlad III himself, it was demolished about one century after his death.
As for the carved dragon on the alleged Dracula tomb in Naples, historical records associate it to the coat of arms of Matteo Ferrillo, Maria Balsa's father-in-law.
"There you have it. The tomb is that of a known Italian noble, with recognized arms," Jason Colavito writes in his blog. He found in Arthur Charles Fox-Davies’s Art of Heraldry (1904) the exact description of Ferrillo's arms.
"Just to put a nail in the coffin, so to speak, on the same page Fox-Davies gives two more examples of Italian nobles who also had nearly identical dragon's head arms on their tombs," Colavito writes.
The nobles were Buffardo Cicinella of Florence, who died in 1455 and Ludovico de Caccialupo of Bologna, who died around 1451. Both passed away before Vlad’s death.
"It was not a unique or secret symbol," Colavito said.
Nevertheless, the church of Santa Maria La Nova is now becoming a top tourist attraction.
"Several tourist groups have asked Barbatelli’s museum to organize guided tours on Dracula’s tracks in Naples," Il Mattino wrote.
Image: Facade of the Santa Maria La Nova church in Naples. Credit: Armando Mancini/Wikimedia Commons; Portrait of Vlad the Impaler. Credit:Wikimedia Commons.