Most people go to Greece for beaches, ouzo and temples gleaming in the Mediterranean sun. I went for a vampire. But what I found there led me beyond pop culture images of vampires to a darker part of the human imagination.
In the midst of searching for ancient ruins, an archaeological team from UBC stumbled on a cemetery from the time of the Ottoman empire. The lead researcher wanted an osteologist to study the skeletons -- especially one that might have been accused, all those long years ago, of being a vampire.
There wasn't much question of not going, of course. I was a graduate student in osteology -- studying human bones for what they can tell us about life in the past and today. Greece sounded exciting, and studying the cemetery would give me the chance to do the kind of research I wanted to spend my life on. A 'vampire' to work on was an intriguing bonus.
When I got to Mytilene, Greece and took a look at our 'vampire,' I saw what seemed to have been a normal man in every way. What was unusual was the way he'd been buried. In a graveyard full of corpses neatly aligned and placed in the earth in simple shrouds, this man had been put into a coffin, then into a pit dug into the stony core of an old wall. Three large metal spikes crossed his body at the neck, pelvis and ankles.
Someone, it seemed, didn't want him to leave.
Vampires go back a long way deep into European folklore: further than Edward Cullen, black-and-white Bela Lugosi movies and 19th century vampire thrillers like Dracula. When this man was buried in this wall, belief in vampires stretched from Eastern Europe, where the stories that inspired Dracula came from, down through the Balkans to Greece.
These folkloric vampires weren't much like the modern version. They were corpses animated by demons, and although some could pass as human, many were ghastly things with swollen bodies and discoloured skin -- looking more like zombies than movie vampires. They rarely bit anyone, and bite victims never turned into vampires; they would simply waste away and die, as would someone who met a vampire on the road or answered its knock at the door. Some vampires didn't kill at all but acted more like pesky poltergeists, banging on walls, breaking crockery and harassing livestock. A few simply seemed to want to hang around the people and places they once knew.
Corpses could become vampires in many ways. A sinful life could do it, as could events beyond a person's control like a mistake in their funeral rites. When nightmares, unexplained sickness or other bad luck made a community suspect that a recently deceased person had become a vampire, the body had to be treated to chase the demon out, or at least ensure the corpse stayed put. This could be done with the classic wooden or metal stake through the heart (Stoker got this right), head, navel or pelvis. A sharp blade might be laid across the neck, or the head might be cut off completely. Objects -- ranging from tiny seeds to the corpse's own head -- could be put between the ankles. The corpse could be "kept down" by binding its hands or covering the grave with a large rock. If all else failed, it might be torn apart or burned.
So, was this really a vampire? We think so. Burial in the wall echoes the idea of keeping the corpse down, and the stakes were found in places that got a lot of attention when suspect corpses were dealt with. Over the years, Greek archaeologists have found other suspected vampire burials -- including one on the same island, with stakes in the same positions- - and I suspect more will follow.
We'll probably never know why this man was singled out. There's nothing unusual apparent about him, and this was true of a lot of corpses suspected of becoming 'vampires.' People facing fears and worries -- sickness, bad luck, dreams of the departed -- would blame a recent corpse. If they dug it up, chances are they'd find a decaying corpse that looked a lot like what they expected a vampire to look like. Case closed, and fears, at least for a while, averted.
On the surface, there's not much in common between Twilight and the older vampires of folklore. But sometimes, at this time of the year, I wonder. In the end, the people who buried the Mytilene 'vampire' were nervous about death and the unknown.
Today, on Halloween, we may laugh at the darkness. But maybe that's just our own way of dealing with the same fear...
There’s a reason Paris is at the top of many travel lists, but there’s a dark underbelly that one might not associate with a city that boasts love, crepes and the Eiffel Tower. The influence vampires had on literature in Paris goes as far back as Charles Baudelaire and Alexander Dumas. Paris was also the set for many of the very first vampire films. For the vampire enthusiast nowadays, a trip to the Musee des Vampires is an absolute necessity. The museum hosts a dinner party every night where guests get a guided tour, play vampire-related games and have the chance to engage in conversation with like-minded vampire folk. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-france/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to France</a>. Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/peachy6/" target="_hplink">Peachy6</a>
Before Bella, Edward, Sookie, Bill and the rest of the gang, Anne Rice attracted the attention of vampire fans when she published her wildly successful novel, Interview with a Vampire. Situated in New Orleans, the cult classic tells the story of Louis de Pointe du Lac, a 200-year-old blood-sucking beast. While Hurricane Katrina has diluted much of the popularity surrounding these mythical beings in New Orleans, there is still plenty to do and see, including vampire shops, vampire balls, vampire tours and vampire film festivals. Need a pair of authentic fangs? Don’t worry, you’ll find those too. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-new-orleans/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to New Orleans</a>. Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/34128007@N04/" target="_hplink">prayitno</a>
While London is a world-class city and widely popular spot for any type of traveler, its ancient history is what makes it a great destination for the vampire lover. Make sure to take the original vampire tour that goes through Dracula’s house, the Highgate Cemetery (said to be haunted by a vampire), the Highgate Woods (where Satanists and witches hung out) and loads of other dark attractions. The tour finishes with a medieval-inspired dinner and show. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-London/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to London</a>.
Recent discoveries of 700-year-old vampire skeletons have put Bulgaria on the map as a vampire destination. Over the last few decades, more than 100 corpses have been found with iron rods sticking into their chests. It’s believed that Bulgarians once did this to prevent the dead from becoming vampires. Head over to the National Museum of History in Sofia to check out these mysterious skeletons and 650,000 other exhibits. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-bulgaria/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to Bulgaria</a>.
While Transylvania might be an obvious destination for vampire lovers, there’s good reason for that. Transylvania is teeming with vampire history thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Visitors can see castles and sights connected to Dracula, including the infamous Bran Castle and the ancient Poenari Fortress. Vampire enthusiasts will love the medieval city of Sighisoara which hosts loads of Dracula-themed tours and is considered the birthplace of the villainous blood-sucker. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-romania/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to Romania</a>. Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/astanglin/" target="_hplink">bigaila</a>
Ancient stories of vampire attacks in and around Prague have plagued the city for centuries, and the stories continue today. Just outside of the city, in the neighboring town of Celakovice, a Czech archaeologist discovered the largest vampire graveyard in history, with 14 adult corpses buried having taken “anti-vampire” precautions. Those looking to dive into the vampire folklore must check out the graveyards of Prague, many of which are filled with stories of vampires, and take a ghost walking tour. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-czech-republic/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to the Czech Republic</a>.
If you’re a fan of the fanged creatures, you know why Forks, Washington makes the list. A small, damp town in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Forks blew up as a tourist destination after the publication of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Visitors looking to experience the life of Bella and Edward flock to La Push beach and eat mushroom ravioli at Bella Italia. The Forks Tourism Board has loads of information on Twilight hot spots around town, but you can also grab a guided tour. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-washington-state/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to Washington State</a>. Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/62313790@N00/" target="_hplink">ilya_ktsn</a>
The Yorkshire Coast town of Whitby is one of the settings in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, something the residents of Whitby have embraced. Whitby has become a popular spot for visitors looking to get in touch with their dark side, especially during the bi-annual Whitby Gothic Weekend. The Dracula Experience, a distinctive show that takes viewers through the Dracula story and its connection to Whitby, is a must-see for vampire lovers. Plus, the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby puts on a Vampire Ball that is to die for – figuratively speaking, of course. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-united-kingdom/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to the United Kingdom</a>.
Cachtice Castle, home to the Countess Elizabeth Bathory during the 13th century, still stands today in the quiet countryside of Cachtice. Bathory, also known as The Blood Countess or Countess Dracula, is one of the most infamous female serial killers in history, having murdered and tortured hundreds of her servants. The best part is she bathed in the blood of her virginal victims in an attempt to maintain her youth and beauty. The castle has been in decay since the 17th century, but visitors are still aware of the eerie atmosphere. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-slovakia/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to Slovakia</a>.
Los Angeles might not come to the top of your head as a vampire destination, but we guarantee you won’t run out of vampire-related things to do in the City of Angels. Thousands travel to Los Angeles every year to attend Vampire Balls, the Vampire Film Festival, the Dark Shadows Festival and loads of other events geared toward vampire fans. And for those who loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, check out filming locations around Los Angeles, like Buffy’s house, her high school and the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. Search and compare <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-los-angeles/" target="_hplink">cheap flights to Los Angeles</a>.