Tokat, which became Ottoman territory during the reign of Yıldırım Bayezid, served as an important political, military and economic center of Ottoman Anatolia throughout history. The city of Tokat and its castle were used to keep hostages, criminals and sometimes various members of a dynasty and prisoners of war under control.
It was chosen for this job because it had an unpopulated, sturdy castle. Evliya Çelebi, the famous 17th century Ottoman traveler, described Tokat Castle, built on top of a rocky peak, as one of the most remarkable castles in Anatolia. In a paper titled "Reluctant Guests in Tokat," Ahmet Önal tells of the stories of those held in the castle and of Vlad the Impaler's forced sojourn in Tokat.
From Romania to Tokat
Vlad II ascended the Wallachian throne in 1436 after overthrowing his stepbrother Alexandru Aldea. His middle son Vlad, who would be known later as "Vlad the Impaler," was born in 1431 in Erdel (Transylvania).
In 1438, Ottoman Sultan Murad II summoned the Serbian despot George Brankovic (Vılkoğlu) and Vlad II Dracul, the prince of Wallachia, to Edirne to pay homage to him. George Brankovic did not come himself but sent his two sons to Edirne as hostages.
The two princes were immediately sent to a dungeon but one of them, Gregory, managed to escape and returned to Smederevo. Murad II besieged and captured Smederevo during the following summer and took Gregory captive. Gregory was taken back to Edirne and before long, sent with his brother, who was still in dungeon, to a prison called Bedevi Çardak in Tokat Castle.
Vlad II Dracul, the prince of Wallachia, however, obeyed the invitation and came to Edirne with his two sons: Vlad Tepes (Vlad III, the future Vlad the Impaler) and Radu cel Frumos (Radu the Handsome). Vlad II was first imprisoned in the Gallipoli fortress but released later only on the condition that he leave his sons behind as hostages.
Vlad Tepes and Radu were first held in Kütahya, Eğrigöz and then sent to Tokat. Vlad Tepes' forced sojourn in Tokat Castle, which became the subject of a novel, is said to have shaped his later life. In a recently published novel by C.C. Humphrey, "Vlad: The Last Confession, Vancouver" (2008), Vlad the Impaler's imprisonment in Tokat Castle is described in detail, with the focus on the negative effects the imprisonment had on his psyche. After Tokat, Vlad the Impaler was sent to Edirne.
Vlad III Dracula stayed in Ottoman lands until 1448 and received education there. During his stay, he always faced the danger of death or blinding due to his father's occasional collaboration with Crusaders.
Worst man in 1,000 years
The Vlad the Impaler's father Vlad and brother Mircea were accused by Janos Hunyadi, a famous Hungarian general at the time, of collaborating with the Turks and of being treacherous allies. Upon Hunyadi's punitive assault on Wallachia in 1447, most of the Wallachian nobles sided with him. The Impaler Voivode's older brother Mircea was captured, tortured and eventually buried alive.
As for his father, though he managed to escape, he was subsequently captured and killed near Bucharest. The Impaler Voivode became the Prince of Wallachia in 1448 with the help of Ottoman troops after the Ottomans defeated a Crusader army led by Janos Hunyadi in the Second Battle of Kosovo the same year.
But he was defeated and ousted after only two months by Vladislav II, his rival to the Wallachian throne, and fled to the Ottoman Empire. Vlad stayed in Moldavia under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II. By 1452, a surprising incident took place; the Impaler Voivode entered a political alliance with Janos Hunyadi, who was involved in the murder of his father and brother. In 1456, he regained the Wallachian throne. He is remembered for his inhumane cruelty during his reign.
Following his cruelty to Turks, Mehmed II Conqueror personally led a military campaign against Vlad III. When the Ottoman army entered Wallachia in 1462, Vlad the Impaler fled, hardly escaping with his life. His brother Radul was put on the throne. Vlad returned to Wallachia in 1476 and ascended the throne again after the death of his brother. But two months later, Ottoman soldiers captured and killed Vlad the Impaler, who waged a ruthless war against them.
Known as "Dracul" (or devil) by Hungarians, "Çpelpuç" (executioner) by Wallachians and as "the Impaler Voivode" by Turks, Vlad III Tepes, Voivode of Wallachia, was among the most brutal figures in the last 1,000 years. In an assessment of the past millennium before entering the year 2000, Hitler and Vlad the Impaler were chosen as the worst people of the last thousand years.
Evliya Çelebi describes Tokat Castle as follows: "It is a strong castle built on a high peak from white cut stone, but it is not big. Its total circumference is 5,060 feet. It is surrounded by very high formidable ramparts that soar into the sky, ornamented by towers and crowned with castellated walls, with no moats around it. Since there are deep gorges on all sides like the pits of hell, it's impossible to dig a moat around it. It is surrounded by multicolored rocks where eagles, hawks and owls nest. It has an iron gate located in the west.
"The citadel contains the residences of the castle warden, lieutenant, imam, muezzin and members of the military band, along with an arsenal, granaries, cisterns and aqueducts named the Gazelle Road [Ceylan Yolu].
"A 362-step stairway made of cut stone descends to the river. The Ayyar Rock on the west side is inclined to the castle. And there is only Yıldırım Han Mosque within the citadel but no inn, bathhouse or marketplace, for as it is a high castle that soars into the sky, not every man can climb to it in an hour.
"For the same reason, its gate is always closed day and night. But the heavily armed gatekeepers always keep watch since all the valuable goods of the residents of the city lying beneath are kept in the castle. All criminals and murderers are imprisoned there. Karak Castle serves as a dungeon for the Noble Jerusalem, but Tokat Castle seems like the Kahkaha Castle of Persia."
According to a story narrated by Evliya Çelebi, Kara Yusuf, the Karakoyunlu ruler, took shelter in Tokat Castle after fleeing from Tamerlane and taking refuge in Ottoman lands during the reign of Yıldırım Bayezid.
Tamerlane came with a large army and besieged the castle but got frustrated and retreated as he "failed to move even a single stone despite fierce attacks." Upon that, Tamerlane demanded Yıldırım Bayezid surrender Kara Yusuf to him. Bayezid's refusal led to enmity between them. Following the defeat of Yıldırım Bayezid in the Battle of Ankara and his subsequent death, Kara Yusuf "escaped from" Tokat Castle and went to Egypt. After narrating that story, Evliya Çelebi comments about Tokat Castle as follows: "In short, many a brigands and robbers since Tamerlane had laid siege to Tokat Castle but failed to move even a hand-sized stone from it and retreated in disappointment. It is such a strong fortress."