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Some scholars think that this tomb in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy, could contain the remains of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula

Some scholars think that this tomb in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy, could contain the remains of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

Some scholars think that this tomb in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy, could contain the remains of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula

Some scholars think that this tomb in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy, could contain the remains of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

Gaudy ceiling murals lead to what could be Dracula's tomb in  the corner of a cloister at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

Gaudy ceiling murals lead to what could be Dracula's tomb in the corner of a cloister at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

The main altar in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova is adorned with agate, lapis lazuli, jasper and lazulite. Completed between 1805 and 1806, it is an example of the ornate artwork inside the church in Naples, Italy.

The main altar in the Church of Santa Maria la Nova is adorned with agate, lapis lazuli, jasper and lazulite. Completed between 1805 and 1806, it is an example of the ornate artwork inside the church in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

A gilded, muraled ceiling is one of the artistic marvels that can be seen at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

A gilded, muraled ceiling is one of the artistic marvels that can be seen at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

A ceiling mural is reflected in a mirrored table set up to enable visitors to better see the artwork above them at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

A ceiling mural is reflected in a mirrored table set up to enable visitors to better see the artwork above them at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

One of 16 side chapels at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy

One of 16 side chapels at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

The gaudy murals covering some parts of the main cloister are a sharp contrast to the more understated Renaissance art inside the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

The gaudy murals covering some parts of the main cloister are a sharp contrast to the more understated Renaissance art inside the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

Dramatic religious scenes are embedded within the visually dense murals in the walkways at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

Dramatic religious scenes are embedded within the visually dense murals in the walkways at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

A finely sculpted marble tomb under a covered walkway at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy.

A finely sculpted marble tomb under a covered walkway at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples, Italy. (Scott Wyland/Stars and Stripes)

The headless body of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, may have been interred more than half a millennium ago at the Church of Santa Maria la Nova in the center of Naples, Italy, some scholars say.

Vlad was a 15th century Transylvanian prince who is said to have killed as many as 20,000 of his enemies by impaling them on stakes in the ground and leaving them to die. Legend has it that he was beheaded in 1476 by an Ottoman patrol in present-day Romania, and his head was taken to Constantinople.

But his burial place was unknown. Vlad was long thought to have been interred at a monastery near Bucharest, but excavations there in 1933 found no tomb beneath the unmarked grave thought to be his.

Some scholars have hypothesized that the aristocrat Maria Balsa, possibly Vlad’s daughter, fled to Naples with his remains and put them in a marble sarcophagus in the church.

Bram Stoker, the Irish author who wrote the book “Dracula,” which was inspired by Vlad, lived in Naples in 1875. Maybe he visited Vlad’s tomb in the church?

With or without Dracula’s tomb, the church is worth a visit. It has 16 chapels, two courtyards and a refectory. The upper section now houses municipal offices.

Built in the 13th century, the church was heavily renovated in the late 1500s after being battered by earthquakes and an explosion from the nearby St. Elmo Castle. Its highlights include an ornate main altar, a gilded ceiling and a slew of Renaissance frescoes.

And, of course, there’s what might be Dracula’s tomb. The engravings on the tomb better fit Vlad than the Italian noble who has long been thought to be entombed there. The main emblem is the seal for the Order of the Dragon, to which Vlad’s father belonged. (Dracula means son of the dragon.) Two paired dolphins may refer to the coat of arms of Dobruja, Romania, where Vlad won a battle against the Ottomans. And a scholar has decoded an encrypted epigraph behind the tomb as “Blad” — roughly Vlad — and “Balkan.”

Heat mysteriously radiates from the tomb. You can feel it.

How incongruous it would be if Vlad really does lie buried in Santa Maria la Nova — a murderous ruler who inspired an unholy literary figure entombed at a site of religious devotion.

Wyland.scott@stripes.com Twitter: @stripes.com

DIRECTIONS: Address: Via Santa Maria la Nova 44, Naples, ItalyTIMES: 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and SundayCOSTS: FreeINFORMATION: Parking: Available at streetside and nearby parking garages. Phone: +39 081 552 1597 Web: The Visitnaples.eu website has a page devoted to the church and Dracula’s supposed tomb. Online: tinyurl.com/yylm56xe


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