Vampires are typically associated with gloomy, foreboding castles in Transylvania, but the original stories of the štrigoi are even older than Dracula and can be found in remote parts of Europe as well. In fact, one of the most chilling legends comes from Kringa, a small Istrian town in what is now modern-day Croatia. Within this Balkan state, there was once a man by the name of Jure Grando who became the first living person in history to ever be documented as a real vampire.
Life was quiet and conventional in this little town, and people all knew each other well. Although Grando was thought to be a somewhat nasty character, his wife was pleasant enough, and they appeared to live a quiet, ordinary life. He made a decent living as a stonecutter in the local quarry, and aside from the occasional rude run-in with neighbors, mostly kept to himself. While he was alive, anyway.
According to a 17th-century historian, the townspeople of Kringa believed in a type of vampire known as a štrigon which was the local word for demon or warlock. These creatures were thought to be sorcerers, who fed on human blood and wandered around in the darkest time of night, knocking on doors and silently creeping into houses looking for female victims to assault or kill.
So, when Jure Grando died in 1656 due to illness and was buried in the local cemetery, no one gave it much thought. But according to the legend, he did not want to stay buried and began appearing on the narrow cobblestone streets of the town at the darkest hours of the night. Neighbors reported hearing his shuffling feet outside their door and seeing his figure outside their window. And sometimes townspeople would hear three sharp knocks on their front door, a sign that something terrible was approaching. Anyone who heard these sounds in the dead of night could expect to attend the funeral of a family member that same week.
Sightings of the frightful Grando went on for 16 long years after his death, and the citizens of the community were constantly terrified. And the worst part? No one seemed to have any idea what could be done to stop it. Although neighbors told chilling stories of his hauntings, Grando’s wife made the most disturbing claims about her dead husband, reporting his regular appearance at her window in the dark of night. Smiling and gasping for breath, Grando would watch her with beady red eyes and sometimes even enter the room and sexually assault her. She (and the town in general) had no idea how to escape his dreaded visits or put him back in his grave permanently. Much to their chagrin, it appeared old Grando had, indeed, crossed over from human to štrigoi.
The villagers tried many tactics to rid themselves of Grando, but he seemed immune to their vain attempts. When the village priest, Giorgio, came face to face with the marauding vampire one night, he held out a cross and exclaimed protection in the name of Christ—but to no avail—Grando was nonplussed, and the problem persisted. Another time, the bravest man in the village chased him, attempting to pierce his chest with a sharp hawthorn stick but it apparently wasn’t sharp enough and just bounced right off. So even though the villagers were petrified and infuriated, they couldn’t figure out how to vanquish the beast.
The following night, the mayor of the village and a determined group of brave men decided they’d had enough; they were going to hunt Grando down and put an end to his reign of terror. Nine in total, they walked to the local cemetery, pried open the door of his tomb, and opened Grando’s coffin. Despite the date of his death 16 years before, it is said the men found Grando’s body perfectly intact, with a contented smile on his pale face. The men were shocked and horrified to have their fears confirmed while Father Giorgio exclaimed, “Look, štrigon, there is Jesus Christ who saved us from hell and died for us. And you, štrigon, you cannot have peace!”
They tried again to pierce his heart with the wooden stick, but it was apparently too light for the job. At that point, the priest recited a few exorcism prayers and a villager named Stipan Milašić grabbed his saw and took Grando’s head clean off. The vampire’s bloodshot eyes popped open in horror and he let out a piercing cry, blood spewing from his wound, as the men quickly slammed down the top of the coffin and ran for the door. Their bloody efforts were rewarded, however, as peace was finally returned to Kringa.
While many people in the Balkans agree Jure Grando was, indeed, a real man it’s understandably harder to believe he somehow shifted into a bloodsucking monster after his death. But the Kinga legend is a strong one that has been well documented by valid 19th-century science writers and various books and essays on the subject. In fact, the very first document ever written on vampires, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, was published in 1689 by the German scientist Johann Weikhard von Valvasor and lavishly illustrates the history, geography, customs, theology, and folklore of the Carniolan region and its vampiric legacy.
There have been many other depictions of the legend since the most recent being Boris Perić’s The Vampire. Some of these depictions are more sensationalized than others, but the essential details of Grando’s frightful life after death remain the same, speaking to the durability and pervasiveness of a legend about a man whose monstrous character preceded even the most famous vampire, Vlad the Impaler.
Today, the remote town of Kringa has little excitement outside of the Grando phenomenon, which has been widely embraced by locals looking to make a living on curious visitors. The Gothic buildings are delightfully decayed, offering some vampire-themed bars and touristy shops selling souvenirs like garlic-scented candles. Kringa offers the unique opportunity to spend the night in a refurbished bedroom styled in perfect keeping within the 17th-century era of Grando, and you can even visit his ancestral home where he once terrorized his own wife.
So, while the old vampire may have finally been vanquished by the townspeople, he is still very much alive, keeping the air of mystery in his hometown just a little more poignant and reminding the world of one epic legend.
And the rest is history