When we think about getting to know some city we usually focus on its history and most visited tourist destinations. Undoubtedly, finding out about them is really helpful in planning a visit but what is more exciting and absolutely crucial to feel the atmosphere of the place is to get to know its legends, myths and stories, which were transmitted by word of mouth for centuries. In this article you will find some of them and I promise that when you finish you will find Kraków even more engaging.
What are the legends of the city? Actually, there is plenty of them and it’s extremely difficult to pick just few of them. Nevertheless, I’ll try to make you familiar with the most popular ones. So… let’s begin with a legend about Wawel’s dragon (Legenda o Smoku Wawelskim) – The tale of Smok Wawelski.
Once upon a time, during the reign of mythical King KRAK a terrible beast lived in the city. There was a terrifying dragon (Smok Wawelski) staying in a cave under the Wawel Castel. The dragon hounded the people and terrorized the farmers. The beast was decimating herds of sheep and scaring people by giving off a fire. The king knew about the monster and he was looking for help; in order to stop the terror he was inviting various illustrious knights to fight the beast. The king was promising some great awards and treasures but at some point ,daredevils stopped arriving. No one could even hurt the monster. The king and the people were in despair when the last daredevil appeared. He was much different from his predecessors, he wasn’t a knight nor a great scholar but a simple shoemaker (Szewczyk Dratewka). He promised the king to beat the dragon and….. he did; however, not because of any fighting skills but his own cleverness. He prepared a bag full of sulphur powder and he put it into the dead- sheep corpse. He also knew how to stich the sheep leather and he used that skill to make the sheep looking authentic (as an ordinary sheep). Then, he went near the beast’s place and threw the fake sheep into the cave. The dragon, as greedy as usual, ate the sheep without hesitation and immediately started feeling extremely thirsty. So thirsty was the beast that it started drinking water from the Vistula river but the more it was drinking the more intense was its thirst. The dragon kept drinking the water and his belly grew bigger and bigger but he still couldn’t quench the terrible thirst. Suddenly his big big belly exploded and the beast died. The shoemaker was called a hero and ,as some versions of the story say, he even married a daughter of the king. And… the couple along with the Cracovians lived long in peace and happiness.
The second most known legend about the Cracow is a story of Lajkonik, who saved the city.
A long, long time ago when the Vistula river was still used as a trade – route and some bargemen worked there, an unexpected attack happened. The Tatars were coming to the city centre (through Zwierzyniec, that used to be a separate village and now it’s one of the city’s quarter). Obviously, they were preparing to attack and conquer Cracow when those working bargemen noticed them. The brave bargemen decided to protect the city and face the enemy. They managed to kill one of the Tatars commander (Tatar Khan) and the invaders ceased the attack; a victory meant that Tatars pulled out. Then, the group of the bargemen with one of the them dressed up as Tatar Khan riding on the wooden horse – (Lajkonik) went through the city. People were greeting them and cheering; being thankful for the protection. Lajkonik were frisking and playing all the way through the city. The story of famous Lajkonik – protector has survived centuries and has become a tradition which we follow every year during the octave of Corpus Christi Day. This is the time when Lajkonik goes through the streets of Cracow fooling around with the passer-by and greeting them. It’s also said that anyone who got hit by his mace will be blessed with luckiness.
Summing up, I hope you enjoyed the first part of my legend –telling article and feel like getting to know more about those Cracow mysterious stories. If so, follow us and don’t miss the next part, in which I’ll be writing about “King Łokietek’s cave” and a famous melody played by a trumpeter every hour out of the tower of St. Mary’s Church.
1. „Opowieści Starego Krakowa” Jan Adamczewski, wyd. Skrzat Kraków 1998