Legends run rampant through Krakow’s Old Town- and we invite you to get acquainted with them below. If you would like even more insight into these legends, and the truth behind many of them, come on a walking tour of the Old Town with me! My friends and I give tours of the Old Town, twice per day!
The dragon of Wawel Castle is one of the most well known legends in Krakow. On almost every street corner you can buy a souvenir of a little green dragon. The story goes, that when King Wawelski ruled, there lived a dragon under Wawel hill. He wanted someone to marry his very beautiful daughter, Wanda, so he decided that whoever could kill the dragon would have her hand in marriage. Knights from all parts of the kingdom tried to defeat the dragon, but no one could. Then, a clever cobbler named Krak, came to the king with a plan to kill the dragon. He took a sheepskin, filled it with sulphur, and set it outside the dragons cave. When the dragon woke up, he ate the sulphur-filled sheepskin. The sulphur made his stomach boil so he went to the Vistula and drank and drank and drank, until finally he exploded! The story is wonderful and filled with the sort of medieval adventure of Sir Gawain or the other knights of the round table. Today, the dragon is the symbol of Krakow and you can even find a fire-breathing statue of Smok Wawelski outside Wawel Castle. Or explore his former home, the Dragon’s Den caves under Wawel Castle (only open in around Summer).
Princess Wanda and Her Burial Mound
The Wanda Mound is dedicated to the princess Wanda, daughter of King Krak. Legend goes that a German king was asking for her hand in marriage, but she refused. He came back with an army to take Krakow and the princess, so to save the town and herself, she flung herself off of Wawel Hill and into the Vistula River. Her body was supposedly found where the mound is now.
The Hejnał: Krakow’s Legendary Trumpeter
The Hejnał, like the dragon, is one of the legends that is very engrained in Krakow’s culture. It is also one of the most easily recognizable. If you are in the main square at the top of the hour on any day you will certainly get a chance to hear the hejnał played from the tallest tower in St. Mary’s Church. The legend stems from the wars between the Tatars and the Poles. There was a watchman that stood in a tower watching for any invading Tatars. One day, he saw them and went to sound the warning. As he started playing his horn, one of the Tatars shot him in the neck, abruptly stopping the alarm. This is why, even until today they have played the Hejnał until this abrupt stop. So listen carefully when you hear the trumpet and see if you can catch the sobering tribute to the trumpet player who was killed trying to save the town of Krakow.
The legend of Lajkonik also dates back to the time of the Tatar invasions. The legend differs, but the most popular is that after defeated the Tatars, the Polish army dressed up in the Khan’s clothes and paraded triumphantly around the city. Today, there is a festival held each year on the Thursday after Corpus Christi, with men dressed as Tatars parading on fake horse throughout the town square. The legend is so popular, it’s even featured on the seat coverings of most trams!
St. Mary’s Towers
St. Mary’s church is one of the most visited sites in Krakow. What many people don’t know is the legend behind the two, very different and slightly lopsided, towers of the famous church. Legend has it that the construction of the church began with two brothers. As they got closer to finishing the church they began to get more and more jealous of one another. They started building faster and more extravagantly, until one brother got so jealous that he stabbed his brother, leaving his tower unfinished. The surviving finished his tower, making sure that it was taller than his brothers and then topped off the other as well. Supposedly, the knife that killed one of the brothers is hanging in the Cloth Hall across the way. If you want to see the knife, just look in the middle archway on the east side of the monument. You will see it hanging just below an old lamp.
The Krakow Pigeons
There was once a prince that assumed the throne of Krakow- his only wish was to unite all the Polish lands and be crowned King of all of them, but he had a problem. He had no money! So he went to a witch, who offered him a spell. She would turn Krakow’s Army into pigeons and everything they pecked would turn to gold. The prince could then take this gold to the Pope and perhaps convince him of this plan to be King!
As the prince quickly gathered enough gold- he set off on his mission. Unfortunately, with so much money at his disposal, he got quite carried away, and was easily distracted on his journey by brothels and bars alike! The irresponsible prince never made it to the Pope, and in fact ran out of all of his money, unable to return to Krakow as King, the army remains trapped inside the bodies of Krakow’s pigeons even today!