Almost every country has legend or tale that involves a dragon. Whether its a courageous knight set out to defeat it as told by the well-known British legend in Saint George and the Dragon, or how it comes to bring good luck to a village as mentioned in several Chinese folklore’s, humans for centuries have always been fascinated by dragons.
In Poland, there is a famous legend about a dragon that once ravaged the city of Kraków. It is known as the Wawel Dragon or Smok Wawelski. The story is very popular even today and almost every Polish child knows about it. The following is some information about the Kraków Dragon.
Story of the Kraków Dragon
A popular version of this story tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krak, the city’s legendary founder.
A long, long time ago when Krakow was still but a village, a dreadful dragon moved into a cave underneath Wawel Castle. The monster was huge, nasty and always hungry. Many knights died trying to chase it away. Finally King Krak – the ruler of Kraków – announced that whoever killed the beast would marry his daughter and reign over half his kingdom. A shoemaker named Dratewka decided to rise to the challenge. He killed a large ram, stuffed it with sulfur and left it in front of the dragon’s lair. The dragon came out and ate the ram which made it start to feel extremely thirsty. It began to drink water from the Vistula River which made it start to swell. At some point the dragon’s body could not withstand that much water and exploded.
The Dragon’s Den
The Dragon’s Den is a limestone cave in the western slope of Wawel Hill. It is said to be the lair of Smok Wawelski. Visitors can enter through it, which leads them down a long, spiral flight of steep stairs to a succession of three rock chambers with fossils and highly divergent karst formations. The rest of it, including five underground ponds and narrow passages are too dangerous and off limits to visitors. The exit leads through the mouth of the cave situated next to the embankment upon the Wisla river.
In Wawel Cathedral, there is an odd collection of massive bones chained up on the left outside the entrance. While legend obviously purports these to be the bones of Smok Wawelski – more conventional wisdom has claimed they might be parts belonging to a blue whale, wooly mammoth, rhinoceros, or all three. At any rate, they haven’t been removed and inspected for centuries due to their magical properties, which are credited with protecting the city from destruction during centuries of Polish partition and particularly during WWII when almost every other major city in Poland was destroyed.
In 1970 a metal sculpture of the Wawel Dragon was placed in front of the dragon’s den. The sinewy creature is the creation of Kraków’s maverick artist Bronislaw Chromy. Currently the dragon breathes fire every five minutes, or when an SMS with the text “SMOK” is sent to the number 7168. The street leading along the banks of the river leading towards the castle is ulica smocza, which translates as “Dragon Street”.