The Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski) – Legend of the Wawel Dragon, Cracow

legendsThe Wawel DragonWawel

Once upon a time, the city of Cracow was ruled by the good and respected King Krak. He made sure that Cracow prospered and its citizens lived in peace and prosperity. He cared about the safety of his subjects. But one day, an uninvited guest appeared, causing terror and a great stir among the people. It was huge, its body was covered with green scales, its tail stretched several metres long, it had huge paws and its mouth was filled with sharp teeth. It was the terrifying Wawel Dragon! The very sight of the intruder was chilling. It made its home in a den beneath the castle and began to make the residents’ lives miserable. He demanded that a fat cow be sacrificed to him once a week, and if the demand was not met, he spread havoc among the herds of other animals. He also happened to kidnap young maidens.

Pomnik Smoka Wawelskiego
Wawel Dragon Monument in Cracow, photo: Jakub Żak

The king could not allow an unbearable monster to destroy the lives of the castle’s inhabitants any longer. As he was a wise and sensible ruler, he did not disregard the voice of his subjects. He announced that the knight who defeated the dragon would be lavishly rewarded. Many made attempts, but to no avail. They died one by one, trying to defeat the monster. Previously, they had only heard about it in stories, but now they had to face a real one, breathing fire, with sharp teeth and claws.

The conqueror of the Wawel Dragon

The situation in the Krakow stronghold was deteriorating, the people were in a gloomy mood, concerned about the further actions of the reptile, and more and more animals in herds were beginning to disappear. Concerned, the king decided to challenge the dragon to a duel. But who was to do it? Information about the search for a daredevil was sent to the neighbouring kingdoms. They were looking for a daredevil who would defeat the monster, and in return for this feat would receive the hand of a beautiful princess. Brave knights began arriving in Cracow in crowds, armed, with sabres in their hands and eager for the hand of the king’s daughter. Unfortunately, none of them defeated the dragon. The Krak began to lose hope that Cracow would be freed from its oppression, when suddenly Szewczyk Dratewka appeared in the kingdom and announced that he knew how to kill the monster. He had no armour or weapons, but nevertheless, the desperate king decided to give him a chance.

Pomnik Smoka Wawelskiego w Krakowie
Wawel Dragon Monument in Cracow, photo: Jakub Żak

Shoemaker (Szewczyk) had a clever plan. He killed a fat ram and filled it with sulphur. He threw it on his back and went under the dragon’s den. Remaining attentive, he sneaked under the very entrance and tossed the animal as quietly as he could. It looked deceptively like a living creature, so it didn’t take long for the dragon to take an interest in the greedy morsel. Lured by the smell of fresh meat, it emerged from its den and devoured the ram. Suddenly it began to feel extremely thirsty. The sulphur that the animal had been filled with began to burn him so much that he was constantly breathing fire. He threw himself into the Vistula and drank and drank and drank… He became bigger and bigger, more and more bloated, and there was more and more water in the Vistula. Suddenly there was a huge bang and the dragon burst! Thus Cracow was freed from the monster that was making life miserable for its inhabitants. Szewczyk (Shoemaker) Dratewka killed the Wawel Dragon and, in accordance with the King’s promise, was given the King’s daughter’s hand, married her and they lived happily ever after.

Smocza Jama w Krakowie
The Dragon’s Cave in Cracow, photo: Jakub Żak

Where did the Wawel Dragon live?

According to legend, the cave (Dragon’s Cave) located at the foot of Wawel Hill was inhabited by the Wawel Dragon. It is still possible to visit this place today, fortunately without fear of confrontation with the monster. The entrance to the cave is closely guarded by his less threatening double, with whom you can take a souvenir photo or, if you’re lucky, see him breathing fire. The total length of the corridors in the cave is 270 m and the height is 10 m, while the total tour is 81 m. Near the cave, there is a plaque from 1871 commemorating Prince Krakus, the Dragon Slayer. It is a symbolic place, one of the most visited by tourists first and much loved by Cracovians themselves.

Smocza Jama w Krakowie
The Dragon’s Cave in Cracow, photo: Jakub Żak

The legend of the Wawel Dragon in the Polish chronicles

The legend of the Wawel Dragon was first written down at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries by one of the most important chroniclers in the history of Poland and author of the Chronicle of Poland, Wincenty Kadłubek. In the following centuries, the legend is repeated (probably transcribed from Kadłubek) by anonymous chroniclers from the 13th and 14th centuries. Namely, the story of the Wawel Dragon was described in the Polish-Silesian Chronicle, the Dzierzwa Chronicle and the Chronicle of the Polish Princes. Another well-known chronicler who recorded the legend was Jan Długosz, who lived in the 15th century. In the following centuries, the legend of the Wawel Dragon was written down many times, but, as is common with legends, the various versions had differences. Interestingly, it was not until 1555 that the veracity of the legend was questioned. The first to do so was Marcin Kromer, the secretary to King Sigismund I the Old of Poland.

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