Polish legends: Wawel Dragon

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Painting by Marian Wawrzeniecki (1863-1943).

Legend from the city of Kraków (Cracow), one of the oldest cities of Poland and its former royal capital – seat of the Polish kings from the Medieval to Renaissance eras. This story tells also about the semi-legendary king Krak (or Krakus), founder of the city of Kraków who might’ve been living in c. 8th century.

This is a popular version of the legend:

King Krak was a good and wise ruler. Under his guidance the lands were blooming, the walls of the Wawel Castle growing and the people remaining happy and safe.

However, one day a terrible dragon appeared in one of the caves underneath the Wawel Hill. No one knew when and where did it come from – or maybe this ancient creature woke up in one of unexplored tunnels underneath the hill?

The dragon started demanding offerings in a form of young maidens and cattle. Weeks were passing by and the whole-eater terrorized Krak’s lands completely. The best and the most courageous warriors who pledged to the king and also the various knights coming from faraway lands to slay the monster were all burned to death. Dragon’s skin was too thick to be cut even with the finest swords, the best axes or the sharpest spears. Many people escaped the land, choking in fear, and much of the fields and buildings were destroyed by the greedy creature.

Upon king’s desperate last call, a poor shoemaker’s apprentice named Skuba arrived in the throne room with an idea he wanted to share. Skuba said that he’d found a way to kill the dragon. The unusual certainty in his voice and logic behind his expressions convinced the king to give him a chance. But the boy refused to take any kind of armour, shield or sword which were offered to him, and asked only for all the sulphur held in the royal warehouse.

On the next day all the king’s people begun to joke, first time in months, noticing that Skuba arrived indeed only with a sheepskin, shoemaker’s thread and few long needles to the royal workshop. But Krak was observing the boy and only nodding in silence from time to time.

Skuba stuffed the sheepskin with king’s sulphur and sewn it together carefully, covering some bigger holes with slices of meat in order to hide the smell of the minerals inside. Then, he carried the sheep outside and left it in front of the dragon’s den. Skuba hid behind a big rock, and the king with his court were observing the situation carefully from the high castle.

When the evening came, the hungry dragon crawled out of the den and devoured the offering without hesitation as usual, only looking around for more. But it didn’t take much time until the sulphur reacted with dragon’s fiery entrails. Feeling the terrible burning inside its stomach, the dragon run down the hill to the Vistula River, and started drinking.

He drank and drank, and eventually drank so much water from the river that it couldn’t move around anymore.

Skuba came out of the hiding and the enraged dragon attempted to blow fire at him – but … boom! The sudden tension of dragon’s muscles appeared to be crucial – the dragon’s swollen body exploded! The land of Krak was free again.*

In some of the versions Skuba marries Krak’s daughter afterwards. Nowadays you can see a modern statue of the Wawel Dragon right next to the Wawel Castle’s walls, standing by the path that goes along the riverbank. It spits fire every few minutes:

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Statue in front of the Wawel Castle. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Right next to the statue you will find the entrance to the Dragon Den (in Polish: Smocza Jama). Its passages are rather small and not many people can go in at once, so you can feel really lucky if you managed to get inside during a regular ‘tourist day’:

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Cave of the Dragon under the Wawel Castle. Image via Polskie Szlaki.

Even though you could hear that story almost everywhere and most of books with Polish legends include it in this version, blended with local folk myths, the legend about Skuba killing the dragon is only based on a much older story that is known from old Polish chronicles.

In the original version it was the king Krak who personally killed the dragon in a long battle. The dragon was killed either with a sword or a royal club, and Krak was described as one of the mightiest heroes. He ruled over the lands with a great fame reaching far away from Kraków.

You can see quite a well known but hidden sculpture of the ‘King Krak fighting the Dragon’, located in the courtyard of Archiwum Narodowe (National Archives) building on the Sienna Street in Kraków. This sculpture was created by artist Franciszek Kalfas in 1929:

Krak fighting the Dragon. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

*There are also many variants within that version of the legend, that differ in some details, and this is the story as I know it since childhood.

Check also other Polish legends I described on my blog:

  1. Lech, Czech and Rus, legend about founder of Poland and the first Polish capital city
  2. Warsaw Mermaid who protects Polish capital city
  3. Evil king Popiel and a Mouse Tower
  4. Mr Twardowski, a Renaissance alchemist who made a pact with a devil
  5. City turned into stone
  6. Legends from castles on the Trail of the Eagles’ Nests

My general sources / book recommendations [in Polish only].

Rebloggable version on my tumblr blog: [link].

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