Smok Wawelski: The Dragon of the Wawel Hill in Krakow
A dragon is a mythological creature that appears in the legends of numerous cultures around the world, most notably in European and Asian ones. It has been popularized sometime in the Middle Ages. A possible explanation for its invention is the fact that people had trouble determining the origins of big bones that they came upon. Myths were created as possible explanations, as there is no evidence that dragons as such ever walked the earth. This is why you will see alleged dragon bones handing in front of the Wawel Cathedral in Polish Krakow – they might’ve belonged to a whale, a mammoth or a rhinoceros, but are there to support the story you are about to read.
These legendary dragons walked on either two or four feet, a part of their body resembled a serpent, and fire breathing out of their mouths and nostrils is their most memorable feature. They were also thought to be very clever and often able to understand human speech. Dragons were feared and praised at the same time, and are often present in coat of arms for numerous towns, especially in the Slavic regions.
The legend of Smok Wawelski, as the famous dragon is called in Polish, is one of the most known and loved tales of Poland. It dates back from the time when Krakow was its capital city, sometime from 1038 to 1569 AC.
It is said that at the foot of the Wawel Hill, at the banks of the Vistula River, in a cave, lived a horrible fire breathing dragon that could not be defeated. He would fight any attempts of battle by breathing fire onto his opponents. Every few weeks, as he got hungry, he needed to be given offerings of cattle or he would go after the people. In some versions of the story, he even needed to be given a child a week as an offering. The story takes place during the reign of King Krak – or King Krakus, who is said to have made a vow: he would give his only daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who defeated the dragon. Kuba, a poor cobbler’s son, came up with a plan. He filled a calf’s skin with smouldering sulphur. When the dragon woke up hungry, he swallowed the skin and burned to death. The town was free at last from the fiery monster, and Kuba married the princess.
As homage to the history of the city, the annual Krakow Film Festival gives out statues in form of a dragon as awards to their winners. This is why, if you find yourself in Poland today, whether you live there or travel, be sure to go to Krakow and take a tour of Wawel. The dragon cave, called Smocza Jama, or Dragon Den, is a popular tourist spot with an amazing underground tour. Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Castle on the Wawel Hill are also not to be missed.
Even if the legend of the dragon of Wawel Hill is just a made-up story with no grounds to support it, it is interesting to imagine the times where there lived a beast that terrorized the whole city only to be defeated by a humble clever boy. It’s maybe not quite a Cinderella story, but surely one of hope that any evil can be outsmarted.