Most castles have some magical, or perhaps monstrous, creature woven into their history. Wawel Royal Castle, in Cracow, is no different.
A fire-breathing dragon — smok wawelski in the mother tongue — terrorised Cracow’s people and probably provided quite a bit of adrenaline-fuelled ‘entertainment’ and an opportunity for the males of Cracow to show off in front of their fair dames, mostly in vain. He settled on a prime piece of real estate — in a grotto just beneath the castle grounds — for convenience sake, you see; it really helped him cut down on travelling costs and time, since the castle was where all the important people hung out.
The fire-breathing dragon was temporarily satiated with livestock, but soon turned his attention to young maidens. King Krak feared that his only daughter, Princess Wanda, would fall prey next. He offered her hand in marriage to any brave soul who could vanquish the beast. But it was no easy task, many knights failed. Dratewka, a young shoemaker, coaxed the dragon out of his lair with a dead sheep whose stomach was filled with sulphur. Enraged by the resulting heartburn, the dragon is believed to have swallowed half the Wisla River, which surrounds the castle grounds like a natural moat. He grew bigger and bigger and… EXPLODED! According to folklore, his bones are chained above the entrance of the cathedral, which can still be seen to this day.
The cathedral was the site of many coronations and is well known for its exceptionally large bell. Today, it can be visited as part of the castle tour which includes descending into crypts where Polish royalty, the country’s finest authors and former President Lech Kaczynski (gosh, Polish surnames can be hard to pronounce) are entombed.
As legend would have it, once the fire-breathing dragon was vanquished the couple married and the city grew and prospered under the dragon slayer.
Wawel Castle in Cracow
Address: Wawel Royal Castle, ul. Wawel 5, Cracow
Tel: +4812-422-5155 (Ext. 219)