Legends

Dwa ptaki siedzące na murku.

The long and vivid history of Małopolska found its expression in dozens of interesting legends. Some are based on authentic events from the region’s dim and distant past, and some on totally invented stories, whose origins date back to folk beliefs and even primeval pagan traditions. Legends and folk tales account for the meanings of the names of local places, as they talk about distant times when villages and towns were only beginning to emerge. A number of legends explain the origins of bizarre monadnocks, which are a common sight in Małopolska. There are also folk tales devoted to the lives of the local saints and blesseds.





   

Of prince Krakus and the terrible dragon. The most famous local legend tells the story of prince Krakus, the legendary founder of the city, and the terrible dragon that lived in a cave in the Wawel hill. The beast used to devour cattle and whenever his portion was refused, it would hunt for people instead. Nobody was able to face it, not even the brave sons of Krakus. One day, a shrewd shoemaker named Skuba stuffed ram’s fur with sulphur and put it outside the dragon’s cave. When the beast devoured the “ram”, a fire immediately started in his viscera. The dragon wanted to put it out with the water from Vistula, but having drunk too much of it, he soon burst into little pieces. (A different version of the legend presents prince Krakus himself as the conqueror of the dragon.)


   

Of the knights turned into pigeons. This interesting legend explains the origins of the pigeons populating Kraków’s market place. When the princely throne was taken over by Henry IV Probus, he desired to set out to Rome and collect a royal crown. As he did not have the money, one witch offered to help him. She transformed his knights into a flock of pigeons, but promised that they would recover their human form when the prince returns with the crown. The pigeons pecked the stones from the market place, which then turned into golden coins. The prince, however, feasted away all the money on the way to Rome and never eventually reached the destination… His knights-turned-pigeons to this day await their prince in Kraków’s Market Square.


   

Of Kinga’s ring. For hundreds of years salt has been extracted from beneath the ground in the Kraków area, i.e. in Wieliczka and Bochnia. Where do these deposits of salt come from? The answer to this question is contained in a beautiful local legend. When the Hungarian queen Kinga (also known as Cunegunda) was to come to Kraków in order to marry prince Bolesław V the Chaste, she decided to offer her new homeland a precious gift. She dropped her engagement ring into a Hungarian salt mine. When she arrived in Małopolska, she ordered the workers to dig in the place of the future Wieliczka salt mine (or the one in Bochnia, as another version of the legend has it). Much to the surprise of all the people present, a block of salt with Kinga’s ring inside it was extracted from the ground. This is how the queen offered her new subjects an abundance of salt.  


    Of the Peasants’ King. Legend has it that Casimir III the Great used to wander around villages disguised as a poor man in order to learn about the life of his poorest subjects. One day, the tattered wanderer was received by a poor but friendly host. The peasant complained that he could not find anybody who would agree to be his child’s godfather, so the “pauper” volunteered. They arranged to meet the following day to go to the church together. The next morning, the king appeared together with his illustrious entourage in front of the cabin. The astounded host recognised the king as his yesterday’s guest. The king kept his promise: he became godfather to the child and offered the infant a pouch full of golden coins.

    Of the sleeping Tatra knights. When one looks at Tatra Mountains from Zakopane, one of the most recognisable shapes is the majestic figure of the Giewont mountain. It looks very much like a silhouette of a sleeping man. According to the legend, this person is a sleeping knight or a king, whose squad lies under a spell somewhere in the secret caves underneath the mountain. When evil prevails in the world (or when Poland finds itself in serious danger), Giewont will awake together with his squad and start fighting.