The Lajkonik Parade

Lajkonik with raised mace in colourful Asian costume in Kraków’s Main Market Square, with people and the towers of the Gothic Church of St Mary in the background.
The Lajkonik, also known as the Zwierzyniec Hobby-Horse or the Tartar Rider, has been an unquestionable symbol of the capital of Małopolska for dozens of years now. The tradition of the Lajkonik is linked to saving Kraków from the Tartar invasion – this is why the parade is still held annually to this day.

Every year, the Lajkonik and his retinue make their way through the streets of Kraków to the sound of lively local tunes on the first Thursday after Corpus Christi. The parade begins with preparations at the Historical Museum of Kraków, which hosts the first dance. The parade then sets off to the head office of the Municipal Water and Sewage Company at Senatorska 1 and then proceeds slowly towards the Main Market Square. On the way, the Lajkonik collects petty cash into his money basket in Na Stawach Square. He then goes on to pay a visit to the Norbertine Sisters – a battle between the rafters and the Tartar forces took place near their monastery. After this visit, the parade heads down Kościuszki and Zwierzyniecka Streets – along the way, the Lajkonik visits stores, hits passers-by with his mace and collects money. At the intersection by the Kraków Philharmonic, the Lajkonik performs a dance with the flag. The retinue then heads down Franciszkańska and Grodzka Streets towards the Main Market Square, heading to the stage at the Town Hall Tower. The Lajkonik, together with the Mayor of Kraków, the Director of the Historical Museum and the Director of the Water and Sewage Company makes a toast to the prosperity of the citizens. During this meeting, he receives a tribute from the city authorities and performs a dance called urbem salutare – a bow to the city. The procession heads to the famous Wierzynek restaurant, and after an hour, he emerges again on the Main Market Square and circles the Cloth Hall. The Lajkonik’s parade ends with a dinner at the Hawełka restaurant.

The figure of the Lajkonik is also noteworthy – let us see what makes him so important and why his parade travels through the streets of Kraków every year. The legend of the Lajkonik dates back to the events of 1287, when the city was surprisingly besieged by the Tartars, who planned to assault it in the morning. Fortunately, they were noticed by rafters, who attacked the sleeping forces, saving the entire city. The rafters then donned the Asian costumes, took the invaders’ horses and rode into the main square, sparking terror, which then turned into pure joy. Thus, the Lajkonik is none other than a raftsman dressed as a Tartar khan sitting on a horse.

It is worth going to see the real Lajkonik parade at least once in your lifetime on this special day of the year when he rides around the streets of Kraków. Every year, the traditional Zwierzyniec Hobby-Horse procession brings smiles to the faces of adults and children, and it is the only chance to be touched by the Lajkonik's mace and stock up on good luck for the whole year!

The tradition was added to the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2014. The image of the Lajkonik is often used in logos of Kraków-based companies, and the characteristic figure can be seen on seats in public transit vehicles in the city.

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