Following in the footsteps of legends

A large, green earth mound, in the background a view of Krakow.
Would you like to show your children where the heroes of the most beautiful Polish legends lived? The lion's share of them comes from Małopolska. Here, they still live on in people’s imagination and the stories written down, often by the greatest authors of our literature. However, let us remember that fiction is always mixed with truth in legends. Discover Małopolska with your children!

About the Wawel Dragon, Prince Krak and the brave Shoemaker

Dragons are an exception in Polish culture, apart from the Wawel Dragon, whose story was popularised by Kornel Makuszyński and Jan Walentynowicz in a pre-war comic strip, but primarily by a great cartoon based on Stanisław Pagaczewski’s novel from the late 1960s. However, the story is much, much older. It was previously recorded by the superb chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek, who lived at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries. Let us quote:

"For in the crevices of a certain rock, there was a cruelly ferocious monster, which some people used to call an omnivore. Each week, a certain number of cattle resulted from its voracity according to the calculation of days. If the inhabitants did not provide it, as some sacrifice, the monster would punish them with the loss of as many human heads."

Do you think that the chronicler, monk and bishop would lie? However, as you can see, he did not write about a dragon but a monster. This story by Kadłubek was repeated by Jan Długosz, who used the word dragon and gave a detailed history of the monster terrorising the city:

"Under the Wawel Hill, where Krak erected his castle, in a cave, dwelt a monster of enormous size, having the appearance of a dragon or a reptile, and to satisfy its voracity, it snatched the cattle and flocks that were thrown to it, and did not let go even of people. And when driven by a long hunger, it could not find prey that had been thrown, then, with a wild fury, it would fall out of his hiding-place in broad daylight, and roaring terrifyingly, it would attack even the largest cattle, horses or oxen harnessed to a cart or plough, murder them and kill them, and being angry also with people, if they did not escape to safety, it would fill his belly with their ragged flesh."

Długosz also went into more detail about the history connected with the dragon’s conquerors. He, like Kadłubek, attributed the foundation of the city to Grak, now called Krakus or Krak, who was said to be descended from the Roman tribune Tiberius Gracchus. However, while Kadłubek attributes the dragon’s defeat to the sons of Krakus, Długosz said that a prince defeated the monster. The trick with a "carcass" filled with "sulphur, wood pulp, wax, resin and tar" tossed to the dragon appears in this story. The beast burned, and "from the heat and flames consuming its innards, it immediately fell and died". On the other hand, Krak "who exterminated the giant monster with his art, was called the father and liberator of his homeland". Almost all Polish chroniclers repeated this story and did not add much to it, except perhaps Marcin Bielski, who, in 1551, added that the dragon wanted to quench its thirst in the Vistula after eating the treacherous stuffing, from which it burst. He even gave the exact date of the event - around 700 AD! A few years later, Marcin Kromer, for the first time, dared to doubt whether the dragon existed, but at the same time, he recorded that the dragon’s lair did indeed exist near the Wawel Castle. Soon, another chronicler, Bielski’s son, changed the story by introducing the shoemaker Skuba, who was supposed to be the originator of the assassination attempt on the monster. The dragon became famous thanks to the novels by Józef Kraszewski, Stanisław Pagaczewski and a comic strip by the team of Makuszyński-Walentynowicz. Scholars have long argued about the legend’s origin, but the prevailing view is that it originated at the Wawel Castle and, despite the existence of such motifs, is not a biblical borrowing or from Western cultures. So, as you can see, there is something to it. All the more so, as we have material traces of the existence of both the dragon - Smocza Jama (the Dragon’s Cave), and Krakus - Kopiec Krakusa (the Krak Mound). And... what is probably most important, the Wawel Dragon is also the name of a real dinosaur from the Triassic period, whose remains were found in Silesia. For your children, the search for traces of the dragon in Kraków will be an unforgettable adventure.


On the trail of the Wawel Dragon

  • Kraków, the Dragon’s Cave. A karst cave under the Wawel Hill, which in the past served various functions from a poorhouse to an inn and a brothel. Made available to the public as early as the middle of the 19th century, it still hides many mysteries.
  • Kraków, the Wawel Dragon Monument. A sculpture by Bronisław Chromy from 1969, breathing real fire. Initially, it was supposed to stand in the Vistula River.
  • Kraków, the Krak Mound. A pre-Christian barrow towering over Kraków. Długosz wrote that it might be the grave of Prince Krakus. Some scientists claim it dates to the 7th century, namely, the time Marcin Bielski attributes to the incident with the dragon. A stroll to the mound is one of the most beautiful walks in Kraków.
  • Kraków, the Wawel Cathedral. To wit, indirect proof of the Wawel Dragon’s existence is also the bones of prehistoric creatures that can be seen at the Wawel Cathedral. Marcin Fox, a professor at the Kraków Academy, wrote that they come from "monstrous monsters whose species is extinct". The prophecy is that if the chain on which they hang breaks, the world will end.
  • Kraków. The grave of the chronicler and tutor of royal sons, Jan Długosz, located in the Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Stanislaus the Bishop and Martyr Basilica, also known as Skałka.

About St. Kinga, a virtuous and thrifty maiden, and salt gold

Prince Bolesław was still young when the mighty lords decided to betroth him to the daughter of Hungarian King Bela IV. She, called Kinga, was still a child, but prudent for her age. The deputies came to the Hungarian court, and it turned out that both the king and Kinga liked the proposal. Bela IV respected the Poles and concluded alliances with them more than once, especially when the Mongol invasions ravaged the Polish and Hungarian lands. When the deputies were leaving, the king ordered them to prepare gold and jewels for Prince Bolesław. However, Kinga asked her father for another gift. "Give them what they do not have," she said. Bela agreed, and his daughter went to the local salt mine and threw a wedding ring into a mine shaft. When she arrived in Poland, and when the official engagement was about to take place, Kinga said to Bolesław, "Let us go in search of the ring you gave me." They did not travel far, only as far as Wieliczka, where Kinga ordered a huge well to be dug. The miners toiled for a long time until they finally came across a white rock. They dug it out, and Kinga ordered it to be torn apart with pickaxes. A ring fell out from inside, and the white rock turned out to be salt. Poland received great wealth. This is how the poet Władysław Ludwik Anczyc (1832-1883) remembered the story. What is true about it? Almost everything, except, of course, the adventures with the ring.

The Hungarian Princess Kinga (1234-1292) was a child when she was pledged to the young Prince Bolesław, later called the Chaste. Poles had known salt before, and the mines in Bochnia and Wieliczka are among the oldest in Europe; nonetheless, its extraction on an industrial scale was only developed when miners from Hungary arrived with Kinga's retinue. Thanks to the marriage of Kinga and Bolesław, two countries with different cultures and languages utterly incomprehensible to each other became allies for centuries. Poland has not had such close relations with any other country. Kinga was extraordinarily cautious and economical. She took care not only of Polish interests but also of the Sądecka land entrusted to her care. She founded castles and monasteries there, and she became a model of a virtuous life, which she and her husband both vowed to live. After his death, she locked herself in the Stary Sącz monastery, where she died in 1292. It should be added that the blood of Byzantine emperors flowed in Kinga’s veins. Her grandparents were the Nicene emperor Theodore I and the Byzantine empress Anna Komnena Angelina. She was beatified in 1690, and John Paul II made her a saint in 1999 during a mass in the Old Sącz Blades.

Dozens of other legends about Saint Kinga still circulate in the Beskid Sądecki and Pieniny.

On the trail of Saint Kinga

  • Stary Sącz – the Clare Sisters Monastery. It was this monastery that Saint Kinga founded and where she is buried. For years, the Nowy Sącz region was the property of Kinga, who created here one of the wealthiest regions of Małopolska. The Stary Sącz monastery keeps some not exposed memorabilia of the Saint: a psalter in handwriting, a cross made of golden, pearl and precious stone diadems, a medallion with a crucifix and a portrait of a woman, a monastery seal made of rock crystal, a jasper spoon with a silver handle and... an engagement ring with the figures of the bride and groom. Is this the ring?
  • The Salt Mine in Bochnia. Legends say that Kinga’s ring could also be found in Bochnia. It is the oldest salt mine in Poland and one of the oldest industrial plants in Europe.
  • Kraków. The Church and Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi. Kinga’s husband, Duke Bolesław the Chaste, is buried here, as is Blessed Salomea, Bolesław’s sister, who raised Kinga at the Hungarian court.
  • Beskid Sądecki and Pieniny. A land full of legends about the good Princess Kinga.
  • The Wronin Castle in Czorsztyn. Supposedly founded by Princess Kinga and, according to Jan Długosz, it was here where she and Bolesław were supposed to take refuge during the Mongol invasion.

Mr Twardowski, or the Poles were the first on the moon

Twardowski was a nobleman of great imagination, modest estate and excellent physique. He lived in the 16th century. He appeared in Kraków, setting up an alchemist’s workshop and searching for the philosopher’s stone to transform metal into gold. They say that he married unluckily here, which had beneficial effects in the future. There was an extreme lust for wealth in Twardowski and an even greater thirst for fame and intemperance in the cravings of everyday life. Thus, instead of diligently conducting experiments, even though the Academy of Kraków became famous for its studios of similar alchemists, he tried to make a deal with the devil. As the pact had been made, Twardowski gave up his soul, and the devil was to help him fulfil his desires. Master Twardowski became famous for his skills, and he fell into the favour of King Sigismund II Augustus. After the king’s beloved Barbara Radziwiłłówna died, Twardowski evoked her spirit to soothe the sovereign’s pain. Eventually, the devil decided that Twardowski had experienced enough fame and demanded his soul. The nobleman slipped out of his trap, and the devil was helpless under the pact Twardowski had to come to the inn called Rzym to fulfil it. He was in no hurry to get there. However, entirely unconsciously, he stopped at an inn disregarding the signboard above the door. This is where the devil found him. Adam Mickiewicz later described the story. Master Twardowski saved himself once again thanks to a trick, offering the devil a year of life with his wife in exchange for a year’s stay in hell. The devil fled. The spirit must have been great in Twardowski. The devil could no longer tame the Polish nobleman, and all he could do was send him to the moon, where he could not offend the devil's forces and still lives today.

Did Twardowski exist? Contrary to the popular opinion, it is not just a carbon copy of the German legend of Dr Faustus. Jan Twardowski was a real person. In Kraków, he was supposed to run an alchemical workshop and had evoked the spirit of Barbara Radziwiłłówna. The famous Doctor Faustus was also in Kraków, perhaps even learning his alchemical arts there. However, a critical reservation must be made. At that time, the general public considered most scientific experiments to be bordering on witchcraft; the search for the philosopher’s stone was part of scientific research in the 16th and 17th centuries. The famous Michał Sędziwój (1566-1636), one of the most outstanding scientists and the discoverer of oxygen, did so. Perhaps some of the latter’s achievements became part of the Twardowski legend.

On the trail of Master Twardowski

  • Kraków. Collegium Maius. The oldest part of the Jagiellonian University. The scientific studios where Faust, Jan Twardowski and Michał Sędziwój could practise might have been located here. Currently, it houses the Jagiellonian University Museum.
  • Kraków. The Pod św. Janem Kapistranem tenement house (at the corner of 26 Rynek Główny and 2 Wiślna Street). Jan Twardowski probably lived here.
  • Kraków. The Twardowskiego Rocks and the Twardowski Cave. A complex of limestone rocks in the Dębniki district. In the Twardowski Cave, which is about 500 metres long, the master from Kraków was said to have his workshop. The Twardowski Cave is adjacent to one of the most beautiful recreational areas of the city - Zakrzówek, where there are old quarries filled with water after the end of exploitation.
  • Kraków. Twardowski’s workshop at Krzemionki Podgórskie. This is a complex of hills south of the Wawel Castle, one of the earliest sites of Kraków settlement. Twardowski’s workshop was supposed to be located on the site of today’s Saint Joseph’s Church at Rynek Podgórski.
  • Kraków. A tenement house at the corner of Rynek Główny and Sławkowska Street. One of the greatest German poets, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, lived here in September 1790. In Kraków, he was looking for traces of Faust. He also visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine. There is a commemorative plaque on the tenement house.
  • Sucha Beskidzka. The Rzym Inn (at 1 Rynek Street) is one of the most beautiful wooden inns. This is where Twardowski might have met the devil. The inn is on the Małopolska Gourmet Trail.
  • The Pieskowa Rock. The Herkules Mace is a 25-metre-high limestone monadnock; it has symbolised Polish tourism since the beginning of the 20th century. During Twardowski’s skirmish with the devil in the Rzym Inn, the sorcerer was said to have tried to get out of it by asking the latter three tasks. One was to carry a huge rock and put it at the narrow end. This was the rock!

Sleeping knights in the Tatra Mountains, or how much we love the mountains

As soon as the world gets extremely bad and Poland faces real danger, an army will rise from the depths of the Tatra Mountains to save our homeland. Knights from past ages sleep in the interior of the mountains and wait for a sign. Is it time? The time has not come yet. How do we know this? From numerous legends, records and literary travesty, the most beautiful of which were written by the poet Jan Kasprowicz.

"I have travelled the world a lot in my life; I have seen mountains so huge that they are covered with ice that never fades away; I have seen rivers so wide that it takes almost an hour to get from one bank to the other in a boat; I have sat in valleys so beautiful that the earth seemed a paradise; I have watched rainbows, which form huge waterfalls out of waves broken into tiny dust, and yet there is nowhere where longing is so restful as in our Tatra mountains," began the poet, to whom this story was told by an elderly highlander. They met on a bridge in the Kościeliskiej Valley, where Kasprowicz was staring at a rock resembling a knight.

"You look at this figure, ladies, and certainly do not know what it means. They carved it here in memory of the fact that in these cliffs, in a huge cavern, so to speak a church, an army lies dormant. It is said to be Polish, from Kraków, or somewhere from Poznań and Gniezno. An illustrious king led it; we know from our grandfathers and great-grandfathers that his name was Chrobry. In our memory, no one has seen that army here, because we are still unworthy, but centuries ago, in the village of Kościeliska, or Zakopane, there was a little boy who drove his father’s flock to this valley to pasture for the summer," said a long-, grey-haired highlander. And it was a shepherd boy who, having ventured into an empty valley and stood before a strange rock, shouted out loud. The rock parted, and a massive knight in armour came out of it.

"Who dares to wake us from the ages-long sleep? Has the time already come? But the boy, stunned with terror, could not answer, as he did not understand his question yet. However, the knight, having noticed his fright, said: Do not be afraid, I will not do you any harm, for I am not a robber but a warrior who shed his blood for his Homeland and then came to these rocks together with his companions for eternal sleep; we will wake up to life when people become as good as you because I can see that you are good when they gain such faith and wisdom that they can no longer bear the yoke that oppresses them. And when this happens, another boy like you will appear, chosen from a thousand, or even from a million, for he must be the most worthy, and he will knock at the golden gate and call with a great voice: Arise, knights, from the sleep of ages; arise and descend into the valleys, among the people who have already become good and wise and have great faith, and under the dominion of evil in no way wish to live any longer! Arise, you winged knights, like angels from heaven!"

So it is with these knights. They wait. Most people believe that the place where the knights sleep is Giewont. Undoubtedly, the Tatra Mountains, after Kraków, is the place most connected with the soul of Poles.

On the trail of sleeping knights

  • The Tatra Mountains. Giewont is a peak above Zakopane,1,894 metres above sea level. It is the symbol of Zakopane and the best-known Tatra peak. On its top, there is a 15-metre-high cross. This place is very dangerous during storms. Several electric shocks from lightning have occurred here. From a distance, the latitudinal shape of Giewont resembles a lying figure of a knight.
  • The Tatra Mountains. The Kościeliska Valley. One of the most beautiful valleys in the Tatras, with fantastic rock formations, the famous Kraków Wąwóz, halls and caves. It has been visited since the beginning of tourism in the Tatras, from the beginning of the 19th century. There were already ore mines and processing plants here in the 15th century. It is one of the favourite places of plein-air paintings of artists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Interestingly, there is also a cave called the Dragon’s Cave.
  • Zakopane. The Jan Kasprowicz Museum in Harenda. Kasprowicz (1860-1926) lived and died here in the 1920s. There is his mausoleum near the villa.

The Dunajec River, conceived by Bolesław the Brave

There was once a great lake in Podhale. It washed away the Pieniny Mountains, and the highlanders wanted to take every scrap of land that had been given to the mountains for generations of toil and hardship. The lake was particularly angry with Dobek, a poor highlander who could not support his family from his small plot of land. However, he did not despair, even though the sight of hungry children did not give him peace. One day Dobek met a procession of knights on the road, and with them a powerful lord. Others said it was King Bolesław the Brave. He asked Dobek how life was here. The highlander confirmed his and others’ bad fortune. Are you not able to dig through Pieniny? - asked the ruler. The proud highlanders set to work. They worked for months and even years. Nothing! The water still stood and flooded their fields even more, as if in revenge. Bolesław went there again and saw that the labour of the highlanders was of no use. So he set out alone, and with his sword, he struck one of the passes. The Pieniny Mountains were torn apart, and the big river, called the Dunajec, rushed towards the sea. Since then, only from time to time has it troubled the Podhale people with floods. The Dunajec has constantly stirred the imagination. One of the legends says that Jesus set the water in motion and drowned the enemy at the request of St. Kinga when the Tatars were ravaging Pieniny.

  • The Dunajec River is one of the most beautiful Polish rivers, flowing out of the Tatra Mountains, breaking through the Nowotarska Basin, creating the artificial Czorsztyńskie Lake and then a gorge in the Pieniny Mountains, which is one of the biggest Polish tourist attractions. It flows through, among others, Nowy Targ, Krościenko, Stary Sącz, Nowy Sącz, Tropie, Rożnów, Czchów, Zakliczyn, Wojnicz, Tarnów and Żabno, falling into the Vistula River in the Jesuit Mouth.

Did you know that Morskie Oko is connected to the sea?

The learned priest Benedykt Chmielowski wrote this in the Sarmatian encyclopaedia Nowe Ateny (NewAthens) (1745 - 46): "KARPAT Góra, a rather long mountain continuance, from the word Carpo; there, the citizens collected and gather various profits and minerals; or from the City of Carpis, ancient Bastarnow. The Germans call it Snow Mountain, the Hungarians call it Tarczal, the Poles call it Tatra as it was built for the Tatars; it is also called the Beskids. From there, one can see for 20, and sometimes 30, miles when the weather clears. When a stone is thrown down from there, it will move many others with it rather than roll down. The snows that lie here throughout the summer are sensible, sometimes get black and are full of vermin; there are many wild goats on them, not walking on their feet, but hanging from branches and rocks on their horns. Crystal, Dyament, Magnesium, various Metals are born in them, according to Szentywani. At the very top of the mountains, there is a spring, or rather the lake called Oculus Maris, where the ships of the sea often sail out, knowing that it has communication with the sea".


Download free VisitMałopolska app
Apple iOS
Windows Phone

Related Assets