The dragon of Wawel

On a dark evening with roaring thunders and bright lightings, we, a group of travelers, found a shelter under one of the old gates of Cracow. Suddenly, in silence, at the entrance appeared the person of the doorman.
He was dressed in the colourfull dress of old times. When he noticed we were strangers he offered to tell us an old story, from the ancient times of Cracow, to help the time go by. But he asked us in return to make this story known so old knowlegde should not be forgotten. Afterwards he suddenly disappeared. So listen to his story of the old times.

Floriańska Gate, Cracow.

Cracovians lived happily, ruled by the good-natured king Krak, the legendary founder of the town… until a dragon came from some grim place in the North, to live in a cave under the Wawel castle, by the river! He made himself a nice little den in limestone, which you can still see nowadays: sufficiently cold, wet and gloomy for a dragon’s liking, especially if the dragon comes from the North…

 

The statue of the dragon below the Royal Castle Wawel

The trouble was, the fire-breathing monster had a very particular diet: he ate mainly virgins — well, sometimes he would make do with a dozen of geese or a cow, but these didn’t really satisfy him. For him, a girl a day was the cornerstone of a nutritious diet. Cracovians despaired… but the King did not do much until the only virgin left in town was his own daughter — typical, isn’t it? The princess was just about to be snatched by the dragon, but Krak managed to delay the meal by sending for help from the most skilful of princes and knights from all the neighbouring lands. The reward for killing the dragon wasn’t particularly original: half of the kingdom with the bonus of the princess for a wife (of course she was beautiful!).

Although the knights and princes were basically useless, killing them kept the dragon busy for a while (they also made his stomach upset, causing him to grow more and more impatient). And just as previously they ran out of ladies young and pure, so they now ran out of young lads of noble blood who were willing to challenge the dragon…  After a sleepless night at the palace, when the dragon was digesting the very last brave warrior in his den below, a young man came to see the King. He was a shoe-maker and had a Plan. (The name of that shoemaker was Dratewka – little dratwa. A dratwa is a shoemakers wire, the material a shoemaker knows so well; so Nomen nest Oomen?)

It was as simple as it was brilliant. His idea was to stuff a sheep’s skin with sulfur and tar, sew it together, and put the thing in front of the dragon’s cave. And so he did. When the dragon woke up in the morning, his first thought was: ” breakfast and he swallowed the sheep in one gulp. His mouth was burning! He ran to the river, and started to drink. He drank, and drank, and drank…. until he guzzled half of the river, and then — bang! — he exploded. The story gets a little muddled here. Apparently the shoemaker wasn’t interested in neither the princess nor half of the kingdom. He left town, who knows? He might have gone on a journey around the world, and in those days that would have taken years to complete. Or was he a prince in disguise that married the princess and lived happy afterwards. Predictable jokes say that if the dragon really ate only virgins, nowadays he would have starved to death. Don’t believe a word of it!

The dragon wasn’t forgotten and his images can be found all around town: by the river, where its iron statue spits fire at the entrance to the dragon’s den; in the castle where the copper gutters are decorated with dragon heads, their mouths wide open. Recently, on the occasion of a summer festival in June, giant colourful dragons were dancing in the streets of Cracow, harmless in the rain of fireworks.

Dragon parade, Cracow

Again, local newspapers still publish pictures of the dragon. So hurray: Smok Wawelski is alive!

– I am not very conservative. I don’t care about women virginity. (The drawing: Andrzej Mleczko)

For skeptical people

Wawel dragon really existed! Maybe it was not the monster that used to have virgins for breakfast, but the fact is that the name was given in 2011 to a prehistorical reptilian, who resided in Polish territory about 200 million years ago. According to Vikipedia: “This particular dragon is an extinct genus of large carnivorous archosaur, which lived during the latest Triassic period (latest Norian to early Rhaetian stage, between 205–200 Ma) in what is now Lisowice village, southern Poland. It is larger than any other known predatory archosaur from the Late Triassic or Early Jurassic of central Europe”.

Such giant even the Dratewka probably could not have beaten at all! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Hutte

Read also: Magical Cracow

 Foto: Katarzyna Olczak