The Dragon’s Den
Krakow’s history holds many legends, one of its most famous is certainly the one about Smok Wawelski or, in English, the Wawel Dragon. Smok, probably one of the most ancient yet famous resident of Wawel Hill, led to the naming of the picturesque city we now know.
The story goes that a dragon made his lair beneath Wawel Hill, from where he terrorised the people. He demanded to be fed a number of cattle to soothe his hunger or else he would hunt villagers. With hopes to kill the beast, King Cracus devised a plan that he shared with his two sons. They placed sheepskins filled with burning sulfur, which Smok devoured eagerly. As fire roared inside him, he was brought to his timely death. The younger brother then proceeded to kill his older sibling, hence becoming next in line for the crown. Fortunately, the deception was found out and the Prince banished. On the dragon’s lair was so founded Cracovia.
Different versions include the King Cracus killing the dragon himself. One version states that the King offered his own daughter to the beast, hoping to put a stop to the killing of the village’s maidens. A penniless boot maker named Krak would have been the one to trick Smok into eating the fake sheepskins to become the true hero.
Though told in its many forms, which can be detailed by your guide, the dragon is truly said to have existed, his bones still seen hanging above Wawel’s Cathedral entrance. Some say they are simple whalebones, but Krakow inhabitants still agree that they hold magical powers that protect the city.
The Dragon’s den, which was used as a public well in the 19th century, is now open for visits parts of the year. The visit begins near the west fortifications of Wawel Castle. There, you will descend steep steps and enter the caves hidden below Wawel Hill. You will go through three chambers, some parts being deemed unsafe for public and so, off-limits. It exits at the Wisła River where a sculpture of Smok, creation of Bronisław Chromy, proudly stands. The creature even breathes fire at regular intervals.
Dragon’s Den Entrance Info
Address: Wawel Hill, 31-001, Krakow
Map ref: 50.053557, 19.934254
Open: April, September, October Mon-Sun 10am – 5pm
May-June Mon-Sun 10am – 6pm
July-August 10am – 7pm
Tickets: can be purchased at the entrance or at the ticket offices
Images by Stefanie Auger-Roy for Absolute Tours