The Wawel Dragon (Polish: Smok Wawelski), also known as the Dragon of Wawel Hill, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. His lair was in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River. Wawel Hill is in Kraków, which was then the capital of Poland. In some stories the dragon lived before the founding of the city, when the area was inhabited by farmers.
Wawel Cathedral and Kraków's Wawel Castle stand on Wawel Hill. In front of the entrance to the cathedral there are bones of pleistocene creatures hanging on a chain, which were found and carried to the cathedral in medieval times as the remains of a dragon. It is believed that the world will come to its end when the bones will fall on the ground. The cathedral features a statue of the Wawel dragon and a plaque commemorating his defeat by Krakus, a Polish prince who, according to the plaque, founded the city and built his palace over the slain dragon's lair. The dragon's cave below the castle is now a popular tourist stop.
The oldest known telling of the story comes from the 13th century work of Bishop of Kraków and historian of Poland, Wincenty Kadłubek. According to his chronicle, the frightening monster appeared during the reign of King Krakus (lat. Gracchus). The dragon required weekly offerings of cattle, if not, the humans would have been devoured instead. In the hope of killing the dragon, Krakus called on his two sons, Lech and Krakus II. They could not, however, defeat the creature by hand, so they came up with a trick. They fed him a calf skin stuffed with smoldering sulfur causing his fiery death. Then the brothers argued about who deserves the honor for slaying the dragon. The older brother killed the younger brother Grakch (Krakus), and told that the dragon killed him. When he became king, his secret was revealed, and he got expelled from the country. The city was named in recognition of the brave and innocent Krakus.
Jan Długosz in his 15th century chronicle moved fratricide of the Krak sons for the period after king Krak I death. Brothers also named Krak and Lech. According to the initial version, Krak II was a younger brother and killed the older, but according to Jan Dlugosz it was the opposite.
Late Middle Ages
The second version, by Marcin Bielski from the 15th century, tells the story about shoemaker Skuba defeating the dragon. This, most popular, fairytale version of the Wawel Dragon tale, takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city's legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens, and could only be appeased if the townsfolk left a young girl in front of its cave once a month. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to the dragon, but his bravest knights fell to its fiery breath. In the versions involving the sacrifice of young girls, every girl in the city was eventually sacrificed except one, the King's daughter Wanda. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day a poor cobbler's apprentice named Skuba accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon's cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty. He turned to the Vistula River for relief and drank and drank. But no amount of water could quench his aching stomach, and after swelling up from drinking half the Vistula river, he exploded. Skuba married the King's daughter as promised, and they lived happily ever after. The inspiration for the name of Skuba was probably a church of St. Jacob (pol. Kuba), which was situated near the Wawel Castle. In one of the hagiographic stories about St. Jacob he defeats fire-breathing dragon.
Attempts to explain the legend
Legend of the Wawel dragon have similarities with the biblical story about Daniel and the Babylonian dragon. Same stories are known about Alexander the Great but it is believed that the story has its own pre-Christian origins. In addition to attempts of explaining the legend of the Wawel Dragon simply as a symbol of evil, there might be some echoes of historical events. According to some historians, the dragon is a symbol of the presence of the Avars on Wawel Hill in the second half of the sixth century, and the victims devoured by the beast symbolise the tribute pulled by them. There are also attempts to interpret the story as a reminiscence of human sacrifices and part of an older, unknown myth.
- In 1970 a metal sculpture of the Wawel Dragon designed by Bronisław Chromy was placed in front of the dragon's den. The dragon has seven heads, but frequently people think that he has one head and six legs. To the amusement of children, it noisily breathes fire every few minutes, thanks to a natural gas nozzle installed in the sculpture's mouth.
- The street leading along the banks of the river leading towards the castle is ulica smocza, which translates as "Dragon Street".
Dragon in culture
- Wawel Dragons (Gold, Silver, Bronze Grand Prix Dragons and Dragon of Dragons Special Prize) are awards, usually presented at Kraków Film Festival in Poland
- The Dragon (as "The Beast of Kraków") appeared in the eighth issue of a comic book series Nextwave from Marvel Comics (written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Stuart Immonen).
- The Dragon appears in a series of shorts produced and published by Polish company Allegro. The shorts re-visit classic Polish legends and folk tales in modernised form: in the first short, titled Smok, the dragon is presented as a flying machine used by a mysterious outlaw to capture Kraków girls.
- The Dragon of Wawel Hill - Smok Wawelski. Icbleu.org. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
- The Dragon of Wawel. Michael Resch at NSW AMES. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
- Mistrz Wincenty tzw. Kadłubek, "Kronika Polska", Ossolineum, Wrocław, 2008, ISBN 83-04-04613-X
- Michał Możejko (2007). "Legenda o Smoku Wawelskim według Wincentego Kadłubka (The Legend of Wawel Dragon according to Wincenty Kadłubek)". Legendy i Baśnie (Legends and Stories) (in Polish). GMF. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Jerzy Strzelczyk: Mity, podania i wierzenia dawnych Słowian. Poznań: Rebis, 2007. ISBN 978-83-7301-973-7.
- Jerzy Strzelczyk: Od Prasłowian do Polaków. Kraków: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1987, s. 75-76. ISBN 83-03-02015-3.
- Maciej Miezian. Smok wawelski. Historia prawdziwa i wbrew pozorom całkiem poważna. „Nasza Historia. Dziennik Polski”. 12, s. 10-13, listopad 2014. ISSN 2391-5633