Lesson #289: Krakow’s Dragon

Last week, I came back from a month abroad. In fairness, the last week of the trip was back in my home country for a family gathering, so it’s not all glamour, but the other three weeks were a nearly 5000km road trip around Europe with the best Swede I know.*

One of our stops was Krakow, which was an alternative to Budapest. It hadn’t been on the original itinerary — or, in fact, on any of the three iterations that followed the original itinerary — but as he was in Budapest last year, I was there fairly recently, and neither of us had ever been to Poland, we settled on Krakow. It turns out, that was probably the best decision we made about the trip because Poland was super awesome and both of us left swearing we’d go back. The Polish people were phenomenal.

However, as a result of the Polish people being phenomenal, we saw very little in the way of touristy stuff while we were there. We were adopted by a local and his friends and they took us out to restaurants and drove us to burial mounds and drank with us in pubs and insisted we join their after hours, basement poker game (at which I won quite a tidy sum of money despite being a terrible poker player). So when I was reading up on something today and there was mention of a dragon, — something that had come into play in cloud formations in Croatia — I sent the Swede an text that said, “we’ll have to go back…we missed the dragon!”

Anyway, the Wawel Dragon has existed in legend since at least the 12th century when Wincenty Kadłubek wrote about it in his chronicle of Polish history. According to the legend, the dragon lived in a cave at the base of Wawel Hill before Krakow was established and was defeated by Prince Krakus, who went on to found Krakow and built his castle on Wawel Hill.

Of course, this was later (in the 17th century) changed to include a princess (Wanda) and a poor shoemaker because that’s a better story…that version goes: the King, tired of the dragon having his way with the livestock of his people, and having offered the dragon every virgin around except his daughter, offered up his daughter’s hand to anyone who could slay the dragon. Enter a cobbler called Skuba who covers a mass of sulfur with a sheep (or cow, depending on which version you’re reading) hide and tricks the dragon into eating it. Unable to slake his thirst in the Vistula River — which runs through Krakow** — the dragon eventually explodes and Skuba and Wanda live happily ever after.***

*Yes, it was effing awesome, thank you for asking!

**No, I did not find a way to get into the Vistula. Failure on my part, I know.

***More information here, here, and here, among many, many other places

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