The quaint city of Krakow, the former royal Polish capital, is home to many legends but none as exciting or intriguing as the Wawel Dragon! If you take a walk around Old Town, not only will you get to see one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe, but will come across thousands of stuffed toy dragons, in every colour and shade imaginable, at every souvenir cart. While the stuffed toy dragons look adorable with soulful eyes, snout noses, and little wings; according to the legend, the mythical dragon was quite a terror!
The legend goes that Wawel Hill, upon which the Castle stands today, was the lair of a ferocious dragon. The natural limestone formation is filled with caves where Smok Wawel (the Wawel Dragon) decided to live and terrorise the people, slowly consuming the sheep population and pretty maidens. The king of the land promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could kill the dragon and thus enters the hero of the story-a poor cobbler called Krak. Where many knights failed, this young man succeeded. He managed to trick the dragon into consuming a dead sheep filled with sulphur that instantly reacted. The dragon ran to the Vistula and drank up almost all the water in the river before its belly went bust! And that was the end of the reign of terror as Krak was hailed a hero, married the princess, became king, constructed his castle on top of the lair and built the city of Krakow around it!
As I walked across the town square, a purple toy dragon caught my eye. It was so nice that there was this overwhelming need to purchase it immediately. Happy with the dragon under my arm and the other hand holding a bagel, I walked up to the castle to enter the Dragon’s Den (Smocza Jama in Polish)!
What is that you ask? Let me explain. The Wawel Castle has any attractions but the most popular is the Dragon’s Den. It’s a cave situated in the western slope of the hill which is accessible from a winding staircase in a brick tower. Purchase a ticket and descend down the deep tower till you reach a part of the dimly-lit limestone caves. Walk through the damp interiors of the cave which are filled with stones and natural limestone formations. Shiver a little imagining the ferocious dragon breathing fire on the very path you walk along.
A long walk later as you emerge from the cave on the banks of the Vistula, a fire-breathing sculpted dragon greets you! The bronze dragon was sculpted by Bronislaw Chromy and breathes fire at regular intervals, much to the delight of camera-wielding tourists!