...and how to get rid of him, the people didn't know how.
The story of Smok Wawelski, or the Wawel Dragon, is one of the most famous legends in Krakow - a city where intriguing old legends are abundant.
Many centuries ago, a vicious dragon lived in a large cave underneath Wawel Hill, where the castle now stands, and was terrorizing the town by eating everyone's livestock, and when really hungry, even sometimes devouring people too. King Krak, the city's founder, wanted to put a stop to the madness and offered his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to any man who could slay the dragon. After his own knights were unsuccessful, a shoemaker's assistant was finally the one who was able to get rid of the fierce dragon. His clever method was that he placed a sulphur-filled fake sheep out in front of the dragon's cave, and after the dragon ate it he was poisoned, although some versions of the story mention that he drank so much water from the neighboring Vistula river because of the thirst caused by the sulphur that he exploded...so the actual cause of death is uncertain. But either way, an everyday villager was able to get the job done, making him a hero and royalty from there on out. It's a classic tale of the underdog coming from nothing and winning it all...perhaps that's why this particular Krakovian legend is so beloved.
Photo: Krakow's very own fire-breathing dragon! More on this below.
Over hundreds of years, Smok's reputation was slowly revived, because these days, he's no longer feared but embraced. He seems to be the most loved character in town, with memorabilia of him sold all over the place, at every tourist shop and stand. Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all? Maybe the people were just prejudiced against him simply because he was a dragon and didn't want him living there...we'll never get to her Smok's side of the story, but either way, he's come out on top. He's a star nowadays. He and Dracula must have the same publicist.
Even as a local, I can't resist! He's a cutie, even if his past may be checkered. I have my eye on one of the lime green colored plush dragons that are so popular, among other fun things. Hey, it would even match my bedroom colors. Check him out below! This is clearly not my photo, but you can see where I got it...and you can actually get one of the toys for yourself if you so wish! ;-) I like how most of them say "Krakow" on their bellies, haha.
At the foot of Wawel Hill / Wawel Castle, an iron dragon statue stands (four photos below) and wows passersby with his fiery display. He breathes fire for a moment every few minutes, or as commanded by receiving text messages.
This awesome photo is thanks to Wikimedia Commons user Eirne:
The view from up in the castle, with the Vistula River in the background. Thankfully, the water is all back after Smok possibly drank half of it a long time ago! This photo is thanks to Wikimedia Commons user Diether.
Photo: Behind the Smok sculpture is the foreboding dragon cave...I think I see something in there! This is the exit to a series of underground tunnels, known as the dragon cave, that is open to tourists in the daytime.
A Dragon Parade / Parada Smoków has been held in Old Town each summer for a few years now, and area schools make dragon floats to show off. I can't wait to check that out next summer!
Below is a dragon float from 2008. I love the braids and colors and stars - what a pretty dragon! This photo is thanks to Wikimedia Commons user Dariusz Biegacz.
Soon to come - a super cool shot of the dragon's shadow on the hill that I saw one time without my camera...but I'm determined to get it!
As you can see, Mister Smok Wawelski is a Krakovian icon and someone that tourists don't leave without learning about.
Another thing that Krakow is known for is its gorgeous autumn season, so a little fall tour of Krakow will be in the next post.
Until next time,