The Dragon of Wawel Hill

Smok Wawelski

The most famous dragon in Poland, well known to every Polish child, is the legendary Smok Wawelski. To this day there stands a monument in the caverns beneath the castle of Krakow to Smok Wawelski, and people from all over the world come to visit his statue and hear his tale. This is the story of how the beast met his terrible end and how the city of Krakow got it's name.

Some centuries ago, in the dawn of Poland's history, there lived in a dark cave at the foot of Wawel Hill, along the banks of the Vistula River, a most horrible fire-belching dragon. Daily he rampaged on the countryside and threatened the terrified people of Kraków. He slew the innocent, devoured their domestic animals and plundered their belongings. His favorite food was small children and whenever he found one, he would gobble them up as fast as he could.

Nobody could prevent his hideous deeds. In vain the bravest knights of the realm tried to overcome the voracious dragon. But time and time again, before they could even draw their swords, the searing fire from the beast's mouth destroyed them. The people watched helplessly as one after another the bravest and best knights of the kingdom fell before Smok Wawelski.

The King of Kraków, desperately worried by the tragic situation in the city, sent his heralds far and wide to announce to the Royal houses and courts of Europe that whosoever could slay the dragon would - as a reward - marry his daughter and sit on his throne after his death.

Many great Princes and brave knights from all around central Europe, encouraged by such a handsome offer, and the legendary beauty of the king's daughter, quickly presented themselves to take up the challenge, but failed against the dragon. Time passed and the stream of bold and adventuresome fighters eventually slowed to a trickle, and still the dragon tyrannized the countryside and the people. It was a dark time for Poland.

The king gave himself up to despair, while the king's daughter wrung her hands and wept. After all, she could not expect to ever be married if the dragon slew all her suitors. The dragon-ravaged countryside steadily became poorer and poorer.

One cold morning a young peasant boy named Krak, a shoemaker's apprentice, showed up at the palace gates to present himself. He had bravely offered his services before this time but had been turned down when there were other more noble volunteers. Once again the courtiers laughed and pointed at his holey shoes and his tattered leggings, but by now the King was desperate and willingly accepted the challenge of such a humble peasant boy.

Not surprisingly the only member of the court with any faith in the shoemaker's apprentice was the sweet hearted Princess herself. For he was unusually strong, good looking and well mannered for a mere peasant and it was clearly apparent to the Princess that this was a man of honor and grace. Now this apprentice named Krak did not own a sword, let alone armor, He didn't ride a white charger or possess any of the other essential equipment of a knight errant. What he did have was intelligence, unusual culinary skills and a great deal of cunning.

The first thing Krak did was to go back to his shop to prepare for battle. When the townsfolk saw him they laughed at him and cruelly made jokes that he would be the next meal for Smok Wawelski. But Krak knew that the townsfolk would be singing a very different tune to him after slaying the dragon. Krak went into his shop and laid aside a torch and some fuel and then prepared himself for bed.

Later that night he rose and went out, taking the torch and supplies with him. Krak crept quietly out to the Dragon's cave. The Dragon wasn't there, so he explored the mouth of the cave and saw the great heaps of bones and treasure the Dragon had collected. He hid himself behind a rock and waited for the dragon to return.

When Smok came back, he quietly watched the dragon from behind the rock, and seeing the greedy dragon come back with a fat ram in his clutches he came up with a very clever idea. Krak returned home with a plan.

From the family recipe book, he prepared a menu: Three roast sheep with a stuffing of all the hottest spices and herbs he could lay hands on. Then he stuffed them even more with sulfur and sewed their stomach shut. The next night, by the light of the moon, he crept to the mouth of the dragon's cave and left the tasty morsels there.

When dawn arrived, The dragon came out of his cave and found what appeared to be fat juicy sheep just sleeping there. The dragon, thinking this to be a nice tidbit, and being greedy as well as stupid, gobbled them up in the twinkling of an eye. Very soon he started to feel enormously thirsty. When the fiery spices and the sulfur hit his stomach, his singular, driving thought was to quench his raging thirst. He quickly ran to the Vistula river which wound it's way round his cave and drank... and drank... and drank...

The dragon's throat and stomach burned so much he was forced to drink half of the Vistula River, and as a result, his stomach kept swelling and swelling and eventually it exploded, killing him, and setting the town and the surrounding countryside free from its grip of terror.

The shoemaker's apprentice married the king's lovely daughter, was gifted the stolen treasure that was in the cave, and after the monarch's death, ascended to the throne. The town he rescued from the clutches of Smok, the dragon of Wawel Hill, took its name from him, and bears it to this day with great honor - the old capital of Poland, Kraków.