Polish Folk Stories

The Dragon of Krakow ( Cracow ) :
Long ago in Poland’s early history, On the River Vistula, there was a small settlement of wooden huts inhabited by peaceful people who farmed the land and plied their trades. Near this village was Wawel Hill. In the side of Wawel Hill was a deep cave. The entrance was overgrown with tall, grass, bushes, and weeds. No man had ever ventured inside that cave, and some said that a fearsome dragon lived within it. The young people of the village didn’t believe in the dragon. The old people of the village said that they had heard their fathers tell of a dragon who slept in the cave, and no man must dare waken it, or there would be dire consequences for them all. Some of the youths decided to explore the cave and put an end to such foolish talk. They thought that they knew better and dragons were just old stories from the past. A group of these young people took some torches and went to the cave. They slowly entered the cave until they came to a dark mass of scales blocking their way and the sound of heavy breathing. The boys ran as the dragon awakened and roared. Fire came from it’s mouth warming the boys heels and backs. When they were far enough away, they looked back and saw the dragon at the entrance of the cave, very angry being awakened from it’s sleep. From that day on, the people knew no peace. Every day the dragon appeared and carried off a sheep or preferably young virgins. The populace made many attempts to kill the dragon but nothing succeeded and many of those that attempted were killed. The hero in this part of the story differs. In the village lived a wise man, or a shoemaker or a shoe makers apprentice named Krakus or Krac. He got some sheep and mixed a thick, yellow paste from sulfur. Krakus smeared it all over the animals. Then led them to a place where the dragon would see them. The dragon came out as expected, saw the sheep, roared, rushed down the hill and devoured the sheep. The dragon had a terrible fire within him, and a terrible thirst. It rushed to the R iver Vistula and started drinking. It drank and drank and could not stop. The dragon began to swell, but still it drank more and more. It went on drinking till suddenly there was a great explosion, and the dragon burst. There was great rejoicing by the people. Krakus, was made ruler of the village, and they built a stronghold on Wawel Hill. The country prospered under the rule of Krakus and a city grew up around the hill which was called Krakow, in honour of Krakus. When Krakus died, the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb which can be seen to this day. The people brought earth with their own hands to the mound, and it has endured through all the centuries as a memorial to the person that killed the dragon of Krakow. 

The large 200-foot-long cave in Wawel Hill, Krakow, which has been known for centuries as the monster’s den, now attracts thousands of visitors each year. Whatever the truth of the dragon legend, the Dragon’s Cave (Polish ‘Smocza Jama’) is Cracow’s oldest residence, inhabited by man from the Stone Age through the 16th century.


The Trumpeter of Krakow ( Cracow )

In Cracow (Krakow), the ancient capital of Poland, there is a Church in the Market Square. It is a tall, graceful building built of brick, in the Gothic style, with a richly adorned interior. It had two towers, one of which is a little higher than the other and more ornate. From the taller tower a fanfare is played by a trumpeter, every hour. It is repeated four times, but always ends abruptly, on a broken note. Here is the legend behind this tradition:

One day in the 13th century, an old watchman, keeping watch over the city of Cracow saw in the distance a cloud of dust which grew bigger with every passing moment. It was a large army of Tatars galloping towards the city. These invaders from the east had more than once advanced to Krakow and even farther, and they had pillaged and burned, looted and murdered and carried off the people to be slaves. 

There was only one thing the trumpeter watchman could do. He must play the Hejnal, over and over. That would surely arouse the citizens, they would certainly be aware of approaching danger. So he played, again and again. At first the people of Krakow were puzzled. But eventually they realised that an attack was imminent.

Away on the far meadows the Tartar warriors were mounting their horses and drawing their swords. But already the old watchman could see the Polish archers arriving.

The archers took up their positions along the battlements as the tartars galloped towards the city. But by now the Polish arrows were flying. They rained down on the tartar invaders, wave after wave. Eventually the Tartars were forced to retreat, and Cracow was saved from the Mongols!

When the joy over the victory died down they realised that the trumpeter who had warned them was nowhere top be seen. So one of his friends went to look for him. Howevr, when he reached the tower he found that disaster had struck. A single Tartar arrow had pierced the old watchman' s throat and he had died. The trumpet was still clasped in his hands ready to blast out a final note.

The Cracovians would never forget the act of the old trumpeter watchman, and it was decreed that a bugle call should be played each day in memory of the hero. And so for hundreds of years the 'hejnal' has rung out over Cracow's rooftops for the noble watchman who saved the city.


Legend of Lech and Gniezno

How Poland received the Eagle as it's crest

        Many, many years ago, even many centuries ago, there lived in Polish lands a duke named Lech. It was long, long ago, and some say it was even before the time of Alexander the Great. Be that as it may, in the land of Poland there was yet no town of Poznan, nor of Kruszewica, nor were there any large cities in Greater Poland. The country was wild, with few people; men lived together in small communities, greatly fearing the savage Goths who invaded them from the west and the wild Huns who came in from the east. Death and desolation came in the wake of these invaders, and the peaceful, agricultural Slavs were obliged to become warriors, that they might defend their homes and families from destruction.

        Lech was the first Duke of Poland. He it was who first established a Dukedom on the soil of Poland and assumed the leadership of the western Slavs. He united the tribes, and from the time of his reign, Poland developed and grew prosperous. Better strongholds were built to resist the raids of the savage neighbours, the fields were tilled and hides were cured, and with the arrival of more settled times, men grew more civilised and turned to the making of pottery, agricultural implements and furniture, the pattern and style of which has changed but little, and even to-day utensils can be seen in use, very similar to those which were used in the time of Lech.

        In order to ensure the defence of his country against invasion, Lech kept a strong army. This was well equipped, well trained and vast. It covered itself with glory and indeed the name of Lech, it's captain, became so famous throughout the world, that his fields were called Lechici, and the Muscovites often called the Poles Lachi, and the Turks named Poland Lechistan, or the country of Lech. His power stretched over so wide an are of country that the Hungarian Lengyel also almost certainly comes from Lech.

        The Duke was in every way an outstanding man. He was very tall and broad shouldered, such was his strength that he could wield a battle axe which ordinarily took two men to lift. He was handsome, with fair hair, blue eyes and well defined, aquiline features. Not only was he a fearless warrior, he was also a wise ruler, and unlike most men of his stamp, had a taste for learning, and his leisure was generally devoted to the sport. As in battle, he led the field, and always claimed the first stroke at bear or boar, when the beast was brought to bay. He had a true, brave heart and valued courage in another, be it a man or beast.

        Lech also loved falconry, and had many goshawks and peregrine falcons, some of which he had trained himself. Ha had tried to train a young buzzard but the bird, after giving great promise, had died. The Duke had expressed the wish to train an eagle, and though his falconers had advised him that it was impossible, he still persisted in hoping that he might capture and train a young golden eagle, fot he thought that it would be swifter and stronger, in the flight after it's quarry, that any goshawk.

        One fine spring day, the Duke and his court went hawking. A goodly company set forth from the castle, each on mounted and dressed in the green hunting habit which Lech had commanded should be worn by all those who joined the chase with him. The Duke rode at the head of the cavalcade, with his favourite hawk on his wrist, closely followed by his Master of the Hunt. He seemed to be in thoughtful mood, and little heed to the conversation which was taking place around him. Then, without preamble, he gave his bird to the Master of the Hunt, saying curtly, "I would be alone"; and, setting spurs to his horse, he galloped off. His company were surprised and troubled, but no man attempted to follow the Duke, for sometimes he was given to strange moods and at such times it was better not to approach him.

        Lech urged his steed forward, he knew not why, but feeling an irresistible desire to reach a hill which he espied in the distance. After galloping a while, he reached it, and reining in his steed, looked around him. At first could discern nothing, but soon he perceived a nest, perched on a rocky crag. It was the nest of a white eagle, who sat with her young around her. She was a noble bird, with a curved beak and powerful talons, and wings to bear her aloft in strong and graceful flight. This was the eagle that Lech had dreamed to posses; this was the bird which would make falconry a delight, which would rouse the envy of every Prince in the Europe and beyond. He resolved to capture on of the young, take it home to his castle, and train it with all the care and skill at his command. What a rare prize this would be! What pleasure lay in store for him if he could but obtain one of those eaglets!

        He leapt from his horse and climbed towards the nest. The white eagle watched him intently, while her fledglings, surprised by the approach of a stranger, crept under her wings. Lech shouted and waved his arms, thinking to frighten the bird from it's nest, but she stirred not. The Duke came nearer and put forth his hand, and the eagle, with swift movement, pecked at him as though in warning. But Lech heeded her not. Reaching for his dagger, he held it aloft, so that the bird must wound herself if she approached him too near. With his other hand, he again attempted to grasp one of the eaglets, but the mother bird was upon him once more and this time, neither prince nor bird escaped unscathed. Lech persisted; he argently longed for one of the eaglets and was loath to abandon a prize which he thought he could capture with ease. The struggle continued. Lech, using his dagger more freely, was making desperate attempts to approach the nest. But he was beaten off by the sharp beak and powerful wings of the mother. The eagle had been wounded several times, and blood was staining the white feathers with dark, crimson splashes. She defended her nest and her freedom and the liberty of her little ones. The Duke's brave and generous heart was touched by this unyielding defence and by this noble courage, and the sight of the blood which trickled down the bird's white breast made him ashamed of his desire to deprive of it's freedom the offspring of so valiant a mother. A brave bird, who spilt her blood for freedom and for that of her eaglets!

        Then Lech sat down at the foot of the hill and looked at the scene before him. As far as his eye could reach stretched the fair lands of Poland, his country that he loved with all of his heart. Would he not defend her, just as the eagle had defended her nest? And the thought came to him: let that brave, white eagle become the badge of Poland, let her be the token of freedom for which all those worthy of the name of Pole should shed their blood, and the eagle's bolld be the symbol of bravery. Poland is imortal; so shall the White Eagle be imortal. Thus to this day, on the shield and banner of Poland, is blazoned the white eagle on a crimson field. And the place was pleasing to the Prince. He loved that hill where he had found the eagle's nest and which still bears his name. He took his counselors to the spot and showed it to them, saying, "Let us build our nests here, as do the eagles"! So a castle was built, and then a city, and it was called "Gniezno", which, in the Polish of those days, meant "Nest". And in those far off times Gniezno became a fair city, and was the capital of Lech's Dukedom, lying on the hillside which bears his name.

        The White Eagle has always been on the banners of Poland and when, as has occurred many times, Poland has been attacked, her sons have defended her no less bravely than the eagle who so long ago shed her blood in the defence of freedom.


The Polish White Eagle



The Crowned White Eagle has been the Coat of Arms of the Polish State for seven centuries now. It is one of the oldest State Coats of Arms in the world. There are very few other countries who have managed to maintain their coats of arms for such a long period of time.

Several historic traditions and legends have referred to the origin of the White Eagle, moving it back to the times when the Polish State was being established, and even earlier. The Eagle was connected with Poland's first capital, Gniezno, where Lech, the legendary ancestor of the Piast dynasty was to find an eagle's nest (in Polish: "gniazdo"), and thus took the eagle as his coat of arms. On the other hand, Jan Dlugosz, Poland’s most distinguished chronicler living in the 15th century, wrote that Duke Boleslaw Chrobry was granted the Eagle as his coat of arms by the Emperor Otto III during the meeting of both Monarchs in Gniezno in the year 1000. The origin of the White Eagle is neither as fine nor as distant in time however. Generally, coats of arms did not exist before 12th century.

In Poland, the eagle appeared as a coat of arms for the first time on seals of several Dukes of the Piast dynasty (they were portrayed both standing and on horseback) in the years 1222-1236. It was their personal and family coat of arms and at the same time the emblem of their dukedoms. The eagle was selected as their coat of arms for its symbolic values. As the king of all birds it was a primeval symbol of power, victory, force and kingship. For the same reason, many monarchs in other countries, used the eagle in their coats of arms. The eagle of the Piast princes had different colors than the others. From the very beginning it was the White Eagle in the red shield (on "gules", according to heraldic terminology).

In the beginning, the eagle of Piasts had no crown. It was as late as when trends to unify Polish lands and to restore the Kingdom of Poland (disrupted as early as in the second half of the 11th century) emerged - when the Eagle's head was crowned. It took place in 1290, when the Duke of Great Poland and Kraków, Przemysl II put forward a plan to unite Poland, together with his own claim to the royal crown. When Przemysl II was crowned as the King of Poland in 1295, he introduced the White Eagle in a crown on the back side of his royal seal of majesty, as the Coat of Arms of the whole Kingdom of Poland. All Polish kings that followed accepted it in that character.

Beginning from the times of Wladyslaw Jagiello, that is from the end of 14th century, the Polish White Eagle was accompanied by "Pogon" (a knight on a horse with the raised sword in his hand), the coat of arms of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was a sign of the union of the two States under the rule of the same King.

The shape of the White Eagle changed following consecutive artistic styles in different times. The gothic Eagle of the Piasts and the Jagellons was followed in 16th century by a Renaissance one, then by a decorative baroque one, and finally by a harmonious and yet deprived of power of expression, classicistic 18th century one. At the beginning of 19th century the design of the Polish military eagle worn on soldiers’ caps developed. As the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Poland, the White Eagle was at the same time the personal Coat of Arms of each King. Beginning from 16th century, the connection between the Eagle and the King was expressed by his monogram on the Eagle's breast, later by his family coat of arms.

Despite the changing artistic form of the White Eagle, its ideological message was always the same. It was a symbol of the sovereign and independent Polish State, and of the King who personified all his subjects. As a symbol of the State and the King, it was present on royal seals and documents, on coins, army banners, on royal tombstones and residences, on State office buildings and more important churches; it was used during State and Court ceremonies. In 1705 King August II established the highest Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle, existing untill now.

In 1795, in the consequence of the partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria, and in the consequence of the breakdown of the State, the White Eagle lost its significance as the coat of arms an was replaced by the emblems of the foreign monarchies. It reappeared however, in every national uprising and in other attempts to restore independence (in 1831, 1846, 1848 and 1863/64). It became at that time the main visual symbol of the struggle for national independence. The left-oriented liberation movement took for their emblem the "democratic" White Eagle without the crown.

In 1918, when Poland regained freedom, the crowned White Eagle became once again the Coat of Arms of the Republic of Poland. Before the 2nd world war it had two officially accepted forms - the one from 1919 and the other from 1927 (the latter designed by Professor Zygmunt Kamiñski). Apart from the official designs, several stylistic forms of the White Eagle were in use at that time.

After the defeat in 1939 and during the German and Soviet occupation of the country the White Eagle, as Poland's coat of arms, was strictly forbidden. Once again it became the symbol of fight for free Poland. It was used by the underground army at home and by the regular Polish army abroad. The left-oriented armed forces, however, as well as the Polish army created in the Soviet Union, adopted the White Eagle without the crown. And such became the official Coat of Arms of Poland after 1945. Removing the crown from above the Eagle's head meant a change of the State's political system, from now on based on the principle of "people's democracy." That form of the White Eagle, though officially used till the end of 1989, was not commonly accepted by the Polish nation, so much attached to their previous, centuries-old national emblem.

And thus, when in consequence of the events of the 1980s, the political system in Poland was changed, it was possible again to restore the crowned White Eagle. On the 29th of December 1989, the Polish Sejm (Parliament) decided to bring back the White Eagle's crown. In 1990 its official design was defined, closely relating to that of 1927. In 1993 traditional emblems of the Polish Army were restored, among which was the Crowned White Eagle.

In 1995, the 700th anniversary of the White Eagle's coronation as the Coat of Arms of the Polish State was celebrated.


Poland has always been a land of strong and courageous knights. Many old
tales claim that the bravest of the knights never died, but have been asleep
for centuries in a cavern beneath Mount Pisana.

Once, in a mountain village, a stranger entered a blacksmith shop. He told
the blacksmith that he could earn a rich reward for doing a special job, but
he must promise not to tell anyone. The blacksmith agreed. The stranger
took a gold bar from under his coat and asked the blacksmith to make a
horseshoe from it. When this was done, the stranger led him to the
Koscieliska Valley. After hours of walking, they came to a cave hidden by
rocks and trees.

There was a bright golden light inside the cave. On the floor was an army of
knights in full armor, resting their helmeted heads on saddles as if they were
pillows. In their hands were battle axes and spears. Along the walls of the
cave stood beautiful sleeping horses covered with blankets made of delicate
fabric and horseshoes made of gold.

The stranger told the amazed blacksmith to replace the broken shoe of a
great stallion with the golden horseshoe he had made. The horse did not get
up even when the blacksmith nailed the horseshoe to the stallion's hoof.
Of course, the curious blacksmith asked many questions, but this was all the
stranger would tell him: the knights had been in a deep sleep for hundreds of
years and they would not wake until the time came for a great battle. On that
day, thunder would shake the earth and the sky, giant pine trees would
break like little sticks, and boulders would crash down the mountainsides.
The knights would then gallop out of the cave to fight for Poland once more.
When the job was done, the stranger led the blacksmith back to his village
and made him swear never to tell a living soul about what he had seen.
Then, the stranger paid the blacksmith with a bag of gold and vanished.
The foolish blacksmith could not keep from telling anyone about what he
saw. First, he told his wife and then his neighbors. Soon everyone knew his
secret. However, the moment the blacksmith broke his word, his bag of gold
turned to sand and although he searched for the cave many times, he was
never able to find it.



A long time ago, a prince from the Mazowsze Region took his men and
went hunting. In the forest, he saw a wild beast and was determined to
kill it. He was close enough to shoot at it the arrow from his bow, but as
he took his aim, the beast suddenly disappeared. Thoroughly surprised,
the prince decided to stop at the nearby river for a drink of water. As he
bent over to drink, he saw the mermaid.

The mermaid told the Prince to follow the arrow she shot from her bow.

The prince followed the arrow along the river's edge until he reached a
clearing. In the clearing he saw a run-down fisherman’s cottage under a
large oak tree. He went to the cottage to ask for food. Inside, the Prince
saw a young woman sitting by the fireplace feeding her twin babies: a
boy and a girl. The young woman shared her food with the Prince.
After the meal, the Prince and the young woman sat in front of the
cottage and looked out at the river. The prince insisted that the young
woman name her baby son, Wars and her baby daughter, Sawa. He
told her to clear the land around the cottage and plant crops. He gave
this land to the young woman and her children. He knew that they
would work hard to make the land valuable and a village would result.

This village would become Warsaw.

As the young woman listened to the Prince, she saw the mermaid rise
from the river's waves. The mermaid said the village would grow into a
beautiful city because of the hard work of the simple fisherman who
chose to live there.

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